The Harlem Charade

Written by Natasha Tarpley

Harlem is a community of many neighborhoods flavored by deeply ingrained history and worldwide cultures. But this story is as universal as hope, friendship and loyalty. Three kids get involved in solving the mysteries of an attacked grandfather and some missing paintings.

Good guys and bad guys are sometimes hard to distinguish, but friendship and the patient unraveling of clues are reminiscent of Balliet’s, ChasingVermeer. Amid school projects, secrets kept from parents and everyday chores at the bodega, Jin and Alex, two most unlikely friends, protect homeless Elvin from the streets as well as the authorities. Urban development versus protecting the community is a major theme. Teachers, librarians and parents may want to discuss issues of social justice, while readers will be in a hurry to find those missing paintings from those long talked about sixties.

Monetary worth is paled in comparison to the history protected in the paintings as Jin and Alex realize sometimes it takes an object to prove history did happen the way the story says it did. Tarpley’s book is very well done and recommended for all collections. It would be a valuable book club addition as it is a truly cross curricular look at Harlem during the explosive sixties through the eyes of artists who lived it. Many discussion groups would become engrossed in the story and it would fulfill many learning objectives.

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  • Harlem Charade.jpgTitle:  The Harlem Charade
  • Author:  Natasha Tarpley
  • Publisher:  Scholastic Press, 2017
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format:  Hardcover, 320 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-545-78387-3
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Extras: Notes on actual locations mentioned in the book.

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’s Florida Adventure

Written and Illustrated by Devra Robitaille

Muffy returns with a trip to Florida. How does a family with six dogs take a vacation? In an RV dubbed the Great Escape. With a touch of magic so the reader can hear what all the animals are thinking, Robitaille creates a cute and cuddly tale that any kid will love.

On the first day of the journey, Muffy gets loose and nearly gets left at a rest stop. The gang stops at Myrtle Beach. Several of the dogs had never seen the ocean and frankly didn’t believe such a thing existed. Arrival at Sarasota Bay reveals a wonderful place to rest and play with cousins. The resident dog there is a huge help on the flat bottom tour boat his owner runs. During a day out on the boat, the dogs encounter manatees and spoonbills – another thing the dogs didn’t really believe in. When they meet a family of dolphins, they wind up helping save the youngster who gets cocky and is separated from his mother.

Younger children would enjoy having the story read aloud. Third graders and up can enjoy it independently. It’s great for learning about some creatures and the environment plus the importance of helping others.
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Muffys Florida Adventure

  • Title: Muffy’s Florida Adventure        
  • Author/Illustrator: Devra Robitaille
  • Published: The Hologram Library, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: E-book, 67 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Chapter book, Animals, Family, Travel
  • ASIN: B01LYWDYMR

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
  • ASIN: B01IUFLQJA

 

 

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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smashie2

  • 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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purple-pup

  • 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)

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

 

Seven and a Half Tons of Steel

Written by Janet Nolan
Illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez

After the Twin Towers fell on September 11, 2001, a steel beam was selected for recycling by the US Navy. The beam, weighing seven and a half tons, was transported by truck to a foundry in Louisiana. The steel became the bow of a new landing platform/dock (LPD), a type of war ship designed for a crew of 360 and transport of 700 to 800 troops. It was to become the USS New York. The shipbuilding itself was briefly interrupted by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The ship then sailed the steel back to its home port of New York.

The mixed media illustrations convey the solemnity of the story.

Reading with a teacher or parent is highly recommended, as the text relies heavily on the recognition of symbols, many of which kids may not be aware of. An adult can explain how much the symbols mean. Throughout the story, flags drape the steel and the ship. A twenty-one gun salute greets the ship in New York. Statistics about the ship, as well as a detailed description of her crest follow the story. Even the diner on board is symbolic of the towers.

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  • Seven and a Half Tons of SteelTitle: Seven and a Half Tons of Steel
  • Author: Janet Nolan
  • Illustrator: Thomas Gonzalez
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, August 1, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 36 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 5
  • Genre: Nonfiction, History
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-912-4
  • Extras: More about the USS New York, The crest of the USS New York
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