David Lubar, beloved author of “The Weenie” series of short stories and “Hidden Talents,” hits it out of the park, actually out of the world and out of the galaxy, with “Emperor of the Universe: A Fable with Spaceships and Aliens.”
Nicholas V. Andrew, a seventh grader, only wants to be on his own when his parents are out of the country performing with their band, the Beegles, a take-off of the Beetles wherein his parents wear beagle masks while performing songs like “Yellow Snow Submarine.” He doesn’t want to have wild parties or play video games day and night, he just wants to be on his own. He ends up traveling throughout the universes, unintentionally causing the destruction of entire planets and also unintentionally becoming the Emperor of the Universe.
Lubar’s wide range of books are nothing if not humorous — always. But teachers love the “Weenie” series because many of the stories are very thoughtful and great for use in the classroom. This book is no different, except that it’s certainly not a short story. Science fiction lovers will enjoy the crazy names of aliens and the descriptions of their planets. And Lubar makes it perfectly logical that the creatures all understand each other through the Ubiquitous Matrix, which is only available to more advanced planets. Because Earth is still reliant on petroleum for energy, our backward planet does not have access to this technology; therefore, we do not understand each other’s languages.
Nicholas’ traveling companions, Henrietta and the package of ground beef, prove to add much humor and much pathos to the tale. Henrietta is the brains of the bunch, something that might not have been expected of a gerbil. Jeef, as the package of ground beef comes to be known, is rather a sad character, especially when she realizes that she is no longer a cow but has been killed and ground up into little bits of meat. The part about how Jeef can see and hear and think might just prompt some young readers (and adult readers) to consider vegetarian diets henceforth. In fact, if the gerbil is the brains of the group, Jeef surprises readers by being the heart of the group. They make a fabulous trio of characters.
Kids will love the humor and the fact that Nicholas is a totally relatable character. He’s not a genius, not a sports star, not even especially brave, but in the end he’s a good guy who only wants to do the right thing. That’s what makes his actions, which end up killing literally entire planets, more ludicrous and humorous (in a sick kind of way). There’s also a great twist at the end. And kids will love the illustrations that grace the pages of the story and provide visuals that graphic novel fans will enjoy.
This would be a great read aloud for fifth grade students through middle school. There’s a lot to consider in this fable, including what causes humans, and in the book aliens, to fight and want to battle others. Funny and thought-provoking — a perfect choice for sci-fi lovers!
Please note: This review is based on the advanced reader’s copy provided by the author for review purposes.