Archive for Fiction

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

Horrifa’s Magic Makeover: “Witch” Way to the Ball

Written by Susan L. Krueger
Illustrated by Nadia Komorova


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Horrifa’s Magic Makeover: “Witch” Way to the Ball is a laugh out loud story about a scaly, warty, young witch who dreams of becoming a pink-fleshed mortal wearing a lacey, sparkly dress to attend the prince’s ball. Although her mother, Dragunda is not crazy about her daughter, Horrifa’s wish to meet the prince, she helps her “downgrade” her look from a gorgeous, beautiful witch dressed in black to a dreadfully despicable and ugly “princess-like” mortal. Despite the chaos and pandemonium that ensue from her mother’s efforts and the disappointment Horrifa feels at not meeting the prince in this spin of a Cinderella tale, Horrifa learns to accept and love her scaly, warty self for who she is.

Susan Krueger’s language is rich and her descriptions are both funny and creative in a twisted kind of way that will make kids laugh. Nadia Komorova’s spooky illustrations complement the text and bridge the gap between those words that might prove challenging for some readers to understand. Aimed at both girl and boy readers between the third grade reading level through the fifth grade reading level, Horrifa’s Magic Makeover: “Witch” Way to the Ball is sure to entertain readers and send home a key message: accept yourself for who you are. Warts and all! Kids, even reluctant readers, will be hard pressed to put this book down and will certainly read Horrifa’s Magic Makeover in one sitting from start to finish!

Horrifa’s Magic Makeover: “Witch” Way to the Ball is Susan Krueger’s second book. To learn more about the author, please go to:
Horrifa's Magic Makeover

  • Title: Horrifa’s Magic Makeover: “Witch” Way to the Ball
  • Author: Susan L. Krueger
  • Illustrator: Nadia Komorova
  • Editor: Jennifer Steele Christensen
  • Publisher: Little Five Star
  • Reviewer: Annemarie O’Brien
  • Paperback: 89 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-58985-088-0
  • Genre: fantasy, fairytale

Ghost Buddy: Zero to Hero

Written by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver

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Winkler and Oliver have an incredible feel for the underdog and an even more incredible feel for the humor in any situation. Third graders should be able to grasp most of the language and all of the action. And they should identify with the not-so-perfect-but-lovable characters. The story will hold their attention long enough to increase comprehension and learn a thing or two.

Billy Broccoli is just learning to deal with his new family. Mom has remarried and his new sister is no help. They all move to a new house so they can be together. This means a new school for Billy. Besides, there’s a ghost residing in his new closet. A ghost no one else can see. His family and friends think he’s talking to himself. Billy considers himself cool, but Hoover Porterhouse III, the ghost, is there to tell him otherwise. Billy doesn’t quite understand why sixth graders don’t appreciate his “Varsity Farting Team” T-shirt or the fact that he’s saved his tonsils in a jar. Of course, Hoove has problems of his own. After 99 years as a ghost, he’s still failing at helping people. So the two of them set out to make Billy really cool and to battle the next-door bully/eavesdropper. Turns out even the neighbor has secrets. With Hoove’s help, Billy is able to defeat him. Now, if he can just get his stepfather to stop talking about dental floss, his mother (also the principal) to stop babying him at school.

This first-in-the-series volume sets the stage for some wonderful hijinks in future installments. What else does Hoove have up his … er … sleeve?

Publisher Scholastic provides a free teacher’s guide at Scholastic Teacher’s Guide.

  • Zero to HeroTITLE: Ghost Buddy: Zero to Hero
  • AUTHOR: Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver
  • PUBLISHER: Scholastic Paperbacks, 2012
  • REVIEWER: Sue Poduska
  • FORMAT: Paperback, 176 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0545298827
  • GENRE: Fantasy, Humor



Click here for Zero to Hero book trailer.

The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail

Written by Richard Peck

Illustrated by Kelly Murphy

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With his signature gentle humor, Richard Peck hits another one out of the park. Or maybe out of the barn, to be more accurate. A mouse, small for his age and not quite grown, lives in the mews adjacent to Buckingham Palace. The time is September 1896, two days before the diamond jubilee for Queen Victoria’s sixty years on the throne. The mouse doesn’t know who he is or even what his name is. But he does know he was raised by his auntie Marigold after his mother died in childbirth. Mouse Minor, as he’s called by his classmates, has a distinctively shaped tail and a penchant for getting in scuffles with much larger mouse children. He learns that there is a mouse doing every job a human does, only the mouse does it better. Also, clothed mice must never be seen by humans. So, as a result of his latest scuffle with the larger boy mice, he sets off on adventure around the palace. He befriends and talks to a cat and a horse, rides in the horse’s ear, gets flicked out into a flower bed, and becomes a yeomouse of the guard. Eventually, he learns of his true identity and destiny.

Kelly’s illustrations are perfect additions to the tale, giving a real dimension to Mouse minor and his cohorts.

Third graders will get a big kick out of the many adventures of Mouse Minor. They will also love the plays on words and the little running gags. Mouse Minor’s stories about riding in the horse’s ear and swimming in a punch bowl are never quite believed. Everyone wants to know if he’s not quite grown or just small. And why is he pink with black flecks after a swim in the strawberry punch and ride in a pocket? Meanwhile, teachers can sneak in some reading activities related to the Victorian Era and the British monarchy.


  • Mouse with the Question Mark TailTITLE: The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail
  • AUTHOR: Richard Peck
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Kelly Murphy
  • PUBLISHER: Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin Young Readers Group, 2013
  • REVIEWER: Sue Poduska
  • FORMAT: Hardcover, 223 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-8037-3838-6
  • GENRE: Fantasy, Humor, History

A Squirrel’s Story: A True Tale

Written by Jana Bommersbach

Illustrated by Jeff Yesh

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A Squirrel’s Story: A True Tale is one of the best books for use in the 3rd or 4th grade classroom because of both the fun story line and the facts about squirrels the reader will absorb. Teachers and parents will enjoy following the mama squirrel as she raises her babies and teaches them the values and the character traits that they will need to grow into responsible adult squirrels.

Student readers will be able to master the reading independently, but as a classroom addition to science and biology, this book will also work great as a group story. The author has taken observations about squirrel activity to weave a story about how a parent teaches a young one how to be independent, gain confidence, and be nurtured to healthy growth and development by telling The Squirrel’s Story. 

The author has done an excellent job with additional classroom activities in the last few pages of the book. The curriculum guide includes third grade vocabulary words and exploration, creative language activities, and writing guidelines. Also included for readers is a word matching game. Teachers are encouraged to allow students to be the reporter, the poet, or the researcher and to discover how to write their own true story based on observations.

Art is an extra bonus activity included in the curriculum addendum and teachers and parents will enjoy adding this to the fun when reading and teaching this book. The author offers several online sites for more activities and information to enhance the student. Activities address both visual and auditory learners making this book a great addition to the classroom. Other books by the publisher can be found at and specific additional information on this book can be found at the website

  • A Squirrels StoryTitle:  A Squirrel’s Story: A True Tale
  • Author: Jana Bommersbach
  • Illustrations: Jeff Yesh
  • ISBN: 978-1-58985-252-5
  • Publisher: Five Star Publications, Inc.
  • Reviewer: Terri Forehand
  • Genre: Nature, Juvenile literature
  • Lexile 690


How Do You Burp in Space? And Other Tips Every Space Tourist Needs to Know

Written by Susan E. Goodman
Illustrated by Michael Black

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Everything you need to know about going into space. Space tourism isn’t here yet but here is a travel guide for when vacationing in outer space is a reality. There is advice about what to pack and the best time to go with a special warning to go healthy because medical issues are difficult to deal with in space. There is a section about what sensations to expect from your trip and how time is measured there, what weightlessness feels like and how important it is to exercise. Bedrooms, bathrooms and eating must be modified in microgravity. No soda in outer space because in microgravity, when the carbonation is released from the stomach, so is everything else. Some of the best sightseeing in outer space is looking at the Earth but no trip off-world is complete without a side trip to the moon. Until the resorts are built, you’ll stay on your orbiting ship and shuttle down to the moon’s surface. Once back home, you may have a few effects from your trip such as getting used to gravity again, but these are minor compared to the thrill of telling your friends about outer space!

A delightful presentation about space travel. There are quotes from the astronauts along with funny fact boxes such as tips and travel alerts. The illustrations are cartoon characters or photographs enhanced with those characters. Even though it is a spoof of guidebooks, a lot of good information is included. Extra material includes a section about gravity, a glossary, a space exploration time line, further reading, internet sites and an index. This would be a good class read aloud, a demonstration of writing in second person. Using the book as a guide, students could make a brochure about space travel as a literacy activity.

  • How Do You BurpTITLE: How Do You Burp in Space? And Other Tips Every Space Tourist Needs to Know
  • AUTHOR: Susan E. Goodman
  • ILLUSTRATOR: Michael Black
  • PUBLISHER: Bloomsbury, 2013
  • REVIEWER: Risa Brown
  • EDITION: Hardcover, 72 p.
  • ISBN: 978-1-59990-068-1
  • GENRE: Non-fiction, Space Travel
  • LEXILE: 770, Reading level 5.1

Nikki and Deja: Substitute Trouble

Written by Karen English

Illustrated by Laura Freeman

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We are told in the first book of the Nikki and Deja series that they are the best of friends. As in all satisfying series we see their friendship ripening as they grow in understanding. Deja understands her friend’s love of words, she is going to be a journalist after all, and does not hesitate to ask for help when writing notes and letters.

This book is so suited to second and third graders, themselves living through the experience described in the stories. Substitute teachers are a fact of life. Teachers fall sick, or have other commitments, and have to take time off. Substitute teachers who cannot handle the classroom very well, and children taking advantage of their timidity are also a fact of life.

Mrs. Shelby-Ortiz has a broken ankle, and will be out for a few weeks. Mr. Willow substitutes. He writes his name on the blackboard in letters as small and timid as his teaching. Smart, worldly-wise Deja ticks off all the things he has done wrong, and the ways he could improve:

“Mistake Number One. Actually it’s Mistake Number Ten, Deja thinks. Mr. WIllow should have said very clearly, “You’re on the wrong paragraph. Go to paragraph two.” And then he should have looked at Carlos very sternly. But instead he starts off with “I think….” Deja shakes her head slowly.”

As the day progresses her count goes up:

“Mistake number zillion and three, according to Deja. Don’t ask. Tell.”

She proposes that they write Mr. Willow a note on how things are supposed to be, but make it “Anon..anon”

“Anonymously,” Nikki says easily. Deja asks her how to start the letter. “When my mother has me write letters to my great-aunt Nora, she tells me to start with ‘I hope this letter finds you well….’”

The story takes off from there. Deja and Nikki write the letter and succeed in getting it to Mr. Willow anonymously. Are they prepared for the consequences? Do they even imagine what one simple, helpful letter would lead to? The unknown adds an element of mystery that young readers would enjoy.

As would the teachers. The story gives an easy lead into talking about classroom behavior when there is a substitute.  This is a short chapter book that can lead to many reading activities and discussion points, a book and a series that would grace any classroom reading list.

  • Nikki and DejaTitle: Nikki and Deja: Substitute Trouble
  • Author: Karen English
  • Illustrator: Laura Freeman
  • Publisher: Clarion books
  • Reviewer: Anjali Amit
  • Hardback:  108 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-547-61565-3
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Lexile Score: 700

Animal Tales

Written by Terry Jones

Illustrated by Michael Foreman

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Animal Tales is a lovely collection of short stories, perfect for reading aloud to the third grade crowd.  Each tale is filled with humor, absurdity, and lessons with a careful delivery that will appeal to readers of all ages.

“The Frog That Found A Fortune” is about a nervous little frog who finds what he believes to be a long lost diamond from the Crown of England.  Readers are taken on a wild ride as the frog imagines himself being rewarded for it’s return with barrow loads of slugs that lead him to become a virtual slug baron.  But then, as frog starts to worry about all the barriers that might stand in the way of getting the diamond back to Buckingham Palace, a magpie steals the precious jewel forcing the unusually sensible frog to realize that life is good in his lovely, damp hedge and that the magpie has just saved him a whole lot of trouble.

This is just one of the circus like tales that put animals in human like situation and unlikely partnerships.  There’s Bear and Skunk, who save each others lives through love and gratitude,  overcoming their differences to become the odd couple.  There’s Jack the Rabbit and Old Mr. Fox, Crocodile and Tiger…

Written as legends in a wonderful story-telling voice that often addresses the reader, these Animals Tales are made to be shared.  The morals and lessons presented in each story are multi-faceted and complex, lending themselves to vibrant post-read discussion.  Not all the endings are happy.  Not all the messages are direct.  But every story begs to be explored.

In addition to giving readers something to think about and enhancing comprehension, the stories help boost vocabulary with the seamless insertion of words such as IGNONIMY and  INSATIABLE.  North American readers will also be introduced to British expressions such as trousers and petrol.

The stories are dispersed with lovely anthropomorphic pictures.  My favorite is the image of badger (an old, misunderstood war hero) teetering on a ladder above his store with an array of groceries and bratty kids shown in delightful detail below.  Similar pictures accompany the paragraph long “Wonders of the Animal Kingdom” captions (The Transylvanian Limping Bat, Electric Wombats, Money Salamanders, The Fake Elk, Bendy Giraffes, The Mongolian Deep Fried Bat.. ) which read like news editorials, spoof ads and short entries from an animal encyclopedia of the absurd.

There is truly something for everyone in this wonderful collection, with laugh out loud outrageousness that will have kids rolling with laughter to clever humor that adults will find difficult to explain.  “The Amazing Terry Jones Presents…” includes two other titles, Fairy Tales and Fantastic Stories, that are also available in hardback and ebook – equally perfect for the classroom or sitting around the campfire.

  • Animal TalesTitle: Animal Tales
  • Author: Terry Jones
  • Illustrator: Michael Foreman
  • Publisher: Pavilion Children’s Books (Anova Books Groups)
  • Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge
  • Book Length:  87 pages
  • ISBN: 9781843651635 (hardback)
  • Genre: Fantasy, animal legends

Children of the Tipi: Life in the Buffalo Days

Edited By Michael Oren Fitzgerald

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A book of photos and quotes, the superb layout allows you to sneak into the camp with the Native American’s shown. We see mothers and babies, women working on beading, children playing with dolls and small bow and arrows. Children will be rightly fascinated by children of another era and another culture — children who had to learn to hunt and fish, and yet played with familiar toys of dolls and balls.

With each double-page spread divided into natural categories of mothers, fathers, children at play, etc., the writing comes from interviews with members of many different tribes. Some of these quotes are broad and philosophic “When you see a new trail you do not know, follow it to the point of knowing.” Others are specific recollections, paired with a photo of the toy in question, in this case a buffalo-rib snow sled: “In the summer we played lacrosse. In the winter we coasted upon the ribs of animals and buffalo robes.”

These are snippets from many individuals in many tribes about many different topics and  Fitzgerald points out that the individual talking represents only him or herself. Students might need to be reminded to be careful about generalization from one quote, but this is a minor quibble for a powerful and charming book.

Since most of the power comes from the pictures, the book is appropriate for pre-kindergarten, kindergarteners, and first graders. Second and third graders can probably read it for themselves. It is also a lovely book for fourth grade and above to page through and read, especially when students study their home state and learn about local Native Americans.

  • Children of the TipiTitle: Children of the Tipi: Life in Buffalo Days
  • Edited By Michael Oren Fitzgerald
  • Publisher: Wisdom Tales
  • Reviewer: Amy S. Hansen
  • Paperback/hardcover/ebook: 42 pages
  • ISBN:978-1-937786-09-0
  • Genre:  nonfiction (history, science, nature, environmental, math, etc.), fiction (historical, fantasy, mystery, etc.)
  • Lexile Score: 680


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