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The only thing my 8-year-old pal Christopher enjoys more than chomping on fish sticks (straight, no ketchup, as many crammed into his head as possible) is talking about robots. When we meet each Friday for reading, writing, and sublimely nasty Crayola creations, Christopher—in between conning his fellow third-graders out of as many lunches as possible—displays little patience for anything that doesn’t involve carnage-hungry metallic beasties. For this guy, Dr. Seuss is so second-grade, and Arthur the Aardvark is such a dork. My man needs action—preferably with death rays. And yet, when it comes to the sculptural line drawings, lush pastels, and deliberate pacing of writer-illustrator Chris Van Allsburg’s books, Christopher loses interest in more gruesome turns and gawks wide-eyed at the subtly alluring visuals. Soon, we’ll have our annual reading of Van Allsburg’s The Polar Express—about a boy who boards a midnight train to the North Pole—and my buddy will spend endless minutes combing this holiday-must’s spectacular landscapes (although when Santa finally shows up, Christopher will remain convinced that the big man is actually a laser-packing cyborg). Van Allsburg’s newest offering, Zathura, is a sort-of sequel to his best-selling Jumanji. Sparring brothers Walter and Danny Budwing learn just how much they need each other when a mysterious board game sends them hurtling into the far reaches of outer space—and the laws of gravity wreak havoc on the family home. (Mom and Dad are away, natch.) Van Allsburg works in a soft-focus black-and-white here, but the crash-bang movie-ready plot lacks his original twists. That said, when a defective robot and a Zorgon lizard pirate (pictured) do battle in the Budwing family room, Christopher is gonna flip out. Hide your fish sticks at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. (Sean Daly)