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Dominic, Our Lady's Abingdon (OLA)

Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth

I must say, my first impression of Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth was that it was the odd one out of the shortlist, as it was rated a 7+ compared to the other 12+ books. However, after reading it, I would say it is a very entertaining and sweet book.

There is a theme all through the book: What is home? Where is home? One of the two protagonists, Prez Mellows, has lived with his grandad all his life in Dundee. His grandad is forgetful, sometimes forgetting who Prez is, but also very endearing. After a 'misunderstanding' with a neighbour when Prez's grandad tries to show the neighbour how to chop carrots fast, he is taken away and Prez sent to a Temporary Home in Dundee.

Prez hasn't spoken for months when he arrives at the Blythe's farm for the summer. There he meets Jessie, Ray, Annabel and their parents. I love the way how the writing is set out of the page, in little clumps to signify everyone all talking at once. One day, the doorbell rings and a boy in a kilt and flying goggles rings the doorbell. Except the Blythes don't have a doorbell. Momentarily, Prez finds out that the little boy takes a doorbell wherever he goes. He is also called Sputnik, which means 'companion' in Russian.

However, there is one very strange thing (among many!). The whole family, and everyone in the community, seems to think that Sputnik is a dog, While to Prez he is a little boy. Sputnik can also read Prez's mind, so Prez can think something and Sputnik can respond - and to everyone else, in barks.

Prez is a quiet character, speaks rarely, but is a great listener; a loyal friend who will never ignore you. But Sputnik - at the beginning of the story he has appalling manners, which do get better throughout the story (slightly). He is mischievous and doesn't really understand morals, or the rules of society, like:

'You can't make a toy lightsaber turn to a real one and give it to a scarily destructive five-year old at her birthday party.'

Or even:

'You really can't point a gun at the person at the kiosk if you're a dog so you can fetch the newspaper.'

You get the picture.

Prez quickly finds out Sputnik has come from a different planet to earth, and has come to save the Earth from Planetary Clearance, a group who shrink whole solar systems to the size of a tennis ball if they think they are not worth the space. To stop them from doing this though, Sputnik must make a list of the ten things that make the world worth keeping. However, he is quite picky about what goes on the list:

'I'm not interested in architecture.'

'Maybe.'

On the other hand, Sputnik is very interested in what we would say are the things that aren't so special. For example, eggs. Sputnik is flabbergasted that a chicken comes from an egg, and an egg comes from a chicken - AND THEY'RE EDIBLE! It is so interesting to see what kind of things an alien would like, out of all the things in the world. It makes you think.

I have already explained the mischievous ways of Sputnik, but by the end he becomes a good 'companion'. He almost becomes philosophical in a way; especially near the end when he explains to Prez what home really is. It's not physical, not a place. Home is where you are; where you are going; where your family is. It is a strong point and wakes Prez up.

It deserves to be on the shortlist - it is good to bring younger children to the concept deeper meanings. I would recommend it to people 8+ and rate is 4/5 stars.

Posted on: 23rd March 2017 at 05:04 pm

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