Archive for Fiction

Harry Miller’s Run

Written by David Almond
Illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino

What was it like to be in the first Great North Run? Liam, eleven years old, doesn’t know, but he’s excited to train for his first participation in the Run. The older kids run all the way from Newcastle to South Shields, thirteen miles. Liam is in the Junior division, running a shorter route. On the way to training, Liam and his Mam stop to care for Harry, an older gentleman. Liam is reluctant to take the time, but ends up glad they did. Harry tells him all about the first time he and his buddies ran to the sea. Harry and three friends set out on a lark and ran and ran. They stopped many times to get drinks. Once, they stopped to enlist the help of a girl who knew the way. “There’s a wolf on your tail! Run for your lovely life!” people would tell them. They knew they were done when they talked to the ice cream man on the Ocean Road. And Harry kept contact with the girl. Shortly after Liam’s visit, Harry died.

Rubbino’s illustrations are perfect for the flavor of the times and the culture of Harry and Liam. The illustrations for present day are black and white, while the time of Harry’s first run are color, as Harry’s memories are so vivid.

Though the story is about a specific event, it points out the importance of oral history and learning about traditions from our elders. Liam found that Harry had a lot to teach him. The dialectic dialogue is occasionally difficult to decipher, so younger or reluctant readers may need a little help with comprehension. But this story is well worth the effort.

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  • Harry Millers RunTitle: Harry Miller’s Run        
  • Author: David Almond
  • Illustrator: Salvatore Rubbino
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 64 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 4
  • Genre: Early Reader, Oral history, Tradition
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-8975-9

Muffy & the Dog Catcher

Written and Illustrated by Devra Robitaille

The first book in the “Muffy” series introduces a number of captivating characters. Muffy is just a puppy and the smallest of the litter on the farm. She often gets left behind. To amuse herself, she plays a sort of hopping game with a grasshopper and leads herself way beyond the parameters of her farm. Familiar with the concept of a road, she finds one and follows it. Eventually, she comes on a house with a number of dogs and very welcoming humans. She makes herself at home, but misses her farm and her sister. Through one of the other dogs, she meets a dog catcher who can talk to the animals.

This would be fun as a read aloud for younger kids. The characters are compelling and kids can help figure out how Muffy will find her true home. The illustrations of Muffy are beautiful and soothing enough for bedtime. For independent reading, the language and voice are a bit challenging so should be left to somewhat older kids.

Kids will love the characters and will identify with Muffy’s struggles to fit in. They will enjoy getting into the minds of the dogs, as the dog catcher does.

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  • Title: Muffy & the Dog Catcher         
  • Author/Illustrator: Devra Robitaille
  • Published: The Hologram Library, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: E-book, 49 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Chapter book, Animals, Family



Smashie McPerter and the Mystery of the Missing Goop

Written by N. Griffin
Illustrated by Kate Hindley

This entertaining mystery teaches a little about math, music, code breaking, and music. Kids will love solving the mystery along with the characters.

Smashie and Dontel’s third grade class return to prepare for a musicale with the other third grade class. To spice up the show, they decide to sculpt everyone’s hair using a magical gel invented by Charlene’s mother. The hair goop (aka Herr Goop) allows Charlene and her mother to sculpt hair into any shape. Every time a new jar of Herr Goop shows up, it immediately disappears. Since the ingredients are expensive and the musicale is coming up soon, it’s important that the jars are found. Smashie and Dontel keep a notebook of clues, motives, and suspects to try to figure everything out. They notice a code written on the jars. After decoding, they follow the clues all the way to the musicale itself.

The characters are lovable, the musical and dance numbers are engaging, and the intrigue is intense. Reading activities could include everything from 60s music to code breaking to baking brownies.
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  • Title: Smashie McPerter and the Mystery of the Missing Goop       
  • Author: N. Griffin
  • Illustrator: Kate Hindley
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 304 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 5
  • Genre: Chapter book, Codes
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-8535-5

Charlie Bumpers vs. the Puny Pirates

Written by Bill Harley
Illustrated by Adam Gustavson

Charlie Bumpers returns in the fifth book of the series. When Charlie learns that he will be on the same soccer team as his two best friends, Hector and Tommy, they have dreams of being the Pirates of Doom. Instead, they have to learn to play with many kids who have never played soccer before. It’s all about team work. Steadily, the team improves, though it’s never the killer team of their dreams. Charlie also learns that the glamor position might not be the most rewarding. Meanwhile, Charlie’s older brother, Matt, delights in bugging him and embarrassing him as much as possible. Charlie, Hector, and Tommy attempt to sell chocolate bars together for a team fundraiser, which proves disastrous. They eat the bars themselves, give away bars on credit, and lose some of the money. Of course, everything comes out alright in the end, even though the boys must pay the price.

There’s enough action in this tale to keep kids interested and working on their literacy skills while also learning about working together and about responsibility. The true-to-life situations make it very relatable. Recommended for independent reading or for reading as a class for discussion.

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  • charlie-bumpers-vs-the-puny-piratesTitle: Charlie Bumpers vs. the Puny Pirates
  • Author: Bill Harley
  • Illustrator: Adam Gustavson
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 160 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Chapter Book, Fiction, Sports, Friendship, Teamwork
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-939-1

Pirate’s Perfect Pet

Written by Beth Ferry
Illustrated by Matt Myers

Just what does a pirate need to be a pirate? As this innovative and humorous story unfolds, the reader finds it may not be as simple as it sounds. The captain receives a note (by bottle) from his mother instructing him in proper pirate etiquette. He has it all under control, except for a peg leg and an appropriate pet. His crew sets out in search of a pet and hitting all the wrong places. The beach has crabs and octopuses (octopi?). Farm animals try to hide from the pirates. And pigs are too muddy. The farmer carts them to the zoon on his tractor, but the koalas are too cuddly. An added bonus is the lion causes a need for a peg leg. The zoo trolley leaves them at the pet emporium, where they reject pet after pet. (“Shiver me Shih Tzu!”) A squawk overhead reveals the inevitable parrot. With one last play on words, the parrot becomes the perfect pet.

The illustrations for this work are beyond hilarious. The main character is the stereotypical pirate, but no one else really fits the mold: female with eye patch and high heels, older guy in bunny slippers, fattened up lion, and anachronisms galore.

The only surprise after reading this book would be if a third grader weren’t thoroughly delighted and entertained. Younger kids would enjoy the fun, but repeated reading will give third graders the chance to practice literacy skills.

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  • Pirates Perfect PetTitle: Pirate’s Perfect Pet
  • Author: Beth Ferry
  • Illustrator: Matt Myers
  • Publisher: Candlewick, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Picture Book, Humor
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7288-1


Slingshot and Burp

Written by Richard Haynes
Illustrated by Stephen Gilpin

Two rootin’ tootin’ cowboys roam the Wild West in this cute tale brimming with fun and imagination. When double cousins strike out from the bunk house (play house) on their horses (bikes), they’re looking for adventure and a skeleton in the Boneyard. Their first stop is Big Jim’s Boots and Saddle Tack Shop for provisions and information. Big Jim is full of information, but we’re not sure how much of it is accurate. The boys discover their older sisters have taken over the bunk house and pink-ified it in their absence. The boys visit the Boneyard and find a skull and a spitting horny toad. They do not find the ghost Big Jim spoke of. Back at the ranch, they sleep under the stars and a cottonwood tree with a part-coyote pup. When the pup takes off, the boys are forced to search the Boneyard – at night and despite the Ghost Cat. They get lost and fall into quicksand (sort of). Of course, everything turns out right for the cowboys and Calamity Kate and Ma McKenzie.

Action-filled illustrations accompany the fast-moving story and help explain the finer points. The reader would almost swear they’re in the Old West.

Third graders, especially boys, will get a lot of enjoyment and practice with literacy skills from this premier novel. We can only hope for more from this team.

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  • Slingshot and BurpTitle: Slingshot and Burp
  • Author: Richard Haynes
  • Illustrator: Stephen Gilpin
  • Publisher: Candlewick, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 112 pages
  • Grade Level: 1 to 4
  • Genre: Chapter Book, Humor
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7076-4


The Somewhat True Adventures of Sammy Shine

Written and Illustrated by Henry Cole

Sammy Shine is a warm and loveable mouse who lives in a shoe box in Hank’s room. When Hank’s brother, Jimmy, decides to test his new airplane design by sending Sammy into the air, the mouse’s adventures begin. He crash lands in the big woods and meets a family of wild mice, including Phoebe and old Osmund. Naturally, they are being threatened by a weasel and some rats, who want Sammy’s plane. Sammy also meets a mole, a crow, a newt, a shrew, and a raccoon. With his new friends, Sammy eventually gets the plane back in working order. He loves his new friends, but he also misses Hank and is afraid of the weasel.

Cole’s beautiful and detailed pencil drawings are a big plus throughout this book. They have that three-dimensional feel that pulls the reader right into the action. Even the chapter headings are works of art.

Though this is a simple and somewhat familiar story, these are characters a reader can care about and want to follow to the end. Third graders will learn so much about friendship and working together. Because the story holds the readers’ attention, they will get a chance to practice literacy skills.

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  • Sammy ShineTitle: The Somewhat True Adventures of Sammy Shine
  • Author/Illustrator: Henry Cole
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 160 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Friendship, Family
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-866-0

Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans!

Written and illustrated by Gary Northfield

A fun and exciting way to explore the Roman Empire, this story about an unlikely hero will have kids wanting to be gladiators. Julius, a rebellious zebra, gets caught all alone at the local watering hole. When he is captured by Roman soldiers, he finds himself insulted, boxed, and transported a long way across land and onto a boat. He talks to and befriends other animals. Even the humans understand what Julius and the other animals are saying. Through a series of silliness, Julius is trained as a gladiator and is due to appear at the birthday celebration for Emperor Hadrian. There are a lot of details and terms that relate directly to the gladiator world, if you can weed out the obvious absurdities. The cartoonish illustrations add to the excitement and actually make this almost a graphic novel. Children younger than third graders would have fun reading this with a parent or teacher to learn more about Rome. An enjoyable read all around.

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  • Julius ZebraTitle: Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans
  • Author/Illustrator: Gary Northfield
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 288 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 5
  • Genre: Creative, fantastical historical novel, humor
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7853-1
  • Extras: Primer on Roman numerals, extensive glossary

Cody and the Mysteries of the Universe

Written by Tricia Springtubb
Illustrated by Eliza Wheeler

Loveable characters and a relatable plot make this, the second Cody book, a lot of fun to read. Add to that beautifully understated illustrations and you have a winner.

Cody is trying to get a handle on the ways of the world, and that includes learning patience and acceptance. Her best summer friend, Spencer, is moving in permanently with his grandmother, GG. Cody finds that Spencer doesn’t always agree with her nor does he want to spend all his time with her. He spends a good deal of time with a third friend, Pearl, who has agreed to accompany his violin with her piano. Even when they’re together, Cody and Spencer must deal with the evil Meen neighbors, who seem very angry about something. Then there’s the Spindle, or Mrs. Spindle, Spencer’s new teacher who Cody dislikes and Spencer adores.

A good feature of this story is that it’s subtly diverse in a variety of ways, but the characters mesh well. Spencer is black, loves classical music, and plays a violin. Cody is white, relates to pop music, and has a truck driver father. Pearl does origami. The neighbors love tattoos and spiked hair.

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  • Cody and the Mysteries of the UniverseTitle: Cody and the Mysteries of the Universe
  • Author: Tricia Springtubb
  • Illustrator: Eliza Wheeler
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 144 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 5
  • Genre: Chapter book, Friendship, Family
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-5858-8



Written by Alex Gino

There’s no denying the issues surrounding transgender individuals, aka born in the wrong body, are both topical and complex. Children may not understand all the nuances or possibly even the physical implications, but they will easily identify with the feeling of being different. In this celebrated and widely read story of a fourth grader born in a boy’s body, Alex Gino gently presents George’s many struggles and feelings. Even though George has heard all the news stories, she still feels isolated, as if she is the only person in the world who is called a boy and knows she’s a girl. Eventually, she finds the courage to share the fact that she is a girl. She is lucky to have many people around her who understand, once they recover from their initial shock. All of this is set in the realistic backdrop of an elementary school presentation of a play based on Charlotte’s Web. George wants to play Charlotte, but can’t because she’s a boy.

Third graders can handle the language and independent reading, but there are many reasons to read this with parents or well-informed teacher. Adults will want to discuss with kids what gender identity means and whether it is static. At any rate, George gives everyone a lot to talk about.

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  • GeorgeTitle: George
  • Author: Alex Gino
  • Published: Scholastic Press, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 240 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Fiction, transgender issues
  • ISBN: 978-0545812542
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