Archive for Fiction

The Bingity- Bangity School Bus

Written by Fleur Conkling
Illustrated by  Ruth Wood

Fans of, The Poky Little Puppy, and, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, might also remember this Bingity-Bang School bus that sounds like a thousand tin cans. When Busby hears talk about how banged up and rickety he is becoming, he fears he is an embarrassment to the school children. He runs away, literally. After he goes flying down a hill he ends up rolling over and over crashing into a field. The children send out a search party and end up forcing the town to fix their pal, the school bus.

Today’s young readers will enjoy reading books that their grandparents read. But they will also be surprised at how many more words are in this picture book than in those they have become used to reading.

Literacy skills will be strengthened and this book can start interesting discussions about how the publishing industry has changed over the years. Parents, librarians and teachers can use this book to meet core curriculum standards in history and culture by talking about the community represented in this book. Do all children still ride busses? Do all children in a town go to the same school? Is it up to the town to pay for fixing the school bus?

Because of the heavier text, second and third grade readers are more likely to read this book independently than are first graders. The younger folks will love having it read to them while they study the brightly colored illustrations.

Favorite books from the Wonder Book line originally published in the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s are being reprinted by G & D Vintage, which is under the umbrella of Grosset & Dunlap. This is one of the reprints in the set.

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  • Bingity-Bangity School BusTitle: The Bingity- Bangity School Bus
  • Author: Fleur Conkling
  • Illustrator:  Ruth Wood
  • Publisher: G & D Vintage, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-448-48763-2


The Whodunit Detective Agency: The Circus Mystery

Written by Martin Widmark
Illustrated by Helena Willis

Kids love to solve mysteries and this third mystery in The Whodunit Detective Agency series is a fun one. Circus tents and balloon sellers bring excitement to town that can only be topped by a backpack wearing money who bows at his costumers.

Stolen cell phones and lost wallets raise crowd tensions between shows and get the local sheriff involved. His friends and sometimes crime stopper helpers, Jerry and Maya, come to the show intent on solving it.

Newly independent grade three and grade four readers will enjoy this mystery they can solve on their own to solve the crime. Clues are cleverly placed and details explained. Large font on clean white paper make the book approachable. Full color sketches keep the readers entertained and take them right into the circus tents.

Readers will enjoy getting to know Jerry and Maya and will look forward to more crime solving with them in their town of Pleasant Valley as the series continues.

Maps of the town as well as a gallery of characters who will appear in the story are presented in the beginning pages inviting readers to jump in and get to know them even before the story begins. Parents, teachers and librarians can get reluctant readers involved in this series by reading a chapter or two aloud. Or by using the technique, you read a page and then I’ll read a page.

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  • Circus MysteryTitle: The Whodunit Detective Agency: The Circus Mystery
  • Author: Martin Widmark
  • Illustrator: Helena Willis
  • Publisher: Grosset Dunlap/Penguin
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Paperback, 2015
  • ISBN: 978-0-448-48070-1
  • Genre: Fiction, Mystery
  • Grade level: 2 to 4

Yard Sale

Written by Eve Bunting
Illustrated by Lauren Castillo

Moving anyone?

It happens a lot today and sometimes kids just don’t know what to make of it all. Especially when downsizing is part of the move.

Eve Bunting knows just how it looks and feels to a young child. So does Lauren Castillo, as proven by the realistic and detail filled illustrations.   It is hard to see your toys, and especially your bike sold and carried away.

Callie’s parents try their best to make the new apartment and its fold-out bed look exciting, but it really doesn’t make anything easier on yard sale day. Especially when some grownup, trying to be funny or cute, asks Callie if she is for sale, too.  What a devastating thing to say to any child.  Of course, she runs right to her Mom and Dad to ask about being for sale.

This reality makes everything else in the front yard meaningless. This small family realizes that who you have is much more important that what you have in your life.

Teachers, librarians, and parents of children preparing for a move will find repeated readings of this story to be helpful discussion starters. It will help everyone to explore the emotions involved with selling favorite items as well as moving to a new house.

Core curriculum standards for first grade readers as well as second grade readers can be fulfilled for the literacy skills of dialogue, picture clues, main idea, and supporting details.

Eve Bunting has written over 250 books for children and this is a great addition to the ones already in every school or public library.

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  • Yard SaleTitle:  Yard Sale
  • Author: Eve Bunting
  • Illustrator: Lauren Castillo
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6542-5
  • Genre: fiction, picture book
  • Grade level: PreK to 2

P. Zonka Lays An Egg

Written and Illustrated by Julie Paschkis

P. Zonka would rather spend her day “staring at flowers and gawking at clouds” instead of laying eggs. This irritates the other chickens to no end. Why won’t she lay an egg? What’s the matter with her? P. Zonka wonders the opposite. How can they think about laying eggs when there is such beauty all around?

…the soft dark moss, the stripes on the crocuses, the orange cat with one blue eye, the shining center of a dandelion, the sky at midnight.

The hens (Nadine, Dora, and Maud, plus Gloria, a misnamed rooster) continue to goad P. Zonka. They call her lazy and urge her to try. Finally, she gives in and attempts to lay an egg. It isn’t easy, but when she finally does, she produces a spectacular egg as original and unique and colorful as P. Zonka, herself. Daydreamers rejoice!

Good things come to those who wait – a great message for young readers. Second graders will also benefit from the themes of individuality and artistry. Paschkis’ watercolor drawings are a feast for the eyes, and her endnote reveals the secret behind P. Zonka’s unusual name: a pysanka is a Ukrainian decorated egg made with patterns of beeswax and layers of dye. Recommended as a classroom read-aloud or library selection.

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  • P. ZonkaTitle: P. Zonka Lays An Egg
  • Author/Illustrator: Julie Paschkis
  • Publisher: Peachtree, 2015
  • Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-819-6
  • Genre: Picture Book, Fiction, Allegory


Cinderella’s Secret Slipper

Written by Alinka Rutkowska
Illustrated by Konrad Checinski

Written tongue-in-cheek, this lively speculation on Cinderella’s life after marriage necessarily dwells on the what-if factor. What if Cinderella and the Prince had a princelet? What if that child is quickly growing up and using his parents’ possessions for who-knows-what? What if he breaks one of the famous glass slippers shortly before a formal event to which Cinderella wants to where the glass slippers? Can the slipper be repaired? Should it be repaired? Is it replaceable? Can the shoe store help? What about a glass store? Maybe the fairy godmother is the answer. Maybe someone else has a firy godmother.

Checinski’s colorful illustrations follow the story well and show all the action and emotion.

This is a great lesson in problem-solving and provides a good starting point for discussion of the appropriateness the use of various substances, such as glass for footware. As a read-aloud, this book would provide a starting point for such discussions. As independent reading for second grade and above, it provides good practice for literacy skills.

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  • CinderellaTitle: Cinderella’s Secret Slipper
  • Author: Alinka Rutkowska
  • Illustrator: Konrad Checinski
  • Publisher: Capraro Press, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: E-book, 36 pages
  • Grade Level: Pre-school to 4
  • Genre: Fiction, humor, family, folk tale
  • ISBN: 978-0983154754

As An Oak Tree Grows

Written and illustrated by G. Brian Karas

Seasons and generations all pass by as the acorn planted by a supposed Native American child grows. While the text is clear and sparse, the illustrations are full of detail that will delight kindergarten readers as well as third grade readers.

The oak tree grows while people clear the land around it and begin to build houses and families. A timeline across the bottom of the pages lets readers correctly interpret the historical changes in transportation, architecture and clothing shown in the pictures.

For the youngest readers, it is enough to see the tree grow and the seasons change. Older readers will quickly notice the more subtle changes in lifestyle recorded in the illustrations.

This book will satisfy the common core standards for science, history, nature, and literature in several of the elementary grades. It is a beautiful springboard into studies of community development.

Readers will get attached to the tree and feel some sadness at its passing, but hope wins out as a new little acorn sprouts right next to where the old tree stood.

The poster that is in a pocket in the back of the book is full sized and has the stump of the tree enlarged. The rings of the tree are marked with historical markers to show how each ring of the tree represents a complete year. It will make it more understandable for young readers to see how this one tree was present for two hundred years of America’s history.

On the back of the poster are several activity sheets that go along with the book and only help to enhance the information included. This would be an excellent addition to any classroom, school or home library.

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  • As An Oak Tree GrowsTitle: As An Oak Tree Grows
  • Author/Illustrator: G. Brian Karas
  • Publisher: Nancy Paulson Books/Penguin, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-399-25233-4
  • Genre: Historical fiction, realistic
  • Grade Level: K-3
  • Extras: Poster of the tree trunk, with historical labels on various rings, worksheets that go with the book are on the back of the poster.

Maddi’s Fridge

Written by Lois Brandt
Illustrated by Vin Vogel

After an afternoon of playing in the park, Sofia opens her friend Maddi’s fridge to look for a snack only to discover that it’s practically empty. Embarrassed, Maddi explains that her family doesn’t have much money for food. She begs Sofia not to tell anyone. Sofia promises she won’t.

Back home, Sofia sees her own fridge in a different light, stocked with all kinds of delicious things like milk, eggs, tortillas, salsa, carrots, and even a can of food for their dog. She wishes she could tell her mom about Maddi, but she made a promise. That night, she sneaks some of her fish dinner to give to her friend the next day. However:

Fish may be good for kids,
But fish is not good for backpacks.

This setback doesn’t keep the girls from their afternoon routine at the park. Maddi’s still the only one who can master the climbing wall, and she encourages Sofia to keep trying. She does – that night she tries again to bring Maddi some of her dinner.

Eggs may be good for kids,
But eggs are not good for backpacks.

On the third try, Sofia succeeds in bringing her friend something to eat. She also succeeds in making it to the top of the climbing wall, thanks to Maddi’s help all the way. And because friends help each other, Sofia decides she must break her promise. She tells her mother and together they buy groceries for Maddi’s family.

“A promise is important,” Maddi said.
“You’re more important,” Sofia said.

Kudos to Brandt for turning a serious social issue into a warm tale infused with humor and loads of heart. Second grade readers will love Vogel’s cheery illustrations, created with digital pen and ink and rich with detail. This book would be a wonderful addition to any classroom library – a perfect read aloud opportunity to discuss what it means to be a friend, how to help someone in need, and how some secrets should be shared with a trusted adult. The back page lists things kids can do to get involved plus a link to, which offers activity pages, a curriculum guide for teachers and parents, and links to hunger organizations.

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Maddis FridgeTitle: Maddi’s Fridge
Author: Lois Brandt
Illustrator: Vin Vogel
Publisher: Flashlight Press, 2014
Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
ISBN: 978-1-9362612-9-1
Genre: Picture Book / Fiction / Social Issues

Fly Away

Written by Patricia MacLachlan

Patricia MacLachlan continues to provide emergent readers with wonderful stories. This latest book is based on the words from a children’s song that was adapted from an Engelbert Humperdinck song. It tells of the birdies who fly away, but come back home.

Her main character, Lucy, is a young girl whose family is traveling back to the mother’s home in a poor, old overused, but much loved Volkswagen van with a pop-up top. Like many poor families, the children are unaware of their poverty because of the way the parents handle life with jokes and songs.

During the visit home to see the stubborn aunt who doesn’t want help, the river floods. While it rises, neighbors come to help move things and memories of the past flood into conversations.

The relationships between the young siblings is perfectly described. They share secrets as well as quiet strength with one another. One secret has to be shared publicly, though, when the littlest boy comes up missing.

Not surprisingly, it is a well-written book that children just beginning to delve into chapter books will enjoy greatly. They will be able to recognize themselves and their relationships to others within its pages. They will learn that we, like the birdies, often fly away, but then come back home.

Literacy teachers, second grade and third grade readers, librarians and parents will enjoy this book as they practice all their literacy skills, but more importantly just love reading.

  • Fly AwayTitle: Fly Away
  • Author: Patricia MacLachlan
  • Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books, April 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 128 pages
  • ISBN:  978-1-4424-6008-9
  • Genre: Realistic Fiction
  • Grade Level: Grade 2 and above


The Misadventures of Salem Hyde: Big Birthday Bash

Written and illustrated by Frank Cammuso

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In this delightful graphic novel, young witch Salem Hyde and her cat companion Whammy prepare for their friend Edgar’s birthday party. Meanwhile, they are also battling their archenemy, Shelly. First, the reader gets to know Salem and her magic a little bit. She makes herself bigger and then runs out of magic before she can shrink back. Next, Salem has to get past Shelly and the fact that she’s hidden Salem’s invitation to the party. On an excursion to buy Edgar’s present, their misadventures continue with major brain freeze from slushees and Shelly confronting them at the toy store. Plus, they have no money. When they finally get to the party, Salem does her best to make it a great day for Edgar. Of course, her spells backfire and she has to correct for some of them. She tries to make the party big but ends up shrinking the attendees instead. Whammy is almost served up as dinner to some baby birds.

The lively and exciting panels pull the reader in and should hold their attention. They also provide a great backdrop to increase comprehension for second graders and up. Friendship and getting along are strong and subtle themes of this work. The author’s website,, provides information on author visits and about all his books.

  • Big Birthday BashTitle: The Misadventures of Salem Hyde: Big Birthday Bash
  • Author/Illustrator: Frank Cammuso
  • Publisher: Amulet/Abrams, 2013
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 94 pages
  • Genre: Graphic novel, fiction, fantasy, humor
  • ISBN: 978-1-4197-1025-4

Claude at the Beach

Written and illustrated by Alex T. Smith

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Claude, the small plump dog, and Sir Bobblysock return in this entertaining account of a vacation at the beach. The author begins with Claude’s background, making this a good stand-alone book, but don’t miss Claude’s other adventures. He lives with Mr. and Mrs. Shinyshoes and reserves his antics for when they are at work. Claude packs his suitcase with useful items, such as underpants, a lampshade, sunscreen, whipped cream, and sticky tape. He and Sir Bobblysock set off for the beach, where Bobblysock promptly falls asleep. Claude rescues a swimmer from a shark while the lifeguard helps a woman with her beach balls. After a snack, Claude and Bobblysock meet a family of pirates. They all go to hunt for buried treasure on Skull Island, which they eventually find. They also find the pirates who buried the treasure. Of course, the second group of pirates is very interested in the useful items Claude packed in his suitcase. Claude and Sir Bobblysock return home, dragging in sand, treasure, and seaweed smells.

Second grade readers will enjoy the silliness and wry humor. Read aloud is recommended, but only because sharing the jokes will make them even more fun. In any case, the story will hold kids’ attention and literacy skills will be enhanced.

  • Claude at the BeachTitle: Claude at the Beach
  • Author/Illustrator: Alex T. Smith
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishers, 2011
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 96 pages
  • Genre: Contemporary fiction, humor
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-703-5
  • Extras: Author blog at
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