Brightly’s Book Club for Kids:
Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth
by Tom Burns
Welcome to the eighth installment of Brightly’s Book Club for Kids, where we put together fun, interesting, and immersive reading experiences for young readers. Every month, we find stories that we think your whole clan of readers will love. This month is no exception. Our pick is a great graphic novel that brings together an affecting story about a young boy who doesn’t think he has anything to contribute to the world AND a cracking, seat-of-your-pants adventure about rampaging robots from another dimension. Be prepared to introduce kids to … Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth!
This Month’s Selection
Best For: Kids ages 6 – 12. Hilo is a fantastic book for independent reading, but the story itself is gentle enough that younger kids can enjoy it as a read-aloud too.
What It’s About: This rollicking comic adventure is the brainchild of Judd Winick — comic fans will know him from his work on titles like Batman, Green Arrow, and his award-winning, emotionally charged graphic novel Pedro and Me; children of the ’90s will know Judd as one of the cast members of MTV’s “The Real World: San Francisco.”
Hilo follows D.J. (Daniel Jackson Lim), the lonely middle child in a family full of overscheduled overachievers. D.J. doesn’t think he’s good at “anything” — he only felt sure of himself when he was hanging out with his best friend Gina, but she moved away three years ago. One day, after middle school, D.J. sees what he thinks is a meteor fall from the sky and is surprised to find that what he saw falling was really a strange boy, almost his own age, wearing nothing but silver underpants. The enthusiastic boy-from-the skies doesn’t seem to know anything about the world (he tries to eat grass), but he does know that something has happened to his memory, he likes burping (a lot), and his name is Hilo. D.J. tries to help Hilo discover where exactly he came from, but things are quickly complicated by Hilo’s strange abilities (laser hands!), Gina’s unexpected return, and gigantic, menacing robots that seem bent on destroying D.J.’s new best friend.
Major Themes: Self-worth, friendship, bravery, and dealing with complex emotions. Also, how cool it is to fight evil robots.
Why We Picked It: Hilo is a perfect book for the last days of summer — it’s fast-paced and reads like a blockbuster action movie, but one so smart and well-written that you won’t feel guilty about taking the kids to see it. Behind all of the robot-fighting and burp jokes, Winick finds a surprising amount of emotional resonance with his characters. D.J. is a fantastic protagonist, an ideal analog for every kid who worries that they’re simply not good at anything. D.J.’s adventures with Hilo show how even the most normal kids in the world often have untapped depths inside of them, which is a wonderful message to share with your book club. It’s also the first book in the Hilo series, so fans of this first book can look forward to many more adventures ahead.
A Note on Reading Graphic Novels: If you (or your kids) have never read a graphic novel before, you’re in for a treat — although the reading experience is a bit different than reading a traditional novel. You can read a graphic novel much faster, but the key is to slow down and take in the details on every page. There’s actually research that suggests that reading graphic novels can help young readers develop empathy skills because they can pick up on the characters’ facial cues as they read their dialogue. Just remember that graphic novels are all about the marriage of images and text, so take the time to enjoy both.
They’re also super-fun to read-aloud, particularly the robot-crunching sound effects.
Suggestions for Younger Readers: If you have children that aren’t old enough for the robot-wrecking mayhem in Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth, here are some gentler (still entertaining) books that they might enjoy:
SPOILER ALERT! There is a major revelation about one of the main characters that happens about halfway through the book (on page 86, to be exact). We will be referring to this revelation in some of the book club details below, so be forewarned: You might want to get to page 86 before proceeding.
What You’ll Need for Book Club
You’ll need our discussion questions, Internet access (to watch some awesome videos), shredded coconut, Rice Krispies, other assorted treats, crafting supplies, and various other odds and ends for snacks, games, and projects.
The Perfect Snacks for the Boy Who Crashed to Earth:
When D.J. first meets Hilo, the boy from the skies has never actually eaten before, so you can definitely make some fun snacks based on Hilo’s first experiments with food.
- The very first thing Hilo eats on Earth is grass, so why not whip up some awesome edible grass, using coconut, food coloring, and your food processor?
- The next thing that Hilo eats (and raves about) is rice and milk. You know what that sounds like to us? Rice Krispies Treats! Or you could take it a thematic step further and go for ROBOT Rice Krispies Treats!
- If your book club members wants to embrace Hilo’s love of the burping arts, why not make one of the most famous burp-related drinks in children’s literary history: the Fizzy Lifting Drinks from Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!
Boy Who Crashed to Earth Decorations:
- If you really want your readers to feel like D.J. and Hilo, surrounded by weird robots at every turn, embrace your robot overlords with 13 Robot Crafts Your Kids Will Beg to Make. (My favorites are the tin-can robot faces.)
- Or you could swipe some fun ideas from Buzzfeed’s own list of 22 Adorable Ideas For An Epic Robot-Themed Birthday Party — just replace “birthday” with “book club” and you should be all set.
- D.J. is also very attached to his plastic elephant (a memento from his childhood friendship with Gina). If your kids could use their own pachyderm reminder of Hilo, you can make classic milk bottle elephants.
The Book Club Discussion
Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth is a lot more than just the story of a boy robot on the run. (There’s that spoiler we promised earlier. Hilo is really a robot.) There are so many topics relevant to young readers in the text that can inspire some truly insightful conversations with your reading group. When you read Hilo, you will find yourself confronted with questions about self-identity, insecurity, and those awful adolescent feelings where you’re just not sure what makes you special or who you really are. It also raises a few interesting notions about the nature of free will. If you want to get young readers talking about Hilo, these questions can help get you started:
- D.J. feels that “there’s just nothing that I’m super good at” (page 9). Do you ever feel that way? Go around the room and take turns telling the people in your book club one thing that you think they do really well.
- How are Hilo and D.J. similar? How are they different? Name one thing that Hilo helps D.J. with and vice versa.
- Hilo comes to Earth with a blank slate; he doesn’t understand language, food, or normal customs. If your memory was erased like Hilo, what about the world would seem strange to you?
- At what point in the story did you realize that Hilo was a robot? Was it a surprise to you?
- Why does D.J. act awkward when Gina returns to Berke County?
- The book opens with a flash-forward, where we see D.J. and Hilo fighting a robot. Do you like it when stories jump around in time? Why do you think the author flashes back and flashes forward during the story?
- Hilo, D.J., and Gina all express that they sometimes feel out of place or alone during the story. Do you think many children feel that way? Why?
- Razorwark and the other “evil” robots consider humans to be “monsters” because of the way humans treat robotic beings. If you were a robot, would you like humans? Should robots be allowed to operate on their own, without the help of humans?
- The Obliteratron tells Hilo, “To get to you … Razorwark would lay waste to hundreds of planets.” Why do you think Razorwark wants Hilo so badly?
- Hilo ends on a cliffhanger. What do you think will happen in the next volume of the story?
After the Discussion
- Want to know more about Hilo and his friends? Or learn more about the man who created them? Check out these fun videos where Judd Winick introduces readers to the world of Hilo:
- Judd Winick created so many cool and unusual robots in Hilo, and it might be fun if the members of your book club learned to draw and design their very own robots. The Art for Kids Hub on YouTube has some really fun art tutorial videos — here’s one where they show off how to draw a cartoon robot.
- If you want a more advanced look at sketching robots, you should watch this captivating sketch video from noted comic book artist Jake Parker. (He also illustrated Michael Chabon’s fantastic picture book The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man.) Parker starts with a few red squiggles and ends up with a remarkably detailed robot creation.
- If your kids REALLY want to start drawing their own comics after reading Hilo (and if they’re big Marvel movie fans), they might love the classic video “How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way,” a fascinating introduction to comic book illustration hosted by comics legend Stan Lee.
- Hilo is all about friendship and self-discovery … and kids fighting against big honkin’ robots. Since you probably can’t easily organize a way for your book club to battle against a giant robo-ant, why not look back to the past and let your book club have some fun with the classic “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots” game?
- You can also have a Robot Dance Party! Make a playlist of your favorite robo-tunes — Styx’s “Mr. Roboto” and the Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic” seem like no-brainers — and let your kids dance like they’re made out of gears and steel.
- Organize a LEGO robot building competition. Bring out big buckets of LEGO and let your readers go wild with their own designs. Give awards for the coolest design, funniest robot, and whatever other crazy categories you can think of!
What to Read Next
Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth tells an exciting story about friendship and adventure. Here are some similar titles that should delight any Hilo fan in your book club.
Hilo: Saving the Whole Wide World
Keep the adventure going! See what happens to D.J., Hilo, and Gina in the next installment of the Hilo series. Can the three friends save Earth from robotic destruction?
Zita the Spacegirl
When young Zita’s best friend is sucked into an alien portal, she doesn’t hesitate and jumps right in after him. But Zita’s quest to find her BFF is just the beginning of this epic graphic novel trilogy, all about a very normal girl becoming an interstellar hero.
The lead character in this graphic novel shares some definite similarities with D.J. from Hilo. They’re both unsure of themselves, particularly once they’re separated from their best friends. But they also both eventually find their own paths — either by fighting robots or joining a roller derby league.
Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life
Middle school can be rough for kids, even if you’re a robot kid who just crashed to Earth. Fortunately, Patterson and Tebbetts crafted this hysterical story of a student fighting to rebel against the rules, awkwardness, and insecurities that come hand-in-hand with the sixth grade.
Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures
This endearing, unusual, brilliant book — a hybrid between a novel and a graphic novel — won the 2014 Newbery Medal, and it completely deserved the honor. Acclaimed author Kate DiCamillo cooks up a wild story about a squirrel obtaining super-powers (thanks to a vacuum accident) and a cynical young girl who learns that the world is a much weirder and wonderful place than she ever could’ve imagined.
For even more fun with words and pictures, check out these 7 Graphic Novels Elementary Schoolers Love.
Let us know what you think of Hilo and share your own ideas for Book Club for Kids in the comments below!