George's Secret Key to the Universe (George's Secret Key Series #1)

George's Secret Key to the Universe (George's Secret Key Series #1)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416985846
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date: 05/19/2009
Series: George's Secret Key Series , #1
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 57,997
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

Stephen Hawking, a Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, is the preeminent theoretical physicist in the world. His book A Brief History of Time was a phenomenal worldwide bestseller. He has twelve honorary degrees and was awarded the Commander of the Order of the British Empire and was made a Companion of Honour. He has three children and one grandchild. Visit him at Hawking.org.uk.

Lucy Hawking, Stephen Hawking’s daughter, is a journalist and novelist. She is the coauthor of George’s Secret Key to the Universe, George’s Cosmic Treasure Hunt, and George and the Big Bang, as well as the author of the adult novels Jaded and Run for Your Life. She lives in Cambridge with her son.

Garry Parsons is the award-winning illustrator of many books, including George’s Secret Key to the Universe, George’s Cosmic Treasure Hunt, and George and the Big Bang by Lucy and Stephen Hawking; Billy’s Bucket by Kes Gray; and What’s Cool About School by Kate Agnew. He lives in London. Visit him at GarryParsons.co.uk.

Read an Excerpt

George’s Secret Key to the Universe




  • Pigs don’t just vanish, thought George as he stood staring into the depths of the very obviously empty pigsty. He tried closing his eyes and then opening them again, to see if it was all some kind of horrible optical illusion. But when he looked again, the pig was still gone, his vast muddy pink bulk nowhere to be seen. In fact, when George examined the situation for a second time, it had gotten worse, not better. The side door of the pigsty, he noticed, was hanging open, which meant someone hadn’t shut it properly. And that someone was probably him.

    “Georgie!” he heard his mother call from the kitchen. “I’m going to start supper in a minute, so you’ve only got about an hour. Have you done your homework?”

    “Yes, Mom,” he called back in a fake cheery voice.

    “How’s your pig?”

    “He’s fine! Fine!” said George squeakily. He threw in a few experimental oinks, just to make it sound as though everything was business as usual, here in the small backyard that was full of many, many vegetables and one enormous—but now mysteriously absent—pig. He grunted a few more times for effect—it was very important his mother did not come out into the garden before George had time to think up a plan. How he was going to find the pig, put it back in the sty, close the door, and get back in time for supper, he had no idea. But he was working on it, and the last thing he needed was for one of his parents to appear before he had all the answers.

    George knew the pig was not exactly popular with his parents. His mother and father had never wanted a pig in the backyard, and his dad in particular tended to grind his teeth quite hard when he remembered who lived beyond the vegetable patch. The pig had been a present: One cold Christmas Eve a few years back, a cardboard box full of squeaks and snuffles had been delivered to their front door. When George opened it up, he found a very indignant pink piglet inside. George lifted him carefully out of the box and watched with delight as his new friend skidded around the Christmas tree on his tiny hooflets. There had been a note taped to the box. Dear all! it read. Merry Christmas! This little fellow needs a home—can you give him one? Love, Grandma xxx.

    George’s dad hadn’t been delighted by the new addition to his family. Just because he was a vegetarian, it didn’t mean he liked animals. Actually, he preferred plants. They were much easier to deal with: They didn’t make a mess or leave muddy hoofprints on the kitchen floor or break in and eat all the cookies left out on the table. But George was thrilled to have his very own pig. The presents he’d received from his mom and dad that year were, as usual, pretty awful. The home-knitted purple-and-orange striped sweater from his mom had sleeves that stretched right down to the floor; he had never wanted a xylophone, and he had a hard time looking enthusiastic when he unwrapped a build-your-own ant farm.

    What George really wanted—above all things in the Universe—was a computer. But he knew his parents were very unlikely to buy him one. They didn’t like modern inventions and tried to do without as many standard household items as they could. Wanting to live a purer, simpler life, they washed all their clothes by hand and didn’t own a car and lit the house with candles in order to avoid using any electricity.

    It was all designed to give George a natural and improving upbringing, free from toxins, additives, radiation, and other such evil phenomena. The only problem was that in getting rid of everything that could possibly harm George, his parents had managed to do away with lots of things that would also be fun for him. George’s parents might enjoy going on environmental protest marches or grinding flour to make their own bread, but George didn’t. He wanted to go to a theme park and ride on the roller coasters or play computer games or take an airplane somewhere far, far away. Instead, for now, all he had was his pig.

    And a very fine pig he was too. George named him Freddy and spent many happy hours dangling over the edge of the pigsty his father had built in the backyard, watching Freddy root around in the straw or snuffle in the dirt. As the seasons changed and the years turned, George’s piglet got bigger . . . and bigger . . . and bigger . . . until he was so large that in dim lighting he looked like a baby elephant. The bigger Freddy grew, the more he seemed to feel cooped up in his pigsty. Whenever he got the chance, he liked to escape and rampage across the vegetable patch, trampling on the carrot tops, munching the baby cabbages, and chewing up George’s mom’s flowers. Even though she often told George how important it was to love all living creatures, George suspected that on days when Freddy wrecked her garden, she didn’t feel much love for his pig. Like George’s dad, his mom was a vegetarian, but George was sure he had heard her angrily mutter “sausages” under her breath when she was cleaning up after one of Freddy’s more destructive outings.

    On this particular day, however, it wasn’t the vegetables that Freddy had destroyed. Instead of charging madly about, the pig had done something much worse. In the fence that separated George’s garden from the one next door, George suddenly noticed a suspiciously pig-sized hole. Yesterday it definitely hadn’t been there, but then yesterday Freddy had been safely shut in his sty. And now he was nowhere to be seen. It meant only one thing—that Freddy, in his search for adventure, had burst out of the safety of the backyard and gone somewhere he absolutely should not have gone.

    Next Door was a mysterious place. It had been empty for as long as George could remember. While all the other houses in the row had neatly kept backyards, windows that twinkled with light in the evenings, and doors that slammed as people ran in and out, this house just sat there—sad, quiet, and dark. No small children squeaked with joy early in the morning. No mother called out of the back door to bring people in for supper. On the weekends, there was no noise of hammering or smell of fresh paint because no one ever came to fix the broken window frames or clear the sagging gutters. Years of neglect meant the garden had rioted out of control until it looked like the Amazon jungle had grown up on the other side of the fence.

    On George’s side, the backyard was neat, orderly, and very boring. There were rows of string beans strictly tied to stakes, lines of floppy lettuces, frothy dark green carrot tops, and well-behaved potato plants. George couldn’t even kick a ball without it landing splat in the middle of a carefully tended blueberry bush and squashing it.

    George’s parents had marked out a little area for George to grow his own vegetables, hoping he would become interested in gardening and perhaps grow up to be an organic farmer. But George preferred looking up at the sky to looking down at the earth. So his little patch of the planet stayed bare and scratchy, showing nothing but stones, scrubby weeds, and bare ground, while he tried to count all the stars in the sky to find out how many there were.

    Next Door, however, was completely different. George often stood on top of the pigsty roof and gazed over the fence into the glorious tangled forest beyond. The sweeping bushes made cozy little hidey-holes, while the trees had curved, gnarled branches, perfect for a boy to climb. Brambles grew in great clumps, their spiky arms bending into strange, wavy loops, crisscrossing each other like train tracks at a station. In summer, twisty bindweed clung on to every other plant in the garden like a green cobweb; yellow dandelions sprouted everywhere; prickly poisonous giant hogweed loomed like a species from another planet, while little blue forget-me-not flowers winked prettily in the crazy bright green jumble of Next Door’s backyard.

    But Next Door was also forbidden territory. George’s parents had very firmly said no to the idea of George using it as an extra playground. And it hadn’t been their normal sort of no, which was a wishy-washy, kindly, we’re-asking-you-not-to-for-your-own-sake sort of no. This had been a real no, the kind you didn’t argue with. It was the same no that George had encountered when he tried suggesting that, as everyone else at school had a television set—some kids even had one in their bedroom!—maybe his parents could think about buying one. On the subject of television, George had had to listen to a long explanation from his father about how watching mindless trash would pollute his brain. But when it came to Next Door, he didn’t even get a lecture from his dad. Just a flat, conversation-ending no.

    George, however, always liked to know why. Guessing he wasn’t going to get any more answers from his dad, he asked his mother instead.

    “Oh, George,” she had sighed as she chopped up Brussels sprouts and turnips and threw them into the cake mix. She tended to cook with whatever came to hand rather than with ingredients that would actually combine to make something tasty. “You ask too many questions.”

    “I just want to know why I can’t go next door,” George persisted. “And if you tell me, I won’t ask any more questions for the rest of the day. I promise.”

    His mom wiped her hands on her flowery apron and took a sip of nettle tea. “All right, George,” she said. “I’ll tell you a story if you stir the muffins.” Passing over the big brown mixing bowl and the wooden spoon, she settled herself down as George started to beat the stiff yellow dough with the green and white vegetable speckles together.

    “When we first moved here,” his mom began, “when you were very small, an old man lived in that house. We hardly ever saw him, but I remember him well. He had the longest beard I’ve ever seen—it went right down to his knees. No one knew how old he really was, but the neighbors said he’d lived there forever.”

    “What happened to him?” asked George, who’d already forgotten that he’d promised not to ask any more questions.

    “Nobody knows,” said his mom mysteriously.

    “What do you mean?” asked George, who had stopped stirring.

    “Just that,” said his mom. “One day he was there. The next day he wasn’t.”

    “Maybe he went on vacation,” said George.

    “If he did, he never came back,” said his mom. “Eventually they searched the house, but there was no sign of him. The house has been empty ever since and no one has ever seen him again.”

    “Gosh,” said George.

    “A little while back,” his mom continued, blowing on her hot tea, “we heard noises next door—banging sounds in the middle of the night. There were flashing lights and voices as well. Some squatters had broken in and were living there. The police had to throw them out. Just last week we thought we heard the noises again. We don’t know who might be in that house. That’s why your dad doesn’t want you going around there, Georgie.”

    •   •   •

    As George looked at the big black hole in the fence, he remembered the conversation he’d had with his mom. The story she’d told him hadn’t stopped him from wanting to go Next Door—it still looked mysterious and enticing. But wanting to go Next Door when he knew he couldn’t was one thing; finding out he actually had to was quite another. Suddenly Next Door seemed dark, spooky, and very scary.

    George felt torn. Part of him just wanted to go home to the flickery candlelight and funny familiar smells of his mother’s cooking, to close the back door and be safe and snug inside his own house once more. But that would mean leaving Freddy alone and possibly in danger. He couldn’t ask his parents for any help in case they decided that this was the final black mark against Freddy’s name and packed him off to be made into bacon. Taking a deep breath, George decided he had to do it. He had to go Next Door.

    Closing his eyes, he plunged through the hole in the fence.

    When he came out on the other side and opened his eyes, he was right in the middle of the jungle garden. Above his head, the tree cover was so dense he could hardly see the sky. It was getting dark now, and the thick forest made it even darker. George could just see where a path had been trampled through the enormous weeds. He followed it, hoping it would lead him to Freddy.

    He waded through great banks of brambles, which grabbed at his clothes and scratched his bare skin. They seemed to reach out in the semidarkness to scrape their prickly spines along his arms and legs. Muddy old leaves squished under his feet, and nettles attacked him with their sharp, stinging fingers. All the while the wind in the trees above him made a singing, sighing noise, as though the leaves were saying, Be careful, Georgie . . . be careful, Georgie.

    The trail brought George into a sort of clearing right behind the house itself. So far he had not seen or heard any sign of his wayward pig. But there, on the broken paving stones outside the back door, he saw only too clearly a set of muddy hoofprints. From the marks, George could tell exactly which way Freddy had gone. His pig had marched straight into the abandoned house through the back door, which had been pushed open just wide enough for a fat pig to squeeze through. Worse, from the house where no one had lived for years and years, a beam of light shone.

    Somebody was home.

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    George's Secret Key to the Universe 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 42 reviews.
    avalonpriestess More than 1 year ago
    This book was recommended by Lucas' 5th grade science teacher. I'm glad I read it. (I used to try to convince myself that I must read his books to be certain they contain nothing objectionable, now I just admit I love kids books) The first few chapters were very slow moving. They set up the characters of the story. George is a child of two organic loving, technology hating "save the Earth" parents. They shun technology to the point where they use candles instead of light bulbs! Eric, the scientist neighbor who loves to teach. Annie, Eric's annoying but lovable daughter. Mr. G. Reeper (known as Greeper to his students) the science teacher in George's school, Greeper is the villain of the story..OK- you knew there had to be a villain, right? And let's not forget COSMOS, the most amazing computer in the universe. COSMOS, a talking computer with an attitude, reminded me of HAL from Space Odyssey, 2001. The book told a story of saving the planet and/or searching for other habitable planets. Should we work together to do both? Can technology be a good thing if used correctly? This book is full of fun scientific information. There are footnotes about the planets, comets, asteroids, matter, black holes and many other astronomical objects. The illustrations that accompany the story are wonderful, courtesy of Garry Parsons. There are several color photos of planets, black holes, comets and other things discussed in the book. Kids learn about astronomy without realizing they are learning!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    A great (and funny) way to teach science to kids (and adults, too). The illustrations are great! If you are not a science lover, no problem: just have fun!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Excellent family read-aloud and share book. Plenty of information for discussion.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I bought this book at my library for 2 freaking dollars!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    AMAZING
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    My eight-year old tends to stick to what he knows, and would be reading "easy" books forever. I love physics, and bought this book because of the glowing reviews. Well, it lived up to them! He's already read both books and is anxiously awaiting the promised third book.
    mandochild on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    I was actually a little disappointed with this one, but then, I was being rather naive. Not ever having been brave enough to attempt A brief history of time I think I was looking to see some of Hawking's brilliance through a children's novel. But of course, it wasn't like that at all. In fact, it was too young and the plot too implausible for me to enjoy it properly - I was itching for something more intelligent (which doesn't happen to me very often!).Having said that, the storyline was engagingly written and the characters generally likeable. And as it built towards the climax, I genuinely did want to know what happened. I think that if the book had been aimed at an older audience, with a more plausible plotline, it would have been a really good book. But as it is, I'm not sure I'll be too worried about getting the sequel. Maybe I'll have to get brave in the library some day or see if I can find a suitable e or audio version of Hawking's "real" work...
    ljldml on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    This book was recommended by Lucas' 5th grade science teacher. I'm glad I read it. (I used to try to convince myself that I must read his books to be certain they contain nothing objectionable, now I just admit I love kids books) The first few chapters were very slow moving. They set up the characters of the story. George is a child of two organic loving, technology hating "save the Earth" parents. They shun technology to the point where they use candles instead of light bulbs! Eric, the scientist neighbor who loves to teach. Annie, Eric's annoying but lovable daughter. Mr. G. Reeper (known as Greeper to his students) the science teacher in George's school, Greeper is the villain of the story..OK- you knew there had to be a villain, right? And let's not forget COSMOS, the most amazing computer in the universe. COSMOS, a talking computer with an attitude, reminded me of HAL from Space Odyssey, 2001.The book told a story of saving the planet and/or searching for other habitable planets. Should we work together to do both? Can technology be a good thing if used correctly?This book is full of fun scientific information. There are footnotes about the planets, comets, asteroids, matter, black holes and many other astronomical objects. The illustrations that accompany the story are wonderful, courtesy of Garry Parsons. There are several color photos of planets, black holes, comets and other things discussed in the book. Kids learn about astronomy without realizing they are learning! Don't forget to check out the webpage georgessecretkey.com
    Zacswic on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    I love it because cosmos opened a door to the universe
    DavidDunkerton on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    George's Secret Key to the Universe is written at a younger reading level, but I think teens would still enjoy it because it has an interesting story and there are several fascinating and beautiful pictures and facts inserted. Stephen Hawking is a well-known genius and the authority on the theory of black holes, and just the fact that he had input in a children¿s novel gives it some instant appeal!George¿s parents are very concerned about the environment, so they do not use much electricity in their home, they do not drive cars, and they only eat organic vegetables. George really wants a computer, but his parents refuse to get one for him because they believe technology is destroying the world.George found out that his neighbor owned Cosmos, the most amazing computer in the world. This computer could transport you into outer space, and George learned a lot about the universe, including comets and our solar system. When someone else found out about Cosmos, though, things got dangerous!
    BiblioKleptoManiac on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    Follows the adventures of a young boy and his neighbor friend as they travel through a computer portal into outer space, where they explore such mysteries as black holes and the origins of the universe, while trying to evade an evil scientist.
    kewpie on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    This book will teach the budding elementary school aged geek some of the newest theories about black holes. It will teach adults about Stephen Hawking's playful mind and sense of humor. This book was written for those pre-geek second and third graders who read all the astronomy books in the j520 section of the library and then pester their parents, teachers and school librarians about the big bang, black holes, comets and life on other planets. I've done stints in elementary school libraries and there are plenty of these kids. Perhaps some adults may think the story is too young for the science presented -- but I bet these adults haven't worked in school libraries. They don't know about the one "weird kid" who seems to be in almost every second and third grade class in every school in the nation who craves to know the inner workings of the universe and is frustrated that most adults they encounter don't seem to know or care about the questions they have.My cousin and I were those "weird kids" in our classes. We were mad about science and played "Let's Pretend" long after the other kids our age quit. I can totally imagine him and I pretending that we had an amazing computer that zoomed us out into space and allowed us to ride a comet around the solar system. And in reality, I remember us pretending that we were falling into a black hole at some point. When I read this book, I felt as if I were eight years old again. I would have LOVED this book. It would have been next to the "Brown Paper School Book" series that I treasured. I felt like I was snooping in on someone else's "Let's Pretend" game.
    aedwards92 on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    I bought this for my 6 year old son who has a terrific imagination and loves science. I read a chapter a night to him over the course of a month. He loved the story and the quality time we spent together. The basic idea of the book is a boy, George, makes friends with a girl, Annie, and her scientist father Eric. Eric has created the smartest computer in the world, Cosmos. Cosmos is able to open windows to galaxy where Annie, Eric, and George can explore. During the story they run into the books villian, Dr. Reaper, who steals Cosmos to use it for his own personal gain instead of scientific advancement.I really like how the book incorporates current scientific theories in a manner a young child can be interested in. There were a few points that I wasn't thrilled about, for example, the idea that the villian was a teacher or that Erics parents were anti-technology.However, the book has sparked a tremendous interest in space and science in my son and that alone makes the book worth it.
    aangela1010 on LibraryThing 7 months ago
    Really great. Helped me understand all that sciency-stuff I never understood. I hope there will be more of them.
    MikeFarquhar on LibraryThing 10 months ago
    George's Secret Key to the Universe by Lucy Hawking, aided and abetted by her father Stephen, is a slightly odd hybrid of textbook and kids' adventure story. George has eco-warrior type parents who regularly take part in protest marches, believe science is dangerous, and - to his frustration - don't allow things like TVs or computers in the house. When mysterious new neighbours move in next door, George discovers a key to an entirely new world of scientific wonder, and ends up being catapulted into adventure.This is a decent enough kids' story, but its tone is slightly oddly placed - it veers between trying for advenure/thriller, but regularly segues into slightly preachy, worthy and patronising asides on how Science is Pure Dead Brilliant So It Is, as well as the occasional fact/textbook like page thrown in for good measure. While I have no problem at all with the message, it was all presented a bit too worthily for my liking - however, I think there's every chance the 6-7 year old me would probably have eaten it up. Be interesting to see how it is received and whether having the Hawking name attached to it makes a significant difference to its reception. This is intended as the first in a trilogy, with presumably the later two books covering other aspects of science (this one is predominantly astronomy/cosmology)(There's a great bit where the whole plot hinges on the revelation that black holes emit Hawking Radiation, and the self-referential smugness of the authors almost makes the book implode in on itself)
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Go george!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Oh my goodness! I got this book when i was in 5th grade. I love it!!!!!!!!!!! Its amazing!!!!! I cannot wait to buy the thrird one and I hope its just as good as the first two! Its an great read for anyone who likes a good no great book!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    A very entertaining book that makes you learn things without realizing that you are. Very creative and imaginative. For any age.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    The main point I am trying to make is that i think this book is great for students who love science and learning new things. I think that a kid should be aloud to read anything they want to i just recommend this book for one of my favorites.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Chad Mickelson More than 1 year ago
    I tore through it reading every chance I got. That a 5 star book.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago