Zita the Spacegirl and Legends of Zita may look like books for children and they are (my 4 and 7 year old adore them). But don’t be fooled, they are great books for everybody. I was so excited when Legends of Zita showed up in the mail that I hid it from my kids so I could read it without waiting for them to finish it first. That is either testament to what a horrible parent I am, or to how excellent these books are.
Zita is a young human girl who is playing with a friend when they find a strange device with a red button that sucks them into a distant planet. One that is going to explode in 3 days. Zita is lost, separated from her friend, and surrounded by a motley assortment of creatures and robots, all intent on getting out while the getting is good.
Luckily Zita’s ambling adventures lead her to befriend a lively assortment of characters such as Piper, Mouse, Strong Strong (hint: he’s the big guy), and One, the battle robot. If you happen to have children to read to the supporting cast provides a spectacular opportunity to do fun voices as they each have a unique way of speaking and many quotable quotes including one that is getting a lot of airplay at our house, “Cease this torment you wretched JACKANAPES!”
The first book, Zita the Spacegirl is a delightful 10. Book #2, Legends of Zita, goes all the way up to 11. Zita is now the hero of the universe after saving the Scritorian’s planet. But having planets full of fans is an exhausting responsibility for a young Earth girl so she jumps at the chance to flee the spotlight when a robotic Zita look-a-like appears. Unfortunately this leads to Zita and Mouse getting separated from their friends, who are drawn to Lumponia so that (robot) Zita can save the Lumponians from killer star hearts.
Often times, plots that pull the protagonist away from a beloved cast of characters sucks the wind out of the story. But here it creates the opportunity for Zita to expand her galactic family with additional compelling characters like Dobblelganger, Madrigal, Glissando, etc. In lesser hands this might make the story too busy but Hatke deftly keeps each character engaging and cleverly uses visual and dialogue to both propel the story forwards while giving just enough glimpses into each character’s back-story.
Legends of Zita has more humor but also more melancholy. Says Madrigal, “I think you’re like the rest of us. Just trying to hold things together while you find your way.” This sums up the position many of the characters find themselves in. Legends of Zita ends with Zita heading off on her own to find Mouse who had an unfortunate run-in with the Doom Squad. And also possibly to find a way home to earth. While I root for her potential rescue of Mouse, I can only hope that our spacegirl is flatly unsuccessful in finding her way home. Certainly my whole family cheers for her to stay in space as long as possible.
Zita combines humor, creative world-building, excellent artistry, and stories that will appeal to all ages. Three cheers for Ben Hatke for this great series, and also what is possibly the best author/family portrait of all times. Zita book #3 will be published in Spring 2014 and I fully intend to be hiding it from my kids so I can find out what happens next.