On the surface, George’s Secret Key to the Universe, by physicist Stephen Hawking and his daughter Lucy, is a straightforward story about a kid fascinated by space. George, with help from his pet pig Freddy, discovers that a scientist, Eric, and his ballet-loving daughter, Annie, have moved in next door.

Spice cadets: In the middle of an asteroid storm.

Using Cosmos, Annie drags George into space one day and he is treated to an intergalactic show-and-tell while riding a comet, with Annie as the tour guide. George learns jumping on comets is not that good an idea, pilfers a space rock from one of Saturn’s rings and gets pummelled in an asteroid storm—basically, all the things kids do when they are in outer space. George is then inspired to enter a school science contest to win a computer. But, then, mayhem breaks loose when the evil Dr Reeper lures Eric into a black hole and manages to steal Cosmos.

If that were all, this would be a regular book for 10-year-olds; the kind you read once and promptly forget about. The Hawkings have climbed on to the bandwagon of books overflowing with “extras", but still keep it unique.

For one, it’s packed with pictures. There are illustrations by the award-winning Garry Parson on most pages (this is stuff that induces kids to buy and read books) and there are also full-page photos of space, planets and comets, (stuff that induces adults to buy books for kids).

And while you’re reading about George and Freddy, be prepared to be assaulted by sidebars of factoids on the planets (liquid water might still be present on Mars) and the early atmosphere (we would not have been able to breathe on the Earth 3.5 billion years ago) and, naturally,

George’s Secret Key to the Universe: Random House, 297 pages, Rs395.

The latest research by the author of ABriefHistory of Time on black holes has been simplified and included as a fun-to-read chapter, with helpful advice on how to get out, if you ever happen to get sucked into one. His Hawking radiation theory, which states that black holes lose mass and emit radiation, is also present.

With this book, the Hawkings have probably managed to make being a geek acceptable, if not cool. If you are uninterested in space, George’s Secret Key to the Universe will ignite a spark. If you are fascinated by it (most kids are), this will be the book on your shelf with the frayed cover and well-thumbed pages.

George’s vulnerability is also the book’s USP and most kids will easily relate to the little astro junkie. Read this book if you have ever been different from the rest, if your lunch box had broccoli muffins when everyone’s had fizzy sodas. Parents and kids get to learn some lessons also: It is not too bad to have parents who eat organic, care for the environment, and are different from everyone else’s; it is also okay to let go of your beliefs to a small extent so that your kids can fit in.

Maybe this is analysing a children’s book too much. You decide.