Archive for October 30, 2013

Bobby the Brave (Sometimes)

Written by Lisa Yee
Illustrated by Dan Santat

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Bobby Ellis-Chan has fourth grade down—except when he has to go to PE, or explain why he wears his shirt backward on picture day, or compete against his older sister, or face the neighborhood scary cat. His biggest fear is that someone – anyone – will compare him to his famous father, a former professional football player. Bobby has asthma and is just not good in football. Meanwhile his sister is a great high school quarterback. And Bobby is almost always chosen last for any team. When his PE teacher finds out about Bobby’s father, he wants to meet him and expects Bobby to show the class how to play football. Bobby’s little sister is a wonderful character, insisting on renaming everything from Wormy Worm Worm to Gnomey Gnome Gnome. She has her own princess view of the world. Bobby’s class is working on a production of Annie, adding to the tension at school. And Bobby’s father wants to learn to sew and make Bobby’s Sandy the Dog costume. Santat’s hilarious illustrations add a lot to the story.

Third grade readers will find a lot to identify with. Bobby’s class talks about fears and how to overcome some of them. Another day, they discuss asthma and other conditions that draw unwanted attention. But, mostly, Bobby is looking for a way to connect to his father, while his father wants to connect to him. A very universal theme. Many reading activities are suggested by the text. School musicals, more discussion of fears, Halloween costumes, and football games all could result. Literacy skills will be sharpened though enjoyment of the story.

Bobby appears in a number of books in the “Bobby Vs Girls” series. Check out the websites: and In them, Bobby lives on.

  • Bobby the BraveTitle: Bobby the Brave (Sometimes)
  • Author: Lisa Yee
  • Illustrator: Dan Santat
  • Publisher: Arthur A. Levine, Inc./Scholastic, 2010
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 153 pages
  • Genre: Chapter book
  • ISBN: 978-0-545-05594-9

Halloween Sleepwalker

Written by Thomas Freese
Illustrated by Fran Riddell

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On Halloween night, Shelby Sherman Sanford and his family chat about what spooks them the most. His mom hates ghosts, jack-o’-lanterns creep out his dad, and his older sister never wants to meet a real witch. But Shelby, who is only eight, feels brave. Nothing scares him – he’d walk outside in the middle of the night if he could. After his parents put him to bed, he has a dream so vivid that it feels like he is walking alone through the cornfields near his home. He stumbles upon five witches waiting for him. The youngest gives him an enchanted apple and dares him to take a bite. When he does, he gains a “second sight” and can see the spirit world.
He glanced down at the cauldron and saw the spirits of the potion, reaching out with ghastly green hands, wanting to escape from the bubbling brew.

Ghosts fly about and the dead reach for him from their graves. The oldest witch sticks Shelby on her broomstick and he goes on a wild ride before crash-landing into a pile of leaves. He runs home, covered in bits of straw and twigs. When Shelby wakes in the morning, he shares his weird dream with his family. His sister notices the twigs stuck to his pajamas. Maybe it wasn’t a dream after all…

This spooky tale with its Twilight Zone-like ending is gentle enough for third graders to enjoy and could work as a classroom read aloud. Freese’s writing style is that of a good-natured, sit-around-the-campfire storyteller, and potentially scary images are tempered by Riddell’s folksy artwork – a mix of cartooning and scrapbook paper cutouts.


  • Halloween SleepwalkerTitle: Halloween Sleepwalker
  • Author: Thomas Freese
  • Illustrator: Fran Riddell
  • Publisher: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2013
  • Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • Format: Hardcover, 64 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7643-4399-5
  • Genre: Picture Book / Fiction

Secrets at Sea

Written by Richard Peck
Illustrated by Kelly Murphy

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Whimsical and unpretentious, this tale has the reader believing that mice really do think like humans. Set in the late 19th century, this is a story about a mouse family who know where their bread is buttered and who do their best to help their human family. When the humans plan a trip to Europe to help their daughter find a husband, three mouse sisters and their mouse brother decide their best chance for survival is to go along, even though they’re terrified of water. Poor Helena, the oldest, is stuck with the job of getting her siblings where they need to go, helping the humans, and dealing with some very bad incidents. She is nearly flipped into the ocean during a safety drill, thrown through the air into a man’s pocket during a royal reception, chased by a one-eyed cat, and squashed by the sweets in a young boy’s bed. Mousely romance dominates the end of the story, but it’s so well done, kids may not even notice. The fact that Helena survives all this is testament to her perseverance and heart.

Murphy’s illustrations are perfect additions to the tale, helping to give life to Helena and her family.

Third graders can easily follow the mouse adventures. As in his other work, Peck includes many plays on words and running gags, allowing kids to play with the language they are still learning. Meanwhile, teachers will recognize that reading activities related to the history of the Hudson Valley, the Victorian Era, and the British monarchy can develop from the pages.

  • Secrets at SeaTITLE: Secrets at Sea
  • AUTHOR: Richard Peck
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Kelly Murphy
  • PUBLISHER: Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin Young Readers Group, 2012
  • REVIEWER: Sue Poduska
  • FORMAT: Hardcover, 238 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-8037-3455-5
  • GENRE: Fantasy, Humor, Family, History

Pizza in Pienza

Written and Illustrated by Susan Fillion

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A young Italian girl professes her love for pizza in this bilingual (English/Italian) picture book. Told through a series of paintings, readers are introduced to the girl’s hometown of Pienza, where life is simple and sometimes old-fashioned, but everybody knows each other, and the constants are comforting: extended family, large midday meals, and, of course, pizza.

I love to eat pizza anywhere, anytime.
Even when it rains, I eat it walking in the street.

Whether cooked in a hot brick oven at her favorite restaurant, or made from scratch in her grandmother’s kitchen, the young girl thinks about pizza so much that she goes to the library to learn more. Here, Fillion offers readers a simple history lesson, easily digestible for a third grade audience.

Ancient Greeks and Italians ate flatbreads with onions, herbs, and honey.
…But pizza as we know it was really born in Naples Italy.

This book would work well as a classroom read aloud, as there are many opportunities to engage students in discussions about food, languages, and culture. Children of all ages will gravitate to Fillion’s illustrations, painted in acrylic with rich, warm colors. She has a sense of humor, too – look for surreptitious slices of pizza popping up in portraits of the Mona Lisa and World War II soldiers, among others. Back pages include an Italian pronunciation guide, a “Brief History of Pizza” (designed for parents, teachers, or upper elementary grades to dig in to), as well as a recipe for Pizza Margherita – a tasty finish.


  • PizzaTitle: Pizza in Pienza
  • Author/Illustrator: Susan Fillion
  • Publisher: David R. Godine, 2013
  • Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-56792-459-6
  • Genre: Picture Book, nonfiction, history, food

Here Come the Girl Scouts!

Written by Shana Corey
Illustrated by Hadley Hooper

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Girls of all ages will enjoy this true story about Juliette Low and her founding of the Girl Scouts. It is a fun read with great illustrations and quotes from Juliette, who was always known as Daisy.

Third grade readers will enjoy reading this story independently and especially will like the short grouping of text around the illustrated pages. It will be a great book to use for developing picture clues as that is where much of the humor is found.

Readers will be encouraged to be brave, courageous and hard working in all that they do in order to succeed. But none of these things are described in a negative or dull way. Oh no, excitement and adventure is what the Girl Scouts expect out of life whether it is when camping out under the heavens or earning badges on how to cure hams.

The art work supports how multicultural the Girl Scouts are in welcoming members from all over the world. It would also provide an art teacher with many examples of what can be done with images in a book as the actual quotes are in a kid-printing type font while the narrative is in a regular typed font. Many literacy skills can be practiced and enhanced through this fun nonfiction story.

This book could be the beginning of a great writing activity for individual girls to use as a model for writing about their own lives and what they enjoy doing.  It is an introduction to girls to develop spunk, gumption and initiative.

While some might consider this a biography of Juliette Low, it only briefly refers to her childhood in terms of her near complete loss of hearing and how she overcame it. Then her development of the Girl Scouts is explained. No other information about her later life is included so it is really the history of the organization.

The last two pages of the book show cartoon caricatures of famous women who were Girl Scouts. Women like Lucille Ball, Gloria Steinem and Hilary Clinton are included as well as an empty frame labeled only as “you,” meant for readers.

This is the kind of book that will draw even reluctant readers to the nonfiction section of the library.

Extras: Added information is included in the end matter, but the reading level is comparable and can be handled by the same readers enjoying the body of the book. It will take a longer time and more intensely interested reader.

  • Girl ScoutsTitle: Here Come the Girl Scouts!
  • Author:  Shana Corey
  • Illustrator: Hadley Hooper
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press, 2012
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover/40p
  • ISBN:  978-0-545-34278-0
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Lexile: 720