5 SIMPLE STEPS TO SAVING PLANET EARTH by Jo Withers, The Book Guild Publishing, p/b, www.bookguild.co.uk

Reviewed by Sandra Scholes

Most days are normal for Billy Hollingsworth, but today when all his dreams could come true; he has the opportunity to win a competition which could see his getting front row tickets to the Rugby World Cup. His only problem is to get to the newsagents in enough time to buy a copy of the magazine running the competition. This is where Billy hits a snag, as this is the day it all goes wrong. First he’s late, then he is cruel to his friend Wayne, but it doesn’t end there. An alien visits him in his sleep to tell him he’s the millionth earthly wrong-doer of the day, and as such, he has won the ultimate prize – the chance to put things right with Wayne and save the entire world!

When Billy meets the alien known as Ysgol underneath their pear tree, he tells him that the Cleaners, aliens who “attack planets which pose a threat to the Universes’ eco-system,” have earmarked Earth for destruction as it emits gases and other toxins, so destroying all life on the planet is their way of a speedy solution, but they didn’t count on Billy.

In this exciting new children’s book from the author whose story Job Seekers Club won the Caterpillar Story for Children’s Prize in 2017, this is her first full length novel of a human boy and an alien who want to unite to save the earth from destruction.

Even though Billy only knows the alien for a short time, he nicknames him Ysy. Going from a normal everyday boy to being a hero for the people, but not without some subtle manipulation from Ysy who believes boys make better heroes than their dads as adults aren’t open to the possibility of helping their own planet when their heads are full of problems like pensions, mortgages and lifestyle changes. Billy is different and at least he didn’t forget to meet him under the pear tree in their garden, so Ysy has high hopes for Billy from the start.

Ysy has a survival kit that could come in very handy when Billy gets apprehensive about what they might face. When Ysy tells him what’s in it he is less enthusiastic of the choices. Other people are hidden behind the scenes ready and waiting to help Billy and his alien friend out and it is fun when you discover who they are. If you were wondering what the tentacles on the cover were a reference to in the story, then they feature in the middle of it when Billy ends up in an alien world gulping odd peppery water and coming into contact with a strange creature where his survival kit might prove next to useless; balloon, Roller Roar, elastic band, ice lolly stick and pencil aren’t as useful as he thought, but they are on an alien planet!

Jo’s novel has a humour bordering on Neil Gaiman territory and works due to the setting and characters. Billy is a bright boy who is open to new and exciting adventures; as long as he is sure he will be back for dinner with his parents as he thinks he might be grounded for life if he stays away for too long. For me, each chapter brought Billy into more and more danger, but also more ways of him becoming a hero to the universe.