Can of Worms


Kathy Mackel

Number of Pages: 


Minimum grade level: 


Have you ever felt like you don't fit in at school or with your family? Mike Pillsbury does. He can't see how he can be related to his overachieving parents and popular sister. Mike is really smart, but that just means that all the other kids at school are always making fun of him. He's not very good at sports, either; during one football game, he almost scored a goal for the other team.

Telling stories is about the only thing Mike is good at. He's really interested in spaceships and aliens, and he has a whole group of little kids in the neighborhood who like to listen to his stories about the different kinds of aliens, like the Hanzels and the Jongs. From the way Mike tells the stories, he makes it seems like he's an alien living on earth, and some of the kids are even convinced that he is. Sometimes Mike thinks he might be an alien, too, because he knows he doesn't fit in with his family and the kids at school. And it's really easy for him to make up the stories, almost like he's not making them up.

Then one day Mike is humiliated by his enemies at a school dance, and he feels like he can't take his miserable life anymore. When he gets home, he hooks his computer up to his satellite dish and broadcasts a message to oute rspace:

Fellow citizens of the galaxy: I do not belong on this planet. I am being held against my will, trapped by ignorance and cruelty. You must save me. Take me away from this. I am desperately in need of your assistance. Please help me. Mike Pillsbury.

He doesn't really mean it, of course. The next day things in his life have improved, but when he gets home from school, something from outer space is waiting in his bathtub, waiting to take him away from earth. Can Mike convince the alien that he's changed his mind? And what about all the other aliens who heard the message he broadcast?

Discussion questions

Spoiler alert! Some of the questions contain key elements of the plot. Do not read if you don't want to know what happens!

  1. Describe Mike's relationship with his parents and sister. Why does he feel like he doesn't fit in with his family?
  2. At the beginning of the book, does Mike really believe he is a Hanzel?
  3. After he has broadcast a message to the galaxy begging to be taken away from Earth, why does Mike decide he wants to stay?
  4. Mike's best friend, Nick, doesn't believe Mike's story about the aliens who have come to rescue him. Why not?
  5. Why do you think Katelyn still likes Mike, even after she finds out about the aliens?
  6. When Katelyn and Mike meet the disguised Jong, what makes Mike suspicious that it really is a Jong?
  7. Why do you think Scott agrees to help Mike rescue Jay?
  8. Why do you think Mike is able to fly and to understand the Hanzels? Do you think he is a Hanzel?
  9. There is a lot of humor in this book. Find one of the parts you thought was funny and share it with the group.
  10. What do you think will happen to Mike after the novel ends?

If you liked this book, try

  • Aliens Ate My Homework by Bruce Coville
  • Eggs in One Basket by Kathy Mackel
  • Interstellar Pig by William Sleator
  • The Nose from Jupiter by Richard Scrimger


Peanut butter crackers and cocoa (what Mike fixes Katelyn as an after-school snack)

Created in part with funds granted by the Oregon State Library under the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the Oregon State Library.