Pack of Dorks

Pack of Dorks by Beth Vrabel was a nominee for the 2016-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

Lucy is pretty secure in her status as one of the most popular girls in the 4th grade, but her best friend Becky convinces her that kissing Tom Lemmings at recess will really make her cool. Lucy reluctantly agrees, and that action may just cost her dearly.

After the ill-fated kissing incident, Lucy quickly finds herself moving from the top of the heap in 4th grade to the bottom. Tom is no longer her boyfriend, Becky is being mean to her, and the other kids are laughing at her. And her situation at home isn’t much better. Her new baby sister has Down Syndrome, and Lucy’s parents are totally focused on the baby. They don’t seem to care at all about Lucy anymore. She feels all alone and doesn’t know who she can turn to.

Lucy eventually finds an ally in quiet Sam Righter. The two share a table at lunch and work together on a class project about wolves. Through this project, Lucy compares the behavior of wolf packs to the treacherous world of school life. She looks at the actions of alphas, lone wolves, and how the weak or different are treated in wolf packs. The similarities between wolves and the kids in her world are striking, and Lucy thinks about how she could form her own pack. A pack of dorks.

As Lucy learns more and more about wolves and grows closer to the other outsiders at school, she also thinks about her own behavior. Maybe she was not-so-nice in the past. She doesn’t want to be that way anymore, and she really doesn’t want her little sister to be the target of bullies just because she’s different.

Can Lucy change her ways and become the person she wants to be? Will her “pack of dorks” be able to stand up to the bullies that torment them? Will Lucy find her place at school and within her own home?

How will Lucy’s home and school situations be resolved? Find out when you read Pack of Dorks by Beth Vrabel!

In addition to being an excellent book for addressing topics like bullying, respecting differences, and handling conflict, Pack of Dorks is also great for teaching the concept of voice. Lucy’s voice in this book is engaging and authentic, and many readers–no matter their ages–will respond to that. This wonderful book would make an excellent read-aloud in upper elementary and middle grade classrooms.

Roxie and the Hooligans

Roxie Warbler knows how to handle just about anything thanks to Lord Thistlebottom’s Book of Pitfalls and How to Survive Them. She can find water in the desert, she knows what to do if she has a malfunctioning parachute, and she could survive on top of a moving train…but Roxie doesn’t know what to do about the bullies that plague her every day.

Helvetia’s Hooligans, four of the meanest kids in town, love to torture Roxie. They seem to delight in making fun of her ears, and Roxie just wants them to stop. One day, she runs away from the Hooligans…and that leads all five kids into an adventure none of them could have ever expected.

Now, Roxie and the Hooligans are stranded on an island. They have no food, no water, and no shelter. At first, the Hooligans want to punish Roxie for getting them into this mess. (They must have forgotten the part when their bullying made Roxie run away from them in the first place.) Eventually, though, these four bullies realize that Roxie’s knowledge of survival skills might just be useful. This becomes even more important when they realize that they’re not alone on this island.

Two violent bank robbers are hiding away on this island, and Roxie and the Hooligans will have to work together to not only survive but also remain hidden from these dangerous criminals and find some way to be rescued. Can Roxie prove to everyone that she’s more than just a girl with large ears? Can she make peace with those who bully her and turn them into friends? And will Roxie and the Hooligans last through their time on this island and finally be rescued?

Answer all of these questions and more when you read Roxie and the Hooligans by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor!

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)

Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder

Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder by Jo Nesbø is, as one can probably tell from the title, a book about a very powerful fart powder. I received a free copy of this book, and I decided to give it a quick read before I put it in my school library.  That was a wise decision.  At times it was funny, but I really wasn’t thrilled about reading a book where the main focus was flatulence.  I quickly grew tired of the entire premise.  I’m thinking many of my students might feel the same way.  (At least, I hope so.)

This story takes place in a small town in Norway, and a tiny young boy named Nilly has just moved into the neighborhood.  He and his new friend Lisa kind of inadvertently become assistants to the strange Doctor Proctor, who is trying to invent something that will make him famous.  And Doctor Proctor has done it.  He’s invented a fart powder that will make people have super-powerful farts with no bad smell.  In addition to the regular version of this powder, he’s also created a special powder that will lift who ever ingests it into outer space.  It’s Fartonaut Powder!

Nilly and Lisa decide to sell the regular powder to the kids at school, making them instantly popular.  They, along with Doctor Proctor, decide to send the special powder to the scientists at NASA, but, before they can go through with their plans, thieves decide to steal both powders!  Now, Doctor Proctor and Nilly are in a world of trouble, and Lisa needs to find a way to fix everything.  It won’t be easy, and it may just involve sewers, trickery, an anaconda, and escaping from a seemingly inescapable prison.  (Who knew a book about farts could be so suspenseful!)  Will Lisa, Nilly, and Doctor Proctor win in the end, or will all of their plans–ahem–run out of gas?  Read Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powderto find out!

Anyone who knows me can probably already surmise that I wasn’t a big fan of this book.  A book that was essentially one long fart joke kind of left me cold. Also, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the writing, and I think it will be hard for some young American readers to relate to the Norwegian setting.  While this book does have some merits, and I will tell some of my students about it, I don’t think this is one I’ll be putting in my school library.  There are better books that are not so blatant with the potty humor and have the same kind of voice that was present in this book.  Do with that what you will.