Aliens on Vacation by Clete Barrett Smith. Grades 4-7. Disney/Hyperion, May 2011. 250 pages. Reviewed from ARC snagged at ALA.
It's summer and once again Scrub's being shipped off while his parents go on business trips, but this year instead of going to camp or his aunt's house, Scrub's going clear across the country to stay with his grandmother at her hotel, the Intergalactic Bed & Breakfast. Right away Scrub notices some very strange things about her B&B... like the fact that it's a destination for vacationing aliens from all over the galaxy! In order to protect the business, Scrub and his grandma have to keep it absolutely secret, but that's not always easy in a tiny Washington town where the sheriff's got it out for you...
Aliens on Vacation is a funny science-fiction romp that'll be a great summer read for young sci-fi fans. I was sold on this one when one of the Disney/Hyperion editors read from it at a preview at ALA Midwinter. Not only is it laugh-out-loud funny, but it chronicles a summer in Scrub's life that's filled with big changes. He has his first job, learns responsibility, lets down someone he loves, and has his first kiss. There's a lot of growing up here, but it's cleverly disguised in a silly story about aliens.
As it is, I think it's a good choice for reluctant readers and it would have been a great choice for reluctant readers if it had been shorter and tighter. Scrub and the cute girl-next-door Amy go back and forth for quite a bit, her trying to get close to him and him pushing her away for fear she'd figure out that the guests at the inn weren't typical tourists. And there's a point where I couldn't help but think of Fred Savage asking skeptically, "Is this a kissing book?" So, just know that that's in there. It wasn't gratuitous (and certainly not graphic) and it felt right for the characters, but I get requests for sci-fi/fantasy books for boys who do not want romance at all and this might be enough for them to put the book down.
This is a great choice for kids looking for funny books or science fiction books (or both). It gets bonus points for being a sci-fi story that doesn't feel like a sci-fi story (so it'll appeal to those kids being forced to read a sci-fi book for school). I'd try it on fans of Bruce Coville.
This is Clete Barrett Smith's debut novel and a sequel is due out next year.
Aliens on Vacation will be on shelves May 3!