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Oliver’s Great Big Universe

Oliver's Great Big Universe cover


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Book Review

From Oliver’s perspective, life in middle school is chaos. But science and the universe? They’re much easier to understand. So he decides to make a book that’ll help readers understand that universe, too.

Plot Summary

Comic books about superheroes, monsters and aliens are cool and all. But they’re not so great at helping make sense out of life. Especially life in middle school.

Comic books, however, were all that 11-year-old Oliver had to turn to for answers.

Then he found science. And everything changed!

Oliver was introduced to science when Dr. Howard came to school and spoke as a guest lecturer. And with that lecture, the whole science thing kinda clicked for Oliver. He started understanding what Dr. Howard was saying about the universe, solar systems and junk like supernovas and black holes. The more he looked into it, the more questions he asked, the more all the pieces of everything around him started to fit.

In fact, Oliver started wondering if science might be his special gift. You know, like his friend Christopher’s skills with a Rubik’s Cube (that he solved for a talent show in 12.7 seconds. Blindfolded!)

Before science, Oliver couldn’t hold a candle to the skills of his friend Zoe, who can kick a soccer ball a mile, or his bud Sven, who can use his armpit like a musical instrument.

Gasp. What if science … is Oliver’s armpit? What a crazy, wonderful idea!

It was that kind of thinking that helped Oliver decide that he was going to write his very own book. I mean, he noticed that some of the other kids were having trouble with the whole science thing. Maybe he could help his fellow students see science from a common sense, middle school perspective.

For example, have you ever noticed the uncanny similarities between the planet Mercury and a cafeteria meatball? Oh, they’re there all right. And have you ever considered that a little gas passed in a crowded middle school hallway has the same effect as Dark Energy on the universe?

You haven’t thought about it? Well, Oliver has. And with the help of his artistically gifted pal, Evie, he’s gonna put it all on display for eager middle school minds.

Man! This book might ultimately be even cooler that an armpit symphony.

And who wouldn’t wanna see that?

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

Through the lens of science (and middle school), Oliver looks at the beginnings of the universe, black holes, wormholes, the sun, the planets, neutrinos, dark matter, dark energy, and time. He presents scientific ideas as completely factual, even though many of the ideas are still subject to discussion today. But the cute and often funny discussions can certainly introduce young readers to concepts they may not have considered. And thoughtful parents can also open the door for discussions of how science and faith can be coexistent.

In one chapter, Oliver wonders if there is a ghost in his house. He calls Dr. Howard for some calming scientific explanations, which the good doctor gives him. Oliver eventually realizes that his “ghosty fears” were over nothing.

Authority Roles

The teachers and adults in the book are all presented as loving and helpful, even though Oliver’s middle school kid behavior can sometimes be obliviously frustrating. For example, Oliver contacts Dr. Howard (who’s married to Oliver’s teacher) and asks a bunch of follow-up questions at inconvenient moments. And though the doctor is busy, he always takes time to patiently work through ideas with the curious kid.

There’s never any direct disrespect of parents, teachers or other adults. Oliver does, however, roll his eyes at how slow his father drives and he jokingly notes, “My dad always says: The best way to know something is to explain it. And he’s usually wrong only half of the time.”

Profanity & Violence

We don’t read about any displays of bad language, violence or drugs and alcohol. There is, however, quite a bit of potty humor scattered throughout that winks at middle school behaviors. Oliver declares, for instance, that he does all his best thinking in the bathroom. References are made to passing gas; the similarities of universal forces and a toilet bowl; references to the planet Uranus; and other “butt”-focused giggles.

Sexual Content

Oliver and Evie meet at school and become friends who work together on the science book. But their relationship goes no further than a very close and sincere friendship.

Discussion Topics

Have you thought much about how the universe was created and where Earth and all the planets came from? What did you think of Oliver’s scientific explanations of it all? Have you ever thought about how scientists prove the ideas they have about the universe? Are all of the ideas he talks about provable?

What about faith? How does the Bible say that the universe was created? Take a look at the beginning of the book of Genesis. Do you think the Bible and scientific theory are totally at odds? Are there ways in which Scripture and science can both be true?

What did you think about Oliver’s explanation of the way time passes? Have you thought about or looked into what the Bible says about time?

Psalms 90:12 says: Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. What do you think that verse means? How can numbering our days give us wisdom? Do you think there is wisdom we can find through science and faith?

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Additional Comments

Author Jorge Cham’s graphic novel-like book focuses on scientific views of how the universe ticks—from creation to the reason for an expanding universe to our perception of time. And protagonist Oliver takes the tack that those in-vogue views are more fact than theory, even though science itself is constantly re-evaluating its own conclusions.

That said, this is a great STEM-themed, kid-focused book that can challenge young readers to think about the big picture. It’s funny, inviting and creative.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not necessarily their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Review by Bob Hoose