There’s nothing more satisfying than an epic conclusion to a fan-favorite series. Jack, Ari, and Becka have been through a lot since their school catapulted across the galaxy into the clutches of aliens. In Last Summer in Outer Space the friends face a final showdown against the aliens who kidnapped the rest of humanity. With help from their teachers, their classmates, their cranky schoolship, some robot allies, and one very resilient pet hamster, they take on the evil Minister one last time to rescue their fellow humans and make the galaxy safer for everyone.
Today author and mastermind Joshua S. Levy joins us on the Lerner blog to share his hopes for young sci-fi readers, reveal some easter eggs, and answer other burning questions about the series. Read on to find a free educator guide and more!
Can you tell us a bit about where we find the kids of the Public School Spaceship 118 at the start of this book?
At the end of Eighth Grade vs. the Machines, the main characters got…separated. Jack went off on his own, leaving Becka and Ari behind to continue the PSS 118’s mission to bring all the lost humans home. Where did Jack go? When will the friends be reunited? How will they defeat the Minister once and for all? Gotta read the book to find out!
As always, the cover is so detailed and cinematic! The kids are outside the ship! The PSS 118 is under attack! The Minister is staring everyone down, like she always does! But the most important question: IS THAT DOCTOR SHREW IN GLASSES?
Of course! How else is he supposed to see?
This book closes out a three-book series. Was it hard to bring the story to a satisfying conclusion?
It’s definitely hard to say goodbye—and I wanted to do right by these characters I’ve been living with for years. The plot, of course, is critical: Making sure everything ended up where it should. But it was the characters I worked hardest to bring home.
How have Jack, Becka, and Ari grown since the first book? How have their relationships—to one another and other important people in their lives—evolved? And where does everyone else end up? Classmates, teachers, resident pet Doctor Shrew. In ways big and small (with my editor, Amy’s, help!), many of the secondary characters also find themselves in different places from when we first met them in Seventh Grade vs. the Galaxy. And I hope I’ve given everyone the ending they deserve.
What do you hope readers take away from LAST SUMMER IN OUTER SPACE?
My biggest hope is that readers have fun. That they stay up late turning pages, wanting to find out what happens next. There are, as always, “important” themes that I’m trying to get across. But I’ve always felt that having fun while reading a book is just as important a goal. Kids need heavy books, sad books, hard books—and books that catapult them across the galaxy.
There is one specific theme running through all three books that I’ll mention here: being a kid is hard. And being in middle school is particularly hard. Here on Earth, seventh- and eighth-graders aren’t necessarily facing down aliens, lost far from home, forced to grapple with questions as big and confusing as the universe itself. But it can certainly feel like that. Jack, Becka, and Ari make it through to the other side. And I hope readers find a bit of inspiration and courage from the Adventures of the PSS 118 to help with the adventures of their own lives.
Finally, all three books are packed with easter eggs and references. Can you share some of your favorite?
First, there’s my beloved PSS 118, the ship itself. The name was inspired by the PS 118, the public school attended by Arnold and his friends in the old Nickelodeon cartoon Hey Arnold!, which I loved as a kid. When it came time for me to name my own run-down school with some lovable characters packed inside, I knew I had to honor Arnold’s school.
Next: the books briefly reference a technology called thermowave exolining. I have no idea what it does. It’s not important to the story and it’s never explained. But I came up with the term when I was a kid! My friends and I drafted our own (very bad, or maybe excellent) script called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Musical. In the story, the turtles had gotten old and were thus no longer teenagers. But they needed to be young again so Donatello invented something that could help them: thermowave exolining. I wasn’t sure what it did back then either.
Finally, my favorite easter egg in the series: character names. All the first names are nicknames for places back on Earth (generally, where the character’s family came from before they trekked into space): Jacksonville, Arizona, etc. The last names come from United States Supreme Court cases with connections to the characters. A couple of examples:
- Becka’s last name is Pierce, after Pierce v. Society of Sisters. One of Becka’s most important relationships is with her sister. Also, this 1925 case is about whether the government can force kids to attend certain schools. And no one can tell Becka where to go to school.
- Ari’s last name is Bowman, after Bowman v. Monsanto, a complicated 2013 case about genetically engineered food—because Ari’s a genius who could totally program the DNA of a soybean; because he loves a good snack; and because that case was decided unanimously, and Ari always brings people together.
Every character’s name has a similar backstory. Because, you know, kids love Supreme Court jurisprudence!
“Levy artfully folds serious personal and parental issues into his less-than-serious round of chases, narrow squeaks, team building, and . . . space battles on the way to a happy resolution and a delayed but properly heartwarming eighth grade graduation ceremony.”—Kirkus Reviews
Free Educator Resources
This free teaching guide applies not only the final book of the series, but also the first two! Divided into three sections, the guide draws directly from the books, although you don’t need
to have read them to follow along. Download the guide below or from the Lerner website.
Connect with Josh
Joshua S. Levy is a husband, lawyer, father, and children’s book author who lives in New Jersey. His first book in the Adventures of the PSS 118 series won the Eleanor Cameron Award for Middle Grades.
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