Clues to the Universe

By Christina Li

Ages 8 to 12

Do you have a journal or folder filled with your ideas, hopes and secrets? What if it fell into someone else’s hands?

This is what happens when Benji Burns and Ro Ling Geraghty accidentally swap folders during science class.

Ro’s folder holds neat lists and diagrams. Benji’s overflows with his comics and drawings, including one of his father, who left his family when Benji was 4 years old.

It’s the start of a friendship between two people who are very different — but share a common loss. Ro has no father either. Her scientist dad recently died, and she wants to honor him by creating the model rocket they had planned together.

Ro and Benji decide to build this rocket for their seventh-grade science fair project. And Ro is determined to help

Benji find his father.

But there are so many obstacles to their quest! Benji’s father hasn’t kept in touch, and his mother refuses to talk about her former husband.

The book is set in the early 1980s, before Internet research was possible. So Benji can’t do a Google search and try to trace his dad.

He does have one clue, though: a drawing that he discovered before he met Ro. It’s signed by his dad and looks like a rough version of what is now a popular comic called “Spacebound.” The name of the creator is different from his dad’s, but Benji is sure that his father is writing and illustrating using a pen (fake) name.

Benji is quiet and easygoing; Ro is a take-charge girl. Benji daydreams about reuniting with his father; Ro works to make that happen. She follows every lead. She knows she will never see her dad again, so she doesn’t understand why Benji isn’t more excited by their progress. For his part, Benji feels that Ro tries to manage everything, including his plans and emotions.

Then a new problem emerges. Benji’s former best friend loves to play mean pranks — and he’s on a mission to mess with their rocket and their minds.

Will Ro and Benji be able to deal with their differences, anger and hurt feelings? Or will their shared project and quest fail and their friendship fizzle out, like a broken rocket?

Click here to join the Summer Book Club.

You might also like . . .

A complex, surprising novel that combines mystery and science. In “When You Reach Me” (ages 8 to 12) by Rebecca Stead, a girl and her friends try to figure out a series of warnings that appear to come from the future. This book won the Newbery Medal in 2010.

Young readers should look for “Jada Jones: Rock Star” (ages 6 to 8) by Kelly Starling Lyons. Jada hopes to meet a friend who loves science and rock-collecting as she does. But the other fourth-graders don’t seem interested, and one girl is downright mean. How can Jada make friends while staying true to herself?

Do you have a suggestion for a book or two related to our “True Friends” theme? Ask a parent or teacher to fill out the form at, and we may publish it. In August we will send prize packages to three randomly selected kids who sent in suggestions.

Next time in book club

by Saadia Faruqi

Ages 9 to 13.

A trip to Pakistan to visit relatives, whom Mimi Scotts has never met, isn’t the
11-year-old’s idea of a terrific summer vacation.

Mimi misses her Texas home and her dad, who left when she was 5 years old. She gradually befriends Sakina, a girl who works as a cook’s assistant for Mimi’s grandparents.

The two struggle to understand class and cultural differences. Mimi realizes that she can help Sakina achieve her dream of going to school by tutoring her in English. But Mimi also learns important lessons from their friendship.

Join the club

The Summer Book Club is open to kids ages 6 to 14. They may read some or all of the books on our list. (Find a blurb for each book at The first 700 kids registered will receive a flying disc. To join the club, children must be registered by a parent or guardian. To register, that adult must fill out our form at If you have questions, contact