Charlie Bumpers vs. the Teacher of the Year

Charlie Bumpers vs. the Teacher of the Year, written by Bill Harley and illustrated by Adam Gustavson, is a nominee for the 2015-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

Charlie Bumpers should be excited about going into the fourth grade. He would be…if his teacher were anyone but Mrs. Burke. Charlie has history with Mrs. Burke, so he’s sure that she’s going to make his life absolutely miserable. And he doesn’t care that she’s the Teacher of the Year. Charlie didn’t vote for her.

At first, it seems that Charlie may be right about his new teacher. Mrs. Burke really does appear to have it in for Charlie Bumpers. It doesn’t help that Charlie always finds himself in the middle of trouble. (He doesn’t mean to get into these messes, really! They just kind of happen.)

Charlie hopes that his entire fourth grade year won’t be horrible, but how can he get things on the right track when Mrs. Burke is always waiting on him to mess up? Can he turn things around? Is Mrs. Burke really all that bad? Find out how Charlie comes to terms with Mrs. Burke when you read Charlie Bumpers vs. the Teacher of the Year!

I think this book would be an excellent read-aloud for upper elementary classrooms, especially fourth grade. It’s both funny and relatable, and I think kids will really enjoy it. Also, it’s the first book in a new series, and many students are always game for a cool new series (especially young readers who either really like or are a little tired of Diary of a Wimpy Kid).

Z is for Moose

Z is for Moose, written by Kelly Bingham and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky, is a nominee for the 14-15 South Carolina Picture Book Award.

Z is for Moose is a funny book that is ideal for any young reader who is learning the alphabet or likes picture books with lots of silliness.

Zebra is trying to put on a production of the alphabet. Moose, though, is impatient for his turn. He interupts other letters wondering if it’s his turn yet, and when he finally gets ready for his big moment with the letter M, he discovers that Zebra has given his spot to a mouse.

Moose is not happy about being replaced, so he goes on a bit of a rampage. He takes over the alphabet and throws everything into a tizzy. Eventually, Zebra gets things back in order. He realizes, however, that he’s hurt Moose’s feelings, and there’s only one way to make things right.

While I’m not sure this book is ideal for read-aloud, I do think it will be a hit with kids, primarily preschool-kindergarten students, who are exploring the alphabet. They’ll enjoy seeing where Moose messes things up, but they’ll still be able to see the alphabet in order. I predict that this book could lead some young readers to create their own crazy ABC books.

EllRay Jakes Is NOT a Chicken!

EllRay Jakes Is NOT a Chicken!, the first book in a new series by Sally Warner and illustrator Jamie Harper, is a nominee for the 2013-2014 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

EllRay Jakes is the smallest kid in his third grade class at Oak Glen Primary School, and he’s become the target of a couple of bullies. EllRay isn’t even sure how it started, but he knows that he can’t really tell anyone about it–especially adults–because they’ll just make things even worse.

EllRay‘s problems at school are getting him into trouble, but his dad may have just given him the incentive he needs to keep his nose clean. If EllRay can stay out of trouble for one whole week, Dad will take the family to Disneyland! Now, that’s definitely something to work toward, but can EllRay do it?

Can EllRay stay away from the bullies, behave in class, and keep his temper for an entire week? And when the adults around him get wind that EllRay might be having problems with bullying, what will happen? Will the bullies finally stop, or will things get worse than ever? Can EllRay Jakes prove he’s not a chicken while staying out of trouble? Time will tell…

In many ways, I think this book–and hopefully the rest of the series–fills a void in easy-to-read chapter books. First, it deals with an African-American main character. I haven’t been an elementary librarian very long, but I haven’t come across many realistic fiction titles with African-American protagonists. (If you know of lots of them, please pass the titles along to me!)

Also, bullying is a central theme in the book, but how it’s approached may be different than it is in some other books. EllRay avoids running to adults about the situation because he thinks they’ll just make things worse. While the adult part of me disagrees with this, the part of me that was bullied as a child knows that this can sometimes be true. And while I don’t think EllRay‘s solution to bullying was necessarily the best one, his message of standing up for oneself might help some young readers to find their own inner courage.

EllRay Jakes Is NOT a Chicken!, as mentioned, is the first book in a series. Other books in this series are already out, and there is another on the way. The list below details the titles currently available and the release date for a future title. Hopefully, there will be even more later!

  • EllRay Jakes Is Not a Chicken!
  • EllRay Jakes Is a Rock Star!
  • EllRay Jakes Walks the Plank!
  • EllRay Jakes the Dragon Slayer!
  • EllRay Jakes and the Beanstalk! (September 12, 2013)

All the Lovely Bad Ones

In All the Lovely Bad Ones, siblings (and all-around troublemakers) Travis and Corey are spending the summer with their grandmother at her inn at Fox Hill, Vermont. The Fox Hill Inn has a history of being haunted, but the kids’ grandma thinks that’s all a bunch of hokum. Travis and Corey, though, think a haunted inn might be just the thing to boost business, so they get it into their heads to make visitors believe that Fox Hill does have some ghostly residents. What starts out as a prank, however, quickly becomes more than either child ever bargained for…

Without realizing what’s happened, Travis and Corey have apparently awakened the real ghosts of Fox Hill. Some of the ghosts seem to be rather harmless–moving things around, pinching, pulling hair, setting mice loose in the kitchen, etc.–but there’s one ghost who terrifies all who encounter her (even other ghosts). This ghost seems to be malicious, and Travis and Corey soon realize that it’s up to them to find out who this ghost is and how to finally put her–and the other ghosts–to rest.

As Travis and Corey search for what really happened at Fox Hill in the past, they will encounter some disturbing truths. Fox Hill has a dark history, and they will have to make things right before the ghostly residents can have the peace they’ve long been denied. Will these two kids be able to give the ghosts of Fox Hill the rest they crave? Are all of the ghosts even willing to move on? Find out how the dead are finally put to rest–and how the living cope with the truth–when you read All the Lovely Bad Ones by Mary Downing Hahn.

After reading this book, it’s easy to see why so many of my students love it. It’s scary without being too terribly threatening, and good wins out in the end. (I’ve only read two of Mary Downing Hahn’s books at this point, but I assume that most, if not all, of her ghost stories are like this. It works.) This book may also convince young readers to research the concept poor farms or poorhouses and how the poor were–and still are–treated in society.

True (…Sort of)

True (…Sort of) by Katherine Hannigan brought to mind such favorites as The Great Gilly Hopkins and Maniac Magee.  This nominee for the 2012-2013 South Carolina Children’s Book Award tells the tale of Delly, a young girl who has a very close relationship with trouble.  (I have a feeling quite a few of my students will identify with Delly.)  No matter what she does, or how good her intentions might be, Delly gets into predicaments that get her labeled as a “bad kid.”  Now, Delly knows she’s not really bad, but the people around her are starting to make her think that she’ll never outrun the trouble that always seems to follow her.  With the arrival of a new kid in town, however, Delly may have a chance to turn everything around…

No one knows much about Ferris Boyd. The new kid never talks, can’t be touched, spends all her time alone, and is often mistaken for a boy.  Delly Pattison, though, sees Ferris Boyd as her way out of trouble.  When Delly–and her little brother RB–are with Ferris, trouble seems to stay away.  And Delly desperately needs to keep away from trouble, or her parents will send her to a reform school–or a reDellyformatory.

Even though Ferris doesn’t talk, Delly, Ferris, and RB find a way to communicate and form real friendships that will help all of them through the issues they’re facing.  Even though Delly is quite familiar with her own brand of trouble, Ferris is dealing with something much more serious…something that has robbed her of the ability or desire to speak.  With the help of Delly, RB, and Brud, another unlikely friend, Ferris will be able to come to terms with the fear that has held her captive.  And Delly will learn that some things–like the safety and well-being of a dear friend–are worth the risk of getting into a little trouble.

True (…Sort of) is a quick, often hilarious, read that will grip readers from the first page.  Delly is a character that is often misunderstood by those around her, something that nearly everyone can relate to on some level.  Her quest to stay out of trouble is admirable, and readers will rejoice in her successes, but they’ll also be wowed by Delly’s ability to find a bit of fun in the small things around her and turn even the most mundane things into Dellyventures.

I also think young readers will be inspired by Delly’s vocabulary.  Her made up words tell so much about her personality, and I hope that my students will create their own vocabulary to explain the truly unique things about their own lives.  (There is a “Dellyictionary” at the back of this book with a list of words and definitions for all of the words Delly uses throughout the book.)  Even the non-cuss words Delly makes up tell readers how unique–and creative–this character is.

Even though this book is lighthearted at times, it also deals with a serious issue.  This issue is personified in the character of Ferris Boyd, and it will be all too easy for readers to realize that something is really wrong in this young girl’s life.  Her selective mutism and aversion to touching tells everyone that this girl has been through something awful.  She may still be involved in something no child should ever have to deal with.  Delly sees what others don’t.  She sees that her friend is sad and afraid, and, even though Delly knows she’ll get into trouble for helping Ferris, she does what no one else has before.  She puts Ferris’ safety above everything, and that decision changes more than one life…for the better.

True (…Sort of) is a book that will resonate with readers of all ages, and it is my hope that we’ll all pay a little more attention to children who might otherwise be overlooked, especially the “troublemakers” and the “invisible.”  Sometimes, these are the kids who need us the most and who are just looking for their chance to shine.

For more information about True (…Sort of) and other books by author Katherine Hannigan, visit