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Book Review: Hal Junior: The Secret Signal by Simon Haynes

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Hal Junior is unlikely hero. He’s just a little bit naughty, a tiny bit confused, and a bit behind on his schoolwork, but that doesn’t stop him from saving the day like his own hero Captain Spacejock, the protagonist from Haynes’ earlier novels. Hal Jr is educated by a robot, his home is a space station, his homework has just been sucked into the recycling hatch, his mother has just been promoted to head of research, and trouble is brewing. What follows is a fun, lighthearted, lightning fast adventure with a sci-fi twist that children will love.

Reluctant readers of all ages will enjoy this book because it’s full of cinematic action and as many sound effects as a comic strip or Matthew Riley novel (without the exploding heads and continual expletives): “zzingg”, “gadoinnnggg!” “Clatter clatter crash!”. Younger readers from about eight or nine will also enjoy it, identifying with Hal’s perfect combination of insouciance and curiosity. There are all sorts of fun things in the book, from Morse code to a mysterious watch recovered from the junk heap, a reverse canon that shoots garbage, and even a guide on how to build Hal’s homework paper plane.

Though Hal himself is quite a funny character, additional humour is provided by captioned drawings throughout the book, including a running pun around “this page has been left intentionally blank”. The space station setting is well depicted, and readers will share Hal’s excitement as they tour the Tiger supply ship. The relationship between Hal and his best friend, the brainiac Stinky, provides a strong thread of humour that blends Hal’s courage and irreverence with Stinky’s problem-solving ability. Readers will want to hear more about these two and the inevitable scrapes they get themselves into, and the series is ripe for a sequel. 

With Hal Junior, clearly anything goes, there are endless adventures to be had on the space station.  This is a charming book full of wacky, innovative fun that can be read quickly and easily by readers of all ages. It’s a perfect way to encourage readers to keep reading.

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About Magdalena Ball

Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at www.magdalenaball.com.