Tag Archive for literacy skills

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


Written by Sue Whiting
Illustrated by Mark Jackson

This is a great opportunity to learn about the creature that fascinates observers and puzzles scientists. Kids will love the platypus and want to know more.

The author starts out by following a male platypus as he goes about his daily foraging. His burrow is warm and cozy and nestled on the bank of a creek. His body and fur help him to move around his semiaquatic world. His flexible bill allows him to find and capture worms, insect larvae, crawfish, and beetles. He dives repeatedly to the creek bed until he fills the pouches in his cheeks for the coming meal. He has to hide quickly from predators. Meanwhile, the female tends to the eggs and nurses the babies.

The beautiful illustrations give a real feel to the environment of the platypus, the other animals, and even the plant life.

Third graders will get a chance to practice literacy skills while learning about life in Tasmania and Australia. This would be a good read aloud for discussion of what a monotreme is and how it differs from a mammal.

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  • PlatypusTitle: Platypus
  • Author: Sue Whiting
  • Illustrator: Mark Jackson
  • Published: Candlewick Press, March 8, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 4
  • Genre: Science, Nature, Geography
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-8098-5
  • Extras: Numerous sidebars, Index, author’s note “The Puzzling Platypus”

Firefly Hollow

Written by Alison McGhee
Illustrated by Christopher Denise

Kindred spirits are hard to find. Friends who truly believe in you and your dreams are just the kind we need.

In, Firefly Hollow, there is a whole nation of fireflies, but only one that wants to fly to the moon. There is a whole nation of crickets, but only one that wants to catch baseballs. Good thing they find each other. Even better, they find a miniature giant who really, really needs friends.

This beautiful book reminds readers of, The Wind in the Willows, with its exquisite illustrations done on glossy papers and with no text on the backside of the page. In some ways, it will also remind children of the Ice Age stories as these friends: firefly, cricket, and miniature giant form a nation of themselves just as the characters in Ice Age create a new kind of herd. What is most important is how each of them understands, supports and fulfills the needs of the others.

Peter, the miniature giant, has lost his best friend and doesn’t know how to cope. Readers will understand these feelings whether they have experience the death of a friend or had a close friend move away. The animals understand Peter much better than his parents do. The readers will pick up on the connection between the river vole and the father as a particular secret they hope will be revealed.

Middle grade readers will enjoy this as an independent read, a read-aloud or a book club discussion title. Literacy core curriculum standards will be fulfilled in several areas using this book, and it is definite the art teacher will want to do a unit revolving around these marvelous paintings.  Writing standards can be met as students branch off after this reading to write their own stories about kindred spirits, actual friends, or unspoken dreams.

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  • Firefly HollowTitle: Firefly Hollow
  • Author: Alison McGhee
  • Illustrator: Christopher Denise
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 304 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4424-2336-7
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Grade level: 3 to 7

Stay! A Top Dog Story

Written and Illustrated by Alex Latimer

“Ben thought Buster was the best dog in the world,” but his parents weren’t so sure. Ben’s parents want to go on vacation, but they’re not so sure they want Buster to come along. So Buster is to be left with Ben’s grandfather. In order to make sure Buster is safe, Ben writes instructions for his grandfather. The problem is, Ben keeps thinking of more instructions and has to keep sending postcards and notes. Another problem is that Buster is not always a good dog, so the grandfather takes it upon himself to make Buster behave. Naturally, he ends up making notes for Ben. Buster even learns not to attack mailmen. Buster gets to go on the vacation the next time, but he still can’t behave all the time. Not all the time, anyway.

The humorous illustrations are often dominated by the notes, cards, and maps about Buster’s world. Who knew a dog could cross its legs when it needs to go outside?

Third graders will learn a lot about pets and about family while practicing their literacy skills. This would also be a good read aloud with younger children for practicing those skills and laughing about Buster’s antics.

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  • StayTitle: Stay! A Top Dog Story
  • Author/Illustrator: Alex Latimer
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Animals, Family, Humor
  • ISBN: 978-156145-884-4


The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton, Poet

Written and Illustrated by Don Tate

Who would have thought a man who taught himself to read could come up with such beautiful poetry? While selling his master’s fruit at a university, George’s use of language caught the attention of college students. The students commissioned him to write love poetry for them, helped him learn to write, and to learn about literature and history. George paid his master to let him write full time and eventually published a volume of poetry, The Hope of Freedom. His master refused to let him buy his freedom outright, though. Eventually, the Emancipation Proclamation brought an end to his servitude and George moved west with the army.

Horton’s is an important story that should be covered in literature and in history. The Civil War was fought by human beings about human beings. Horton took great risks seeking his freedom. After he published his first volume of poetry, North Carolina outlawed speaking out against slavery and also outlawed teaching slaves to read and write. After that, Horton restricted himself to non-political poetry. He also published an autobiography, used by the author of this book. Tate’s illustrations help to bring the poet’s story to life. This could be read aloud in a classroom to stimulate discussion.

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  • George Moses HortonTitle: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton, Poet
  • Author/Illustrator: Don Tate
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 36 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Biography, Poetry, History
  • ISBN: 978-156145-825-7
  • Extras: Extensive bibliography, Author’s Note

Charlie Bumpers vs. the Perfect Little Turkey

Written by Bill Harley
Illustrated by Adam Gustavson

There’s something for everyone in this lively tale of Charlie Bumpers and a Thanksgiving Day. Charlie is the quintessential middle child, picked on by both his older brother and younger sister. When his teacher assigns the class to define family, all he can think of how badly things have gone at home. The teacher is less than thrilled with Charlie’s definition, so he has to observe the family over the holiday and come up with a new definition. In addition to putting up with a whole house full of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and neighbors, Charlie has to share his room with the most annoying cousin on the planet, Chip. Add in a trick bathroom door knob, a casserole of Brussels sprouts, and a homemade bottle rocket, and you have a hilarious yet touching book. Of course, Chip ends up shooting himself in the foot with all his antics. Charlie’s final definition for family is, “People who love you and accept you, even when you’re a bozon.” (A bozon is a bozo-moron.)

Third graders will practice their literacy skills while learning about interpersonal relations and what families can mean. There are plenty of wonderful illustrations to add to the fun.

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  • Charlie BumpersTitle: Charlie Bumpers vs. the Perfect Little Turkey
  • Author: Bill Harley
  • Illustrator: Adam Gustavson
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 160 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Family, Holidays, Friendship
  • ISBN: 978-156145-835-6

The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower, or John Howland’s Good Fortune

Written and Illustrated by P.J. Lynch

The beautiful and realistic illustrations in this engaging new book are a big part of the little-known story of one of the original settlers near Plymouth Rock. John Howland was a young servant indentured to William Bradford, leader of the Pilgrims and first governor of the Massachusetts colony. When the group set out on the two-month journey to America, John was obliged to come along. Lynch’s book gives a detailed version of the trek, from the loading on of supplies in London, to the various stops before leaving England, to the perils of the ocean crossing and setting up life on the new shore. During a storm at sea, John ventured out on the deck, only to be swept overboard. Luckily, a bolt of lightning showed him where a rope was hanging over the side of the boat, and he was rescued.

The Pilgrims were actually two groups who set out for Virginia. They merged when one of the ships set to transport them proved unseaworthy. The bad weather on the passage carried them two hundred miles north of their destination, but they decided to settle there anyway. Sickness, exposure, and starvation took out half the population in the first winter. The native Americans were wary but helpful. Squanto knew English as a result of being enslaved for a period. John Howland intended to return to England to make his fortune but decided to remain in New Plymouth.

Third graders and up will benefit greatly from this exciting tale. They will learn a truer history of the Mayflower and the first Thanksgiving. They can polish their literacy skills as well.

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  • Boy who fell offTitle: The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower, or John Howland’s Good Fortune
  • Author/Illustrator: P.J. Lynch
  • Published: Candlewick, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 64 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 5
  • Genre: History, Narrative Nonfiction
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6584-5
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