Several weeks ago, I got an email from the lovely and talented Gina Gagliano asking if I’d be willing, in public, to say why I love Zita the Spacegirl. “Of course!” I replied. I’ve never kept my love of Zita a secret, after all. But then I started thinking. Who cares why I love Zita? It’s not like I’m the target audience for this book. This book is for kids. Wouldn’t it be better if I asked some kids what they think of Zita?
So, I asserted my authority and required our Intermediate Book Club members to read Zita the Spacegirl (full disclosure: it was already on the schedule; they were going to read it anyway) and then tell me what they thought. These 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders are all smart, insightful, and really good readers. And they all like a funny scene:
Esther: The best thing I liked about the book are the blue guys. They’re very short and I like short people.
Caleb: I liked the little blue guys because they were kind of funny.
Ben: I also like the blue guys because they were being torture-full! They were torturing that weird red and white guy and I thought that was sort of funny.
Jonas: I liked the funny parts like when The Piper used a ray gun on this one guy and his muscly arms went all flappy.
Ayla: The little blue guys would run around and stuff. It was funny.
And I think most middle grade readers would agree that a few explosions can make any book better:
Mabel: I really liked how she met the yellow robot and the yellow robot was actually the weapon and they didn’t know that until he told them and it was really cool. The big yellow guy was awesome because the BOOM! at the end came as a surprise!
Kenji: The thing I liked best about the book was the character One because he had this awesome Gatling gun on him. I liked the yellow guy, too. At first I just thought he was just some weird guy, but he turned out to be the weapon.
But most of all, they liked the characters:
Angeline: I liked the book because Zita was saving her friends.
Kathy: I like how Zita pushed the button and went to another world. I was kind of disappointed that I always knew what was going to happen.
Nathanial: I liked the characters, mostly the friends Zita made. They tried to help her a lot and they were kind of funny.
Lavanya: I liked how each character had different specialties, but when they were all a team they were unstoppable. It worked better when they were working together.
Eman: I liked the book because Five, Eight, and One were all the same type of robot, but were enemies. It reminded me about real life and how you’re supposed to like someone, but sometimes you don’t. There was a lot in this book that made me think about real stuff.
I agree with Eman. There is a lot in this book that relates to real life. There are issues of trust, faith, friendship, loyalty, courage, and even rationalization. Yes, as Kathy said, the book is somewhat predictable, but quest books are predictable. That Ben Hatke was able to keep us all reading, keep us all thoroughly engaged in Zita’s adventure, is a testament to his chops as a storyteller.
The kids from Book Club are still talking about Zita. Better still, they’re telling their friends about Zita. I love when my customers hand sell books for me and, thanks to their help, this is one of those books that never sits on the shelf for long. So, thank you, Ben, for your Zita books. And thank you, Gina, for giving me an excuse to talk about them again.