Galaxy Zack by Ray O'Ryan and illustrated by Colin Jack is a fantastic and rare series for emerging readers ready to cross the bridge between leveled readers and traditional chapter books. Rare for being a bridge chapter book and even more rare for being one of the few science fiction series for kids at any reading level on the shelves today. It's February 11, 2120 and Zack Nelson and his family are moving from Dubbsville, Texas to the planet Nebulon. Zack is not happy, even though he has taken many family vacations to the Low Gravity Amusement Park on Venus and the beaches of the Red Planet Resort on Mars. While Zack deals with real-life problems like worrying about making friends in his new home and adjusting to the cultural differences, O'Ryan's story and Jack's illustrations create a fascinating world on the planet Nebulon, keeping things just similar enough to Earth so that young readers won't get lost, but excitingly different enough to keep their attention. A great example of this is the nightmare Zack has on the way to Nebulon in which he discovers that a pizza he is about to share with his new classmates is covered in slithering worms, crawling insects and moldy cheese.
On Nebulon, cars and trains glide through the air, the clouds are pink, the land is purple and the oceans are orange. And the Nebulonites love gadgets! Zack's dad has taken a job with Nebulonics, his mom is starting a new business and his eleven-year-old twin sisters, Charlotte and Cathy, have each other. Devices like hyperphone and z-mail should keep Zack in touch with his old Earth friends, but he keeps getting an error message.
Zack goes through the typical new guy stuff, but with the added benefit of Nebulonian inventions and alien life forms who, for the most part, appear humanoid. The Nelson's new house rivals that of the Jetson's, although Ira, short for Indoor Robotic Assistant, a computer system that runs throughout the house and tends to the family's every need way out performs old Rosie the Robot. One huge wall of Zack's new room is taken up with a computer screen that lets him see the whole galaxy and his bed is lowered down from a panel in the ceiling by Ira when he's ready to hit the hay. Sprockets Academy where Zack is befriended by Drake Taylor, a Nebulite boy invites Zack to sit next to him on the space bus that takes them to the cafeteria. After school, Zack gets out his Earth bike while Drake zips around on his Nebulon bike. What Zack worried would be a bad day turns out to be a great day, especially when his dog Luna, left behind on Earth until the family settles, arrives just in time for dinner.
O'Ryan does a fantastic job of making eight-year-old Zack feel real while also peppering the story with boingoberry jam, made from a berry that grows on Venus and space cars that can shrink down to the size of a snack box of raisins. What really makes the Galazy Zack series are the illustrations by Colin Jack who, it's no surprise, currently works as a story artist for DreamWorks Animation and has worked for Sony Pictures Animation and Laika, the stop-motion film studio who brought Coraline and Paranorman to the big screen and are currently creating a stop-motion movie based on Wildwood by Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis. Jack's illustrations, which do call to mind the style used in animated movies, are on almost every single page in these books, and are zippy, a little bit zany and very outer-space-y. And completely enjoyable! I can't image a boy or girl who would turn down the chance to read the Galazy Zack series!
The Galaxy Zack Series:
Readers who love Galaxy Zack should be sure to check out the super graphic novel Earthling! by Mark Fearing!
Source: Review Copy