Tag Archive for reading activities

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

Purple Pup

Written by Karl Steam
Illustrated by Joshua Lagman

What if science advanced far enough that we could pick and choose very specific characteristics for the plants, animals, and humans around us? Would we be able go to the pet store and get a dog that is our favorite color and soft to pet? Could rescue dogs have even better senses of smell and hearing to locate lost people better? And how would their new positions affect the personalities of the animals?

Compelling characters and an exciting story make Steam’s speculations on these topics fun and challenging for kids. Great illustrations are an added part of the story.

Lav, bred to be purple and soft, is raised with Kama, a camouflaged dog with super hearing. But Lav hates the people in the lab because they poke him with needles and don’t understand that Cryp, Kama’s designated future mate, is vicious with him. Lav escapes and finds people he can love. Meantime, Kama is being trained by a human she can love. Due to his unusual color, Purple Pup, as Lav is now known, is returned to the lab, but he can’t forget his boy. He then escapes with Kama, Cryp, a miniature gorilla, and a miniature lion. They live in the woods with a wolf pack until Lav’s purple coat is again spotted.

Given all the discussion about GMOs and mapping genomes, this is a good place to get third graders started on the possible scientific results of manipulation. Many activities can arise from caring about Lav and his friends.

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  • Title: Purple Pup


  • Author: Karl Steam
  • Illustrator: Joshua Lagman
  • Published: Karl Steam, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Paperback, 214 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 4
  • Genre: Chapter book, Genetic manipulation, Animals
  • ISBN: 978-163578-0001-7
  • Extras: Real-life Modifications, GM Food, Online videos (www.karlsteam.com)

The Fourteenth Goldfish

Written by Jennifer L. Holm

What if your grandfather found the Fountain of Youth and ended up a teenager barely older than you? Would you let him go to your middle school despite his two PhD’s? These questions and more are answered in Holm’s delightful new book.

Eleven-year-old Ellie comes home one day to find her mother with a thirteen-year-old boy in tow. Turns out the boy is Ellie’s grandfather, Melvin, who tested his anti-aging potion on himself. Ellie has to help him complete his research and adjust to middle school. When the potion works, Melvin is kicked out of his own lab by an enthusiastic guard. Denied access to his research, Melvin enlists Ellie’s help plus the help of Ellie’s friend. Absurd details such as Melvin wearing “old man” clothes, or whatever is clean, and using Ellie’s hair bands on his pony tail give the book kid-appeal. Ellie’s mom and grandfather experience a sort of incomplete role reversal, where she grounds him and he tells her to be in by a certain hour.

Although this book is pure fiction, the author manages to sneak in many scientific and historic facts and philosophical questions. Who was Robert Oppenheimer? Are scientific advancements inherently good or do they often carry elements of good and evil? What is the responsibility of the scientist to recognize those elements? Isn’t it important to maintain the circle of life? Third graders and above will enjoy the outrageous ideas in this story and gain literacy skills. Reading activities include research of the many topics introduced and discussion of other topics that might be explored.

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  • Fourteenth GoldfishTitle: The Fourteenth Goldfish
  • Author: Jennifer L. Holm
  • Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 208 pages
  • Genre: Fiction, fantasy
  • ISBN: 978-0-375-87064-4
  • Grade level: 3 to 6

Double Reverse

Written by Fred Bowen

Jesse and his brother, Jay, are both freshmen – Jesse in high school and Jay in college. Jesse is looking forward to being a wide receiver on the JV squad. Jay, star quarterback in high school, assumes he’ll be quarterback at Dartmouth too. The brothers spend the summer running football patterns. When practice starts, their dreams are quickly changed by reality. Jesse is a better quarterback than anyone else on the team, though he’s a bit small for the position. Jay is just an okay quarterback compared to his teammates. Jesse’s best friends also find hidden talents as the football season progresses. Without a decent kicker, the team flounders until the boys decide the best kicker they know is a girl named Savannah, who also joins the team. Both Jesse and Jay have found their niche, but not without some soul searching.

Third graders just learning about team sports will love the exciting games Bowen describes. The author presents great examples of real football plays. The reader doesn’t have to understand every play in order to enjoy the story, though studying the plays will increase comprehension and literacy skills. Reading activities include practicing the plays presented. This story of realizing one’s potential should speak to everyone. A Junior Library Guild Selection, it is fast-paced and thrilling.


  • Double ReverseTitle: Double Reverse
  • Author: Fred Bowen
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishers, 2014
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 125 pages
  • Genre: Sports
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-814-1
  • Extras: “The Real Story,” where the author discusses accomplished athletes who went beyond their apparent talents.
  • Release date: August 2014

The Prairie that Nature Built

Written by Marybeth Lorbiecki
Illustrated by Cathy Morrison

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The inner workings of the wild prairie are on display in this engaging picture book. Written as a cumulative poem, it’s a celebration of a unique habitat.


This is the prairie that nature built.
These are the critters
That worm and squirm
Alive in the dirt so dark and thick
Under the prairie that nature built.


Young readers will gaze upon prairie dogs, ferrets, and snakes hiding safely in their burrows. They’ll see plant roots stretching deep underground to hold water long after the rains have gone. And they’ll learn how flowers, insects, birds and various mammals intermingle and benefit from each other. But on the prairie, there are dangers, too. Lightning can spark a fire, setting the ground ablaze and chasing the animals away. A pounding rain quenches the fire, leaving the blackened reeds to mix with the soil. Months later, from out from the ashes a green shoot sprouts upward. Life renewed once again.


Lorbiecki’s use of rhyme, cumulative verse, and repetition will enhance the literacy skills of young readers. Dramatic text and images capture the beauty and vulnerability of this disappearing habitat. Morrison’s artwork is full of fine detail, which allows third graders to find something new with each reading. Back matter includes in-depth information on prairies, vocabulary and terminology, reading activities and additional resources. This book is also available as an interactive book app.


  • PrairieTitle: The Prairie that Nature Built
  • Author: Marybeth Lorbiecki
  • Illustrator: Cathy Morrison
  • Publisher: Dawn Publications, 2014
  • Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-58469-491-5
  • Genre: Picture Book / Creative Nonfiction / Science / Nature
  • Publication Date: September 1, 2014

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: www.lisayee.com and www.dantat.com. 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

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

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