Skip to Main Content

Galaxy Jones and the Space Pirates

PRICE MAY VARY BY RETAILER

Buy from Other Retailers

About The Book

From the author of Pepper’s Rules for Secret Sleuthing and The Secrets of Stone Creek comes a “wildly original” (Publishers Weekly) middle grade space adventure about a girl who is determined to save her family and friends from ruthless pirates—even if she has to venture across the universe to do it.

Galaxy Jones lives on the very, very edge of a star system in an inn run by her dads. She loves her home and her little family, but ever since the train station that serviced their part of the universe went defunct, tourists have stopped coming, and Lexi’s on the verge of losing it all. When the royal family stops at their inn on the way to a neighboring star system, Lexi’s dads hope for some good business, but Lexi knows from past experience with spoiled Prince Weston—and his annoying dog, Comet—to expect nothing but trouble.

Turns out, that “trouble” is a whole lot bigger than she anticipated. Weston has stolen something. Even worse, he’s stolen it from notorious pirates—former followers of Lexi’s idol, the famous pirate Astro Bonny—who have tracked him straight to her house. Problem is, Weston has lost the trinket somewhere in deep space. And now the pirates are holding all the adults hostage with the threat of destroying the inn if they can’t find what they’ve come for.

Lucky for Weston, Lexi has a plan. In exchange for his help saving the family business, she will use all her skills and embrace the adventurous spirit of the great Astro Bonny to help him find whatever it is the pirates are after. With some pluck, and a whole lot of luck, she might just pull it off—and make an unexpected friend along the way.

Excerpt

Chapter One CHAPTER ONE
A photo of Ron’s face illuminates my phone as I video call him. A small green dot dances above his name as it rings, calling out to him across the empty distance in our outside corner of the solar system. The photo is a couple years old, cropped from a selfie we took back when we met up weekly at my parents’ inn or his mom’s astronaut ice cream factory. Now we have video calls instead, since the distance between our homes is too far for frequent visits.

My phone beeps as the call connects. A pixelated image of Ron’s slim, freckled face fills the screen.

I almost drop my phone out the window as I snatch it up from the sill. “Ron! You’re there!”

“I’m here.” He grins, then tilts the phone so I can see the room behind him. The wonky deep-space service makes his video shift in delayed, choppy movements, but the image is familiar enough for me to figure it out. He’s on the first floor of the factory, by the welcome desk. There’s no sign of customers, but his mother is hunched there, shifting through an important-looking stack of papers. The room is flooded with cardboard boxes full of product. “I’m always here, Lexi.”

Here feels like a different solar system at this point. I tug at the thick, hemp rope that ties his window to mine, all those hundreds of miles and miles away. Sometimes I wonder if the rope is stretching, too, as the universe expands. Here on the outskirts of deep space, the metric expansion of the universe increases the distance between objects at a steadily increasing pace. And as much as I wish our homes were gravitationally bound to each other, with each passing day the distance between the rocks we call home grows and grows as dark space expands between us.

I envision the rope stretching in unison with the expanding universe, growing longer and thinner as the days pass. Kind of like Ron is, from the look of him on my screen. “Do you think you can come by this weekend?”

He groans. “I’m going to be jammed in the delivery pod with Mom and about thirty boxes of ice cream this weekend. We’re going to be more compressed than a white dwarf.” He runs a hand through his strawberry hair. “I don’t know why she doesn’t make my sisters go with her—”

“Probably because they’re five,” I interrupt with a laugh.

“Only bright side is that I’ll be able to pick up some more interesting ingredients from the specialty stores that don’t have deep-space shipping,” he says. I start to frown at the thought of the central system having anything special that we don’t when he adds, “But if we have to cram any more central system deliveries into one weekend”—desperation rises in his voice—“Mom’s going to have to run me through the ice cream dehydrator for me to even fit in the pod.”

I sigh and press my knuckles to my cheeks. Out my window, past our O-Zone and out in the starry sea of sky, the astronaut ice cream factory floats at the end of our rope. When we were kids, astronaut ice cream was all we ate: freeze-dried chips of ice cream—pink, brown, and white—as we went on adventures in our solar system.

It used to be our solar system. Now it feels like it belongs to space. Nothing but black, expanding space.

“At least drop some ice cream here on your way,” I say, voice smaller, more hopeful than I want it to sound. “I’m sure our guests would love to have some.”

Ron’s blue eyes light up. “You have guests?”

My stomach feels like a ton of asteroids dropped into my intestines. “We could, by this weekend.”

The sparkle in his eye falters. I tug at a loose curl by my ear. “But it sounds like you guys have a lot of orders. That’s good, right? Other than you getting squished.”

“Yes, other than the small fact that my organs are being compressed by blocks of cardboard.” He chomps his too-big front tooth on his lower lip. “The trips are getting longer, which Mom says is expensive. But no one wants to pay more for astronaut ice cream, let alone the long-distance trip to the factory. So…”

I prop my phone by the window and stand upright in the frame, hands planted on my hips so he can see my full power pose. “So nothing! This is our solar system. We’re gonna stick by it, no matter what. People will see what it’s worth,” I say, chin tilted up.

I want it to be true—need it to be true. The outer system is the only home I’ve ever known, and no matter what changes, I want to keep it that way.

Ron leans closer to his screen, squinting at my pixelated image on his phone. “Soon, people will be coming here in droves. Staying at the inn and touring the ice cream factory. It’ll be even better than it was before.” I smile, properly uplifted, and take the phone into my hands. “And we’ll even be able to afford a super-speed pod that can fly us back and forth along the length of the rope,” I say. “I’ll see you every day.”

He pretends to wince. “Every day?”

“We’ll go riding on comets!” I declare, fist held to my chest. “We’ll rescue lost ships from black holes, and fight space pirates! Like we pretended to as kids.”

Like that time we watched a comet through my dad’s telescope when an astronomer from a university in the central solar system—where the capital and all the cities are—stayed at the inn to view it as it passed. Or exporters from an agricultural planet told us about the time they had to use an escape pod when their supply ship got sucked toward a black hole. Or when we’d huddle on the downstairs couch on chilly days, snuggled into thick blankets while sipping hot chocolate with moon-mellows while begging older guests from the central system to tell stories about their travels and run-ins with space pirates, like the infamous Great Astro Bonny.

Thinking about all of it sends a rush of warmth through my chest, strong as a supernova. On slow, empty days at the inn like this, those memories are like fuel propelling me onward. A reminder of how things could—no, should be.

“We’ll be flooded with tourists, even better than before,” I say. “And this time, they won’t just be bringing the stories to us. Deep space will be full of adventures of its own.”

His eyes go wide. The corner of his mouth inches to a smile, raising his freckles into tiny constellations. “You really think deep space could be like that again someday?”

“We tied a rope across the outer system to hold our homes together,” I remind him. “We can do anything.”

That’s when a shout comes from downstairs in Dad’s high, singsong voice. “Lexi! You’ve got to see this!”

Ron smirks on the screen. “Your dad space watching again?”

“Hey,” I say, eyebrow raised, “last week his telescope caught a double-moon eclipse. So this could be good.”

“Photos or it didn’t happen.”

I wave and press end call. Then I burst out of my room and into the long, second-story hallway. I rush past closed doors and vacant rooms, each numbered for our nonexistent guests. This place used to be brimming with space travelers—explorers, vacationers, politicians, and visiting families who came on the space train, back when our stop was still in service. Now, other than the occasional central system delivery driver, it’s usually just my footsteps echoing down the hall and the carpeted stairs.

I run into the open-concept dining and living room, quickly, so the familiar uneasiness that comes from the silence doesn’t kick in.

Dad stands by the bay window, the end of the telescope pressed against the glass. He’s hunched over, fluffy black hair poking up around his ears and all the way down to the tip of his collar. He doesn’t look up as I approach but waves his hand for me to come.

I crawl onto the couch by the window and lean over the back cushions. Dad grips the telescope and his wide-rimmed glasses clink against its lens. “Look, hon. I think we have guests.”

I nearly fall over the edge of the couch. “Guests?” I gasp, and tug at his shirt, trying to get my view.

Papa calls from the kitchen. “Last time you think you saw a guest, it was just a deep-space minerals collector who needed directions.”

“And I directed him to stay over,” Dad retorts, “so it still counts.”

I crawl over the back of the couch and nudge Dad out of the way. “Let me see.”

“They’re still too far off to see much,” Dad says, stepping to the side to give me room, “but it looks like a pretty big ship.”

I peer through the lens, one eye shut and the other squinting hard. A giant, white dot expands on the horizon, appearing to grow in size as it comes closer. Dad’s sight is bad even with his glasses, so I have to zoom out a bit to gain focus. That’s when the sharp image of the ship comes into view.

A miniature castle with strong jets on the back zooms through the black space, toward our hotel. Giant flags wave at the tips of each tower, and smooth gold shutters shimmer in the starlight. There’s even a small patch of grass at the front of the ship, with a fence to keep passengers from toppling into deep space. A fluffy brown dog with an O-Zone bulb floating around his head rolls on the grass by the front steps.

My eyes turn to slits. I know that dog. Everyone this side of the Milky Way knows that dog. But I, unlike any other sucker in the solar system, am not happy to see it.

“It’s not guests,” I declare, shoving the telescope back. “At least not for us!”

A crease forms between Dad’s brows. “What do you mean?” He leans back toward the telescope. I cross my arms, lower lip jutting out, and watch for his response.

His eyes go wide and he steps back. “Paul? You’re gonna want to see this.”

Papa appears in the kitchen doorway, wearing a pale-blue apron and puffy kitchen mitts. There’s flour in his short black hair. “If this is another eclipse, Derek, I swear…”

“It’s the royal family,” Dad says, tapping the telescope. With each passing millisecond, he taps harder and faster. Papa picks up the pace, rushing toward us while tearing off his mitts. “They’re back. They’ve come back.”

Papa presses a hand to Dad’s back and lifts the telescope up toward him with the other. I maintain my firm posture, arms twisted together like an angry pretzel. “And this time we won’t let them in,” I say. “We know better now. They are the absolute loudest, rudest, messiest, worst-est guests in the entire galaxy!”

“Yes, hon.” Dad ruffles my hair but doesn’t look at me, his eyes fixed on Papa’s expression. “But they’re also the richest.”

I tilt my nose up. “Well, we don’t need their money.”

Papa shakes his head. “Oh, yes, we do.” He struggles with the knot of his apron and turns to Dad. “There’s lasagna about to go in the oven. Get out the good parmesan, sprinkle some on, and put it in for forty. I’ll take a duster to the third-story rooms, and Lexi”—he gives me a serious look—“puff the couch cushions, wipe the windows, and put on your purple dress.”

Dad’s already off, running toward the kitchen so fast he nearly knocks the dining room chairs over. Papa rolls his apron into a ball and starts toward the staircase. I leap over the couch and jump in front of him.

“You can’t be serious about this,” I say, blocking his way to the stairs. “Don’t you remember what happened last time?”

Papa veers to the left, making to step around me. I jump onto the top step and grip both sides of the banister, creating a human shield.

“After they left, you closed the inn for a whole week! Dad opened that bottle of double-gravity-pressed wine, and I got to try a sip. You even took the gifts they left behind—” Papa cringes and his eyes fall shut, his hand pressed against his temple. I straighten up, say the words louder, “And we went out to the black hole and had a tossing contest. Remember?”

His hand remains against his temple, head bent down. I think I’ve won, until he says, “You need to puff those cushions.”

I point to the couch I crawled over, pillows dented from my feet and throw blanket dangling off the edge. “I kind of did.”

His dark brow knits together. “Galaxy Jones, I’m serious.”

I drop my arms to my side and look at my mismatched socks. “That’s redundant, because you only say my full name when you are serious.”

Papa sighs. He presses his hand against the dark waves of my hair, thumb against my cheek. “Things were different back then. At the time, I saw them as just another guest. But they weren’t.” His chest rises and falls and his jaw shifts left, right, as he debates his next words. “The money we made from their stay… we didn’t realize it then, but it ended up keeping us afloat for years. During the slow seasons, and then when every season started to feel like a slow season.”

Even while I’m standing on a step, Papa is a half foot taller than me. He leans down, forehead tilted toward mine. “We’re doing everything we can to stay here, in this neighborhood.”

So you can be closer to Ron, he doesn’t say, though I know that’s part of it. When our neighbors’ houses and businesses started to drift farther and farther from ours, and the central system tourists looking for a getaway in deep space became few and far between, I spotted more and more moving ships passing by our window. Some hooking to shops and homes before heading toward the central system and a new location. Some smaller moving pods, stuffed with boxes by old classmates and neighbors who’d rent a few rooms on whatever central system planet still had occupancy.

The central system has always been more populated, the planets clustered closer together than any parts of deep space. So, even as the universe stretches and expands, businesses still thrive in the central system. Schools are close enough together that kids can attend in person. And everything—from food deliveries to getting a space plumber when a pipe bursts—is faster and easier and cheaper there.

But as our deep-space neighbors’ homes and shops were roped to ships and tugged away, chipping a piece of our neighborhood off with each one, I saw an opportunity. A way to tie the factory and inn together here, in deep space, using the same method those ships used to leave it behind.

Because someday, deep space would be as lively and bustling as it once was. And until then, Ron and I had to stick together—had to keep our family’s legacies alive, keep our spot in deep space for when that day did come.

That’s what we told our parents, at least. But sometimes I wonder how much it cost our parents to buy all that rope and tie our homes together. Right now, I think I’ll be too afraid to ever ask.

“I know,” I say, before he can say any more. His expression softens, and I quickly add, “But please don’t make me be nice to Prince Weston.” Papa starts to roll his eyes. I drop my voice, as serious sounding as I can. “Papa, he’s my interstellar nemesis.”

He laughs. As though it’s a joke. My throat feels tight, like it’s stuffed with space dust.

It’s been nearly four years since I’ve seen the royals. As a kid, they were just faces on the news, or names my fathers mentioned when discussing politics. Like, “Did you hear the Queen funded a study on interplanetary water pipelines?” or “the King suggested reducing the number of train stops due to the universe’s recent growth spurt—do you think this will affect our stop?” (Spoiler alert: it did.)

I never thought much of them. They lived in the central part of our solar system, on a tiny planet close to most of our citizens. Last time they passed through, they had to stay over on their way for a meeting with another system’s royalty. We had other guests at the time, too, but I don’t remember a thing about them. All I remember is the King and Queen bossing my fathers around like they were servants. And how they’d kick our other guests out of the dining room so they could spread their papers all over it and talk, in their pompous voices, about their Important Meeting. I remember the royal court digging through our cabinets and closets as though they lived here, too. Even the dog was a menace, getting sick on our carpets while the royal guards accused our home of being “a wobbly space rock” before forcing me—me—to clean it up.

But more than anything, I remember the total torment I suffered from Prince Weston.

There was the time he walked through the door and kicked off his shoes so hard they flew right into my gut. Or the time he purposefully spilled a cup of hot tea on my lap and blamed it on the “two-star turbulence.” Or how he’d shout from his room every night, demanding he be brought this or that, and when I stopped responding, tied a bell to a chain and dangled it down from his window to mine. He always needed something just as I was about to sit down, and had an opinion about everything I owned. And then he suggested his parents ban astronaut ice cream—yes, actually ban ice cream—because it was quote-unquote archaic and unhealthy, but mostly just to tick me off.

By his last day, standing outside by the front gates, he’d gazed off into the starry sky and reminded me for the thousandth time how eager he was to return to “real civilization.” I offered to push him off the hotel and give him a head start on his travels.

Thankfully, my fathers didn’t hear that.

“Look,” Papa says, syllables interrupted by soft chuckles. “He’s a guest, so you have to be nice to him.” I open my mouth to object, and he holds up a finger. “But you can be twice as mean about him behind his back, if you’re decent in person. Understood?”

I groan. “Understood.”

Papa plants a quick kiss on my scalp and moves up the stairs. I linger at the first step, nails picking a loose chip of paint on the banister. Pots and pans clang where Dad is in the kitchen, and the telescope remains pointed toward the sky. By now, they’re close enough that I can see the approaching ship with just my eyes.

“Papa?” I call, gaze fixed on the window.

I hear his steps slow. “Yes, hon?”

My throat feels drier than dehydrated Neapolitan ice cream as I ask, “Why do you think they’re here?”

After a beat of silence, I look up the stairs. For a split second, I see the laughter leave Papa’s eyes.

“I don’t know, hon,” he says, voice tight. “Just go fix the cushions, okay?”

I trudge toward the couch, focus returned to the approaching orb of light on the horizon. Regardless of what they’re coming for, it’s going to be a terrible stay. But as I think more about it, I can’t help but wonder what would bring the royal family all the way out here, to the farthest corner of our system.

I fold the throw blanket, smooth out the corners. No matter what they’re here for, I decide, I’m ready for the challenge.

About The Author

Briana McDonald writes diverse and adventurous books for young readers. She studied writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University and her short fiction has appeared in several literary journals. When she’s not writing, Briana lives and works in New York City with her wife and their dog, Rex. She is the author of Pepper’s Rules for Secret Sleuthing, The Secrets of Stone Creek, and Galaxy Jones and the Space Pirates. Find out more at BrianaRoseMcDonald.com. 

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (October 24, 2023)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781534498297
  • Grades: 3 - 7
  • Ages: 8 - 12
  • Fountas & Pinnell™ X These books have been officially leveled by using the F&P Text Level Gradient™ Leveling System

Browse Related Books

Raves and Reviews

“Buckle up for an interstellar adventure filled with captivating characters and non-stop action. McDonald has crafted a joyful tale of friendship, bravery, and belonging that should not be missed.”

– Adrianna Cuevas, author of the Pura Belpré Honor book The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez and The Ghosts of Rancho Espanto

"A wildly original escapade featuring sympathetic protagonists and lively action sequences."

Publishers Weekly

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images

More books from this author: Briana McDonald