Review by

Cakes in Space

Can Astra save her spaceship from mutant cupcakes?

This is a seriously bizarre children’s book. It reminds me of an activity I do with children to help them get ideas for a silly story. They pull a main character, setting and plot out of a hat, then try to weave them together into a story that makes some kind of sense.

I like to imagine that while planning their latest book, Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre made a cup of tea, wrote random ideas onto bits of paper, shoved them into a nearby beanie and pulled out the following:

Character: a mostly normal but unusually brave 10 year old called Astra

Setting: Space

Plot: the main character must save her hibernating family from mutant cupcakes

‘Perfect!’ they cried, and Cakes in Space was born. I actually found the story’s premise a little terrifying: Astra and her family are ‘put to sleep’ for 199 years on a spaceship while it travels to a new planet. Don’t worry, ageing is halted because they’re essentially frozen. While this whole idea gives me the creeps, I think the scary side will mostly go over a child’s head and they will find it exciting.

‘Won’t we be cold?’ asked Astra with a shiver. She imagined herself snuggling down among the frozen peas and tubs of ice cream, an Arctic roll for a pillow.

‘We won’t feel cold,’ said her mother. ‘We won’t feel anything. We’ll be fast asleep. The machines which run the ship will cool us right down so that we don’t age. Then the ship will steer itself to Nova Mundi while we sleep, and when we get there it will wake us, and we’ll feel as if only a single night has passed. And we’ll be on our new home!’

But of course, things don’t quite go to plan. Astra wakes up, alone, half way through the trip, and has to save the entire spaceship from mutating cakes along AND some other unwanted visitors. Single-handedly. Well, a robot called Pilbeam helps a bit.

They were cupcakes.

There were six of them, and each was the size of a fairly large flowerpot.

They hung there in formation, hundreds and thousands bristling fiercely on their tops.

This book comes in an attractive square-ish shape with a hardback cover, all the rage these days; it would make a great Christmas present. An exciting adventure story for robust, independent children, but I do wonder if more sensitive children with overactive imaginations might find the book a little scarier than intended.

 6 to 9 years

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Cakes in Space by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre published by Oxford University press, 211 pages