MG at Heart Book Club Book Review: SEE YOU IN THE COSMOS by Jack Cheng

See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng

In the spirit of SEE YOU IN THE COSMOS, this review was recorded. Listen here (or read the transcript below):

. . .

Amanda: If you’re listening that means you must have found this recording floating somewhere out in space. I wonder what planet you’re from. Maybe Pluto? I guess that’s not a planet anymore. Maybe it’s one we haven’t discovered yet. I wonder what you look like. Maybe instead of fingers, you have silverware for fingers. And then you just can eat all the time.  What do you think they might look like, Max?

Max: Hmmmmm. I think they look like something cool! Maybe they have Nintendos for brains.

Amanda: Nintendos for brains. Nice! Jane, what do you think they might look like?

Jane: I think they might look like they have this huge belly button. Yeah, huge. Like, uh, ten feet or something. And they have huge nostrils and most of their body is their head.

Max: *whispers* Mom!

Amanda: Oh, crazy.

Jane: And you have supersonic ears so you can hear a lot. Even in different galaxies.

Amanda: Nice.

Jane: What do you look like?

Amanda: We just finished listening to SEE YOU IN THE COSMOS by Jack Cheng and we listened to the audiobook and it was such a good audiobook, wasn’t it guys?

Jane and Max: mm-hmm

Amanda: What was your favorite part, Max?

Max: My favorite was when he launched the rocket!

Amanda: Oooh, that’s a good part. How ‘bout you?

Jane: My favorite part is when he finds his dog. Do you know what a dog is?

Amanda: That’s a good question. I wonder, do you think aliens have pets? And if they do, what kind of pets would they be?

Jane: Would they be slimy, icky pets like the Grimer of Pokemon moon?

Amanda: Maybe. Maybe. That’s possible.

SEE YOU IN THE COSMOS is a story about a little boy named Alex who leaves his house to go launch a rocket at a rocket festival. And on the way, he meets all kinds of people. A man who has taken a vow of silence and a college kid and he ends up finding his half-sister that he didn’t even know existed. Together, he charms…he charms all of these new people in his life and they all grow to love him. And that’s because Alex is so easy to love. You fall in love with him from the very first page. His enthusiasm for life is contagious. Jane, what did you like about Alex?

Jane: I like his astronomy jokes. And how he never gives up. Never, ever, ever!

Amanda: He definitely has some great astronomy jokes. Max, what did you like about Alex?

Max: I liked about him…making his rocket and caring for his mother.

Amanda: Yeah. So, SEE YOU IN THE COSMOS is about Alex leaving his house and going on a trip to launch a rocket at a rocket festival. And he’s hoping to put his golden Ipod with new sounds on it, much like the “golden record” that was launched into space by his hero, Carl Sagan. He wants to launch hi golden Ipod with his recordings on it on his rocket into space. And as he goes to the rocket festival and then everything that happens after he just…he learns how to be brave and how to tell the truth. He learns that people can be redeemeD. I think my favoritE part of the book was when he talked about those moments when we tell the truth, when we are brave, that those are the moments that really stand in time. Those are the moments when we exist through time. Like a tessaract. And I really loved that idea.

SEE YOU IN THE COSMOS is a perfect listen for young and old alike. My husband enjoyed listening to it, my kids enjoyed listening to it. I would recommend it to anyone.

Jane: Unless you have a green, slimy pet that loves to eat books and has goobers in her eyes.

Amanda: Yes, unless you’re an alien that likes to eat books, then you’re not allowed to read. because it’s too good for that.

Jane: I meant the alien’s pets.

Amanda: It’s too good for that. So, aliens, if you’re out there and if you’re listening, you should really check out SEE YOU IN THE COSMOS.

. . .

Don’t miss the MG@Heart Book Club’s Twitter chat, where there’ll be further discussion of LOVE, SUGAR, MAGIC. It’s happening this Monday, March 6th, at 8 pm EST. Find it, and participate, using the #MGbookclub hashtag. See you there!

A Conversation with Jack Cheng: Books Between, Episode 44

Episode Outline:

You can listen to the episode here.


Hi and welcome to the Books Between Podcast! I believe in the power of stories to inspire us and to change our lives for the better. And I know that being a reader encourages us to be more empathetic and to be better citizens in our world.  And I want to help you connect kids with those amazing, life-changing stories and bring you inspiring (and fun!) conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.  Every other Monday, I bring you book talks, interviews, and ideas for getting great books into the hands of kids between 8-12.

I am Corrina Allen – a mom of two tween girls, a teacher to 23 fifth graders, and I’ve beenScreen Shot 2018-02-26 at 12.46.42 AM planning a baby shower this week! My brother (who is also a teacher) and his wife (whois a librarian) are expecting their first this April. So – of course, I had to throw them a picture book themed baby shower.


This is Episode #44 and today I’m sharing with you a conversation with author Jack Cheng about his debut middle grade novel (and the MG at Heart February Book Club pick) See You in the Cosmos! And then I’ll end with a Q&A.

A few quick announcements. For those participating in the MG at Heart Books Club – the Twitter Chat to discuss See You in the Cosmos will be on Monday, March 6th at 8pm EST. Just follow the Hashtag #mgbookclub and I’ll see you there! Also, the March book is The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser. And the April book is The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson. If you want to know the rest of the schedule along with other great middle great content, please head over to – we have a book-release calendar and a great blog. One of my favorites from this past week is the post from Sayantani Dasgupta (author of The Serpent’s Secret) called “Nothing About Us Without Us: Writing #OwnVoices Fantasy in the Age of Black Panther”  – if you haven’t read it yet – it’s great. (And go see Black Panther – it was phenomenal!!)

So – there’s lots going on at MGBookVillage. It’s where all the transcripts of this podcast can be found. And – Kathie and Jarrett and Annaliese and I have been cooking up something pretty awesome for March. So stayed tuned!


Jack Cheng – Interview Outline

Joining me this month to ask Jack Cheng questions is one of the founders of the MG at Heart Book Club – and an author herself , Cindy Baldwin. Her novel, Where the Watermelons Grow, is out this July. We got the chance to connect with Jack on Skype last week and here is our conversation…

See You in the Cosmos

CA: For our listeners who haven’t yet read the novel, can you tell us a bit about Alex’s journey in See You in the Cosmos?cheng_jack

CA: The premise of this book is that the entire thing is recorded on Alex’s Golden iPod.  What were some aspects of writing the novel that were challenging because of that decision?

CB: Did you ever consider writing it another way?

CB: Alex is such a pitch-perfect balance of being really naive but also really precocious and shouldering a lot of adult responsibility. How did you strike that sweet spot in his voice between a kid who’s shouldering adult responsibilities but also being really clueless?

CB: How did you figure out how to assign time logs to the recorded entries? Did you read any of them aloud or was it all random guesswork?  

CA: Where you a fan of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos?  

JL: Yours is the second recently released kidlit book I’ve read in the past few months that voyager_golden_record_large_clock-r1f6c4faf1974455bac41f648cd2d6ad2_fup13_8byvr_324features the Voyager Golden Record and spacecraft centrally. (The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole is the other one.)  Carl Sagan said that “the launching of this ‘bottle’ into the cosmic ‘ocean’ said something very hopeful about life on this planet. I’d love to know what YOU think it is about the Golden Record project, and the launching of it out into space, that so captures and ignites the imagination, and why it might be a powerful thing for young people in particular to learn about.

CB: Have you ever built a rocket? And what kind of research did you do?

Your Writing Life / See You on the Bookshelf Podcast

CA: I just loved your podcast – See You on the Bookshelf – where you interview all the different people who helped make See You in the Cosmos as reality – from your agent and editor and copyeditor to the audio people. Why did you decide to create podcast to document the journey of your novel?See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng

CA: Did I hear that See You in the Cosmos was originally written as an adult book? If so – what changes did you make to angle your writing more toward middle grade?

CB: You tackle some serious topics in this book. You touch on child neglect, mental illness, running away, infidelity… What made you decide to explore these issues in this book? Why do you think it’s important to address difficult, mature topics like this in middle grade?

CB: Do you feel like you’ll continue to experiment with unusual formats in your work in the future?

CA: What are you working on now?

Your Reading Life

CA: One of the goals of this podcast is to help educators and librarians inspire kids to read more and connect them with amazing books. Did you have a teacher or librarian in your life who helped you grow into a reader?

CB: What role did reading have on your decision to be a writer?

CA: What are you reading now?

Thank You!Processed with VSCO with a6 preset


Jack’s website –

Jack on Twitter and Instagram

Jack’s See You on the BookShelf Podcast

Original Cosmos Series

Information about the Voyager Golden Record

Audio version of See You in the Cosmos

Books & Authors We Chatted About:

Pale Blue Dot (Carl Sagan)

The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole (Michelle Cuevas)

The Kid Who Only Hit Homers (Matt Christopher)

Orphan Island (Laurel Snyder)

Origin of Species (Charles Darwin)

Q & A

This week I’m going to end by addressing some questions and comments that I have been getting a lot over the last two weeks. In the wake of the most recent school shooting, at the Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14th – many many people have emailed and messaged me to express their anguish and to simply ask, “How is everyone doing?”  I know a lot you listening have been reaching out to me and to each other and hoping that maybe something’s different this time.

Every time I record a show I start by saying that I am a mom and I am a teacher.  And living in this society that glorifies gun violence and seems to tolerate it against its most vulnerable, I want to tell you what that means.

So as a mom, it means that my husband and I send our girls to school and we hope and feel lucky when they come home safely. As a mom, it means that your heart shreds a little more every time your child comes home and tells you where they hid during that day’s drill.  And as a mom, it means all too often I need to pull over to the side of the road on the way home from work to dry my tears at the latest news of yet another shooting of a child – in a school or in a neighborhood where all they’ve done wrong is wear a hooded sweatshirt. But as mom, you pull yourself together so you can listen to your children tell you about their day without dimming their smiles.

And I am also a teacher living in a culture where we and our students have become prey. And I want to tell you what that means.

It means that twice a year my students and I practice a lock down in case a shooter is in the school. They hide. Try to be quiet. And I shut the lights and hover near that locked door and plan how I might react if it wasn’t a drill. How could I use my body to shield theirs. Is there something nearby I can grab and use as a weapon?

A stapler?  Should I have grabbed that screwdriver out of the science kit?  

And I know it would never stop them. But it might just slow them down, a little. So that some could escape and there might be one less family to suffer that unimaginable grief of losing a child.

But being that shield would mean that my own children would be left without a mother.  And yet – all teachers I know do it willingly and gladly. Because we protect our kids – no matter what. That is the deal.

And I know my own teachers would have done the same. I know my daughters’ teachers would do the same. They’d protect those lives with their own.  But our society has broken that promise of protection.

And it is a heavy heavy burden placed on the shoulders of our children and our teachers. And it is too much. And I’ve even been asked – well, hey – what if you had a gun? Couldn’t you save more kids? First of all, a handgun is no match for assault weapon. And even a highly trained professional only averages an 18-25% accuracy rate in that kind of situation. When I think of where those other bullets might go in a school? For that reason and for a thousand more – NO! If you want to arm us, arm us with more counselors who serve students and not just sit in meetings about testing!

It’s already too much. But in return for that heavy burden on our children and their teachers – the drills, the anxiety that comes with every news story and every false alarm (and there are so many more of them than you know) – we expect action to end this brutal, soul-crushing gun violence. Action from our representatives, but also action from YOU.  Please.

Because our government WILL act. Once we are LOUD enough. And make them feel uncomfortable enough. And it’s really no surprise to me that the generation who grew up reading about Malala are at the forefront of this. They cut their teeth on the stories of brave young activists. They have finally gotten some momentum, so let’s help them.  I’ve called my representatives three times a week, and I’m going to the March for Our Lives on March 24th.

So I am begging you – please if you live in the US. – please help. Call the people who claim to represent you and I’ll see you at the march.



Corrina Allen is a 5th grade teacher in Central New York and mom of two energetic tween girls. She is passionate about helping kids discover who they are as readers.

Corrina is the host of Books Between – a podcast to help teachers, parents, and librarians connect children between 8 and 12 to books they’ll love.

Find her on Twitter at @corrinaaallen or Instagram at @Corrina_Allen.


MG at Heart Writer’s Toolbox: Using Sentence Length to Create a Voice-like Cadence

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The MG at Heart team is back again with a mid-month post about our February pick, Jack Cheng’s See You in the Cosmos. Eleven-year-old Alex Petroski narrates the entirety of this charming debut novel to the aliens he hopes to teach about Earth via a series of conversations recorded on a golden iPod. He got the idea from his hero, Carl Sagan, who created the Golden Record, which was launched into space in 1977.

An entire book narrated to aliens sounds like an unusual choice for a middle-grade novel, but Cheng’s incredible voice makes See You in the Cosmos a heart-warming and compelling read. It really sounds like Alex is telling us the story. And one of the reasons for that is Cheng’s use of sentence length to create a very realistic voice-like cadence. In some parts of the story, Alex’s voice comes through as breathless because of the long, stream-of-consciousness sentences, while in others, the use of ellipses and em-dashes reflects the tense or deeply upsetting scenes.

American author and writing instructor Gary Provost had this to say about varying sentence length in writing:

“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”

It’s no surprise that he uses terms like “music,” “lilt,” “drums,” “cymbals,” and “harmony,” because varying sentence length is a way to add musicality to your writing. But it can also convey both pace and character. And that’s what Cheng does so well in this story.

If you’re joining us in reading See You in the Cosmos this month, you know this is a book that can make you laugh and cry, sometimes in the same scene. See if you can spot instances of Jack Cheng using Alex’s somewhat quirky voice and perspective in combination with varied sentence length to evoke a certain emotion. And please share other examples in the comments on this post or on Twitter at #mgbookclub.

From the very first page, the story uses interesting sentence and paragraph structure to engage the reader:

“Who are you? What do you look like? Do you have one head or two? More? Do you have light brown skin like I do or smooth gray skin like a dolphin or spiky green skin like a cactus? Do you live in a house?” (3)

Sentences from one to 22 words not only convey a LOT of information about Alex’s personality, but they create an inviting and conversational tone.

Look at how the series of “and…and…and…and” here creates a sense of a building storm:

“Sometimes the clouds inside my head get big and gray and swirly and then I hurricane through my eyes. Except I don’t literally hurricane through my eyes—I don’t actually have a weather system in my head.”

And how the stream-of-consciousness format of the following quote shows us real-time how Alex grapples with the tough emotions that are explored in this story. You can almost hear his mind whirring as he figures things out:

“Have you ever lost someone you love?...Maybe you don't have that problem because you're never separated from anyone you love. Maybe as soon as you love someone you're physically connected to them with a tube that's kind of like a leash, except it's made out of flesh and it grows out of your belly button and you call it a fleash."

Whether you’re writing something of your own or working with kids on their creative writing, look for ways that you can use sentence length to convey emotion and voice in your writing. In See You in the Cosmos, Jack Cheng often uses this technique to create the voice-like cadence that is one of several interesting and unique things about the story.

Happy reading and writing, and make sure you’ve subscribed to the Middle Grade at Heart newsletter so you won’t miss this month’s edition, which goes out on February 26th and will include an author interview, an activity, a recipe, and other great content for See You in the Cosmos. And we look forward to chatting with you about the book on our Twitter book chat on March 6th!

MG at Heart Book Club’s February Pick

The February Pick for the Middle Grade at Heart Book Club is . . .


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A space-obsessed boy and his dog, Carl Sagan, take a journey toward family, love, hope, and awe in this funny and moving novel for fans of Counting by 7sWalk Two Moons, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
11-year-old Alex Petroski loves space and rockets, his mom, his brother, and his dog Carl Sagan—named for his hero, the real-life astronomer. All he wants is to launch his golden iPod into space the way Carl Sagan (the man, not the dog) launched his Golden Record on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977. From Colorado to New Mexico, Las Vegas to L.A., Alex records a journey on his iPod to show other lifeforms what life on earth, his earth, is like. But his destination keeps changing. And the funny, lost, remarkable people he meets along the way can only partially prepare him for the secrets he’ll uncover—from the truth about his long-dead dad to the fact that, for a kid with a troubled mom and a mostly not-around brother, he has way more family than he ever knew.
Jack Cheng’s debut is full of joy, optimism, determination, and unbelievable heart. To read the first page is to fall in love with Alex and his view of our big, beautiful, complicated world. To read the last is to know he and his story will stay with you a long, long time.

“Poignant and funny . . . propulsive . . . Alex’s strong voice drives this compelling personal journey with resonant themes of family, friendship, and resilience.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“It’s a story that changes the way you see the world.” — Holly Goldberg Sloan, author of Counting by 7s

. . .

Our newsletter — including an interview, discussion questions, activity, recipe, and more — will go out February 26. Sign up for it here. Our Twitter chat will happen soon thereafter, date and time TBA.

MG at Heart Book Club’s 2018 Book Picks

February: SEE YOU IN THE COSMOS by Jack Cheng

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Amazon   Indiebound


March: THE VANDERBEEKERS OF 141ST STREET by Karina Yan Glaser

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Amazon   Indiebound


April: THE PARKER INHERITANCE by Varian Johnson

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Amazon   Indiebound


May: EVERY SHINY THING by Laurie Morrison and Cordelia Jensen

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Amazon   Indiebound


June: THE MAD WOLF’S DAUGHTER by Diane Magras

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Amazon   Indiebound


July: JUST UNDER THE CLOUDS by Melissa Sarno

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Amazon   Indiebound



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Amazon     Indiebound


September: THE HOUSE THAT LOU BUILT by Mae Respicio

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Amazon     Indiebound


October: THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC by Amanda Rawson Hill

(cover not yet revealed)

Amazon     Indiebound


November: THE HOTEL BETWEEN by Sean Easley

(cover not yet revealed)

(not yet available for pre-order)