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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, August 1, 2004

A little sci-fi for young readers

By Jolie Jean Cotton

"EAGER" by Helen Fox Wendy; Lamb Books, ages 9-13, $15.95

Caldecott author/artist Ed Young once told me his measure of a great book was its longevity. Could a child return to its pages a year later and discover new meaning? Is it multilayered and complex enough to satisfy again and again as the child matures?

Two chapters into "Eager," I was reminded of Young's comments. This book would pass his test.

The story is set in England at the end of the 21st century. Humans rely on robots to fill their every need. Houses monitor their inhabitants and talk to them. A machine can be a person's best friend.

The Bells are a middle-class family with an aging butler robot names Grumps. Grumps is too outdated to be repaired, and the Bells are too fond of Grumps to let him go. They agree to take on a new experimental robot, EGR3, aka "Eager," to help Grumps out.

The story begins with EGR3's creator telling the robot it is ready to leave the inventor's house.

"EGR3 had spent nearly all his life in the room. Yet he had traveled through the streets of the city, climbed steps and hills. He had run in the woods, dodging fallen logs and holes that showed themselves at the last moment. He had stood in awe, looking up at great trees and listening to the murmuring of their leaves and the creaking of their branches. He had walked up and down trains and hoverbuses, keeping his balance as they tipped and turned or sped over bumps. He had practiced chopping wood and threading needles, pouring water and moving heavy objects. And all the time his brain was asking, and comparing, and cataloging, and storing away the experiences."

Eager feels emotions and learns from his experiences as a child does.

Asking questions gets him in to trouble at times, but also provides some of the stories funniest moments.

Eager and the Bells are pulled into an intriguing mystery when the trendy high-tech BDC4 robots, popular with the ruling-class technocrats, begin to act suspiciously. All the while, the ultimate question Eager searches to answer is "What does it mean to be alive?"

Eager is one of the most endearing characters I've ever met between the pages of a book. This is author Helen Fox's first novel. Expect a sequel.

"BILLY CLIKK: CREATCH BATTLER" by Mark Crilley; Delacorte Press, ages 9-12, $10.95

The author of the popular "Akiko" books begins a new adventure series featuring 12-year-old Billy Clikk. Billy is a lover of extreme sports who lives in the boring town of Piffling, Indiana. His parents allegedly are the town's best exterminators. Their work leaves Billy frequently alone at home with this dog, leftover takeout food and a baby-sitter who checks on Billy only by phone.

One night, Billy accidentally discovers that his parents are not what they have led him to believe. They belong to a secret international society that battles creatches, or monster-sized bugs. Billy gets a shot and joins his parents in their true line of work. With wonderful comic-book-style art sprinkled throughout, kids who like gross-out humor and action adventure will find much to enjoy here.

Jolie Jean Cotton is a mom and a writer in Honolulu. She and James Rumford alternately review children's books on the first Sunday of each month.