Archive for Humor

Nick and Tesla’s Solar-Powered Showdown: A Mystery with Sun-Powered Gadgets You Can Build Yourself

Written by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith
Illustrated by Scott Garrett

With a better-than-MacGyver talent, Nick and Tesla build gadgets that get them into and out of trouble with regularity. In this newest installment in the series, the twins face evil mastermind Bob and his group of flunkies, including two ninja-style grannies. The parents of twelve-year-old Nikola Copernicus and Tesla Nightingale Holt have been kidnapped, and they’re staying with their absentminded Uncle Newt. Government agents have told the kids nothing other than lies about their parents. So they set out to find out what’s really going on. Along the way, they build Uncle Newt’s Guaranteed-Not-to-Explode Frankfurter Heater-Upper, which they use to accidentally fry the pendants meant to keep track of them; Nick and Tesla and Uncle Newt’s Ping-Pong Ball Signal Cannon; Tesla’s (and Nick and Uncle Newt’s but mostly Tesla’s) Solar Spy Birdhouse; and Nick and Tesla’s Solar-Powered Long-Range Rover. Bob wants to use the Holts’ research into solar power to kill the President and take over the world, but the kids have other plans.

The gadgets in the book require adult supervision and some special equipment, so it’s best to read this with a teacher or parent. But the directions and diagrams are explicit and easy to follow. Kids and adults will learn a lot.

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  • Nick and TeslaTitle: Nick and Tesla’s Solar-Powered Showdown: A Mystery with Sun-Powered Gadgets You Can Build Yourself
  • Author: Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith
  • Illustrator: by Scott Garrett
  • Published: Quirk Productions, May 10, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 264 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 to 7
  • Genre: Fiction, science, humor
  • ISBN: 978-1-59474-866-0

The Cat Who Came In off the Roof

Written by Annie M.G. Schmidt

Very feline hijinks are the theme of this recently-translated and great fantasy.

Winner of the Hans Christian Andersen Award, Annie M.G. Schmidt died in 1995. Her books are loved throughout Europe, but especially in her home, the Netherlands. This translation stands as a delightful addition to children’s literature available in the USA.

Minou is very cattish, but she doesn’t look like a cat. And she’s not sure why. She climbs a tree when a dog chases her, and thus begins her association with Tibble, a reporter with the Killenthorn Courier and sometimes rescuer of cats in trees. Killenthorn is full of cats, and Minou finds she is able to communicate with all of them. She helps Tibble gather news and keep his job at the paper. His editor hates cat stories, but they’re able to give him news about humans from what they overhear. Mr. Ellmore is a businessman who has the entire town convinced he is a nice, compassionate man, but he’s really very nasty. Plus, he owns the meanest dog in town. Through Minou’s efforts, Tibble is able to expose Ellmore. The reader also finds out how Minou ended up in her predicament and can cheer for her to find peace in her life.

Fifth graders will enjoy the gentle humor and ridiculous situations. Meanwhile, they’ll learn about a slightly different culture and definitely a different fantasy world.

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  • Cat Who Came in off the RoomTitle: The Cat Who Came In off the Roof
  • Author: Annie M.G. Schmidt
  • Published: Delacorte Books for Young Readers/Random House, January, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 160 pages
  • Grade Level: 5 Up
  • Genre: Fantasy, Humor
  • ISBN: 978-0-553-53501-3

The Secrets to Ruling School (Without Even Trying)

Written and illustrated by Neil Swaab

Well, at least I think this is fiction, but the author seems to have an awfully firm grasp of middle school and all the nuances of life there. Young Max Corrigan has taken it upon himself to help new students adjust to life in William H. Taft Middle School. He’s even devised a packet illustrating his methods and appointed himself head of the welcoming committee. After Max introduces himself to the new student, he outlines the plan, which consists of trying to fit into many of the known cliques in the school. He begins by teaching him to use humor to try and fit in with the Class Clowns. He then moves on to how to look like an Artist, what Band Geeks are really like, fitting in at lunch, how to deal with the principal, and how to talk to Preps. On the second day, he learns how to raise money and how to avoid the Jocks and the Tough Kids. By Wednesday, the new kid is in trouble and needs advice on how to lie effectively. Much of Thursday is spent trying to hack into phones and learning to ditch class. By Friday, the new kid and Max are the heroes of the school and can go to the Saturday birthday party in style.

Swaab is an excellent illustrator and that is a major strength of this book. Crowd scenes are especially entertaining – in a “Where’s Waldo” sort of way. With the right approach, this book can be very humorous and stress-relieving for fifth graders about to enter a new world. Teachers and parents need to be aware of some of the more subversive elements, though, such as the recipe for fake vomit.

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  • Ruling SchoolTitle: The Secrets to Ruling School (Without Even Trying)
  • Author/Illustrator: Neil Swaab
  • Published: Amulet Books/Abrams, August, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 240 pages
  • Grade Level: 4 to 7
  • Genre: Fiction, humor
  • ISBN: 978-1-4197-1221-0



The Terror of the Southland

Written by Caroline Carlson
Illustrated by Dave Phillips

Hilary Westfield is the pirate readers met in the first book, Magic Marks the Spot. It was in that book that she earned the name, Terror of the Southland. In this second book in the series, “The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates,” follows Hilary on another adventure where she goes off to save the Enchantress.

Readers from grades three well beyond grade seven will enjoy this swashbuckling tale of bumbling pirates and magic coins. Among the kidnapping and spying, Hilary shows her strong character of loyalty to friends as well as her fairness in all things. These traits cause a problem between her and the league, as most pirates are neither loyal nor fair. During the entertainment young readers will find themselves thinking about these issues in their own characters.

Exaggeration and sarcasm are two literary elements students will identify and enjoy. Of course, the comic fellow everyone loves is Hilary’s gargoyle. He has a healthy self-esteem and has time in this book to begin dictating his memoirs to Hilary.

The book includes fictional newspaper articles, posters, announcements, invitations and even the kidnappers’ note. It provides students with an opportunity to distinguish between different types of writing and will be a fun way for teachers to illustrate them in literacy classes.

These books will be a tease for reluctant readers and just might draw them in for more than one adventure. Arrrgh!

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  • Terror of the SouthlandTitle: The Terror of the Southlands
  • Author: Caroline Carlson
  • Illustrator: Dave Phillips
  • Publisher: Harper, 2014
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-06-219436-7
  • Genre: Fiction, humor
  • Grade level: 3-7
  • Extras: An excerpt of the next book in the series.

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp

Written by Kathi Appelt

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The scouts in this exciting adventure in the deep, boggy southern swamp happen to be two raccoons but that only adds to the enjoyment in store for fifth grade readers. The readers will understand the pair are on duty inside an abandoned car even though the raccoons have no idea of what a car actually is in the outside world. The idea of it adds humor without end as recurring thunder storms add a bit of zip and lightning to their otherwise cozy outpost.

But back in town, twelve-year old Chap Brayburn is doing everything in his power to help save the swamp. It was always a special place where his grandpa would spend time and then come back and tell endless stories about it. Now there are developers from the far away big city that want to buy the swamp and change it forever. Chap is not about to let that happen and pledges to do whatever he can to save it because he knows that’s what his grandpa would do if he were still alive.

It will take more money than one boy and his Mama can make by cooking and selling sugar pies.  But through comprehension of many well placed clues, readers will begin to see parallel plots between the ‘coon brothers and Chap and their hopes will rise for the salvation of the swamp. Many surprises and twists are in store for readers in this excellent new book by award winner Kathi Appelt, who is well known for her books, The Underneath and Keeper. This will make a fantastic read aloud for home or school for grades 4-7 even though it has been assigned a reading level of 5.4 for the average independent fifth grade reader.

Readers will appreciate the short chapters, fast paced action and good hearty belly laughs.

  • True Blue ScoutsTITLE: The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp
  • AUTHOR: Kathi Appelt
  • PUBLISHER: Atheneum Books For Young Readers
  • REVIEWER: Elizabeth Swartz
  • FORMAT: Hardcover/327 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-4424-2105-9
  • GENRE: Fiction: Adventure, Humorous
  • LEXILE: 810
  • EXTRAS: Meet the Author Video and other extras at



Malcolm at Midnight

Written by W.H. Beck

Illustrated by Brian Lies

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Any child who has dreamed of communing with the animals will be entranced by Malcolm at Midnight, a charming novel which will find its way onto many fifth grade reading lists. This first novel by W. H. Beck portrays a world full of talking animals (class pets who leave their cages at night) who form the Midnight Academy to protect the humans at their school.

The hero of the story, Malcolm, is a rat. He’s the most personable rat you have ever met, and a clever one at that; Malcolm knows how to read. Endearing illustrations by Brian Lies will make you love him even more. As Malcolm settles into his new life at school, he faces the usual challenges – a nasty stereotype, a bully, a club into which he strives to be accepted – and the not so usual – the ghost of McKenna School.

When the club leader, a wise iguana who wears red reading glasses, disappears and Malcolm becomes the main suspect, he is forced to turn to “nutters” (children) for help. But Malcolm has grander problems than a hulking cat and an angry gang of pets on the loose. This tender-heart cringes whenever someone refers to his kind as “skuzzy rat finks.” You see, under-sized Malcolm has been mistaken for a cute mouse, and he has not yet owned up to his own rattiness. In order to become the “rat of valor and merit” of his dreams, Malcolm must prove the value of his own kind, first to himself and then to others.

Beck’s clever use of footnotes keeps the reader guessing about who the narrator actually is while also offering definitions of unknown words disguised as classroom vocabulary. Students will particularly enjoy the similes and metaphors referencing universal challenges (dealing with a hyper classmate), tough issues (letting down your teacher) and familiar settings (the smell of the lunch room). This nearly seemless portrayal of school life makes sense when you learn that the author is a school librarian. A true educator, Beck provides a number of resources to enhance school curriculum, including a school floor plan, a trailer, author interviews and a teaching guide on her website (

Because it addresses self-worth and standard school issues, Malcolm at Midnight is a great read for those on the fifth grade reading level, including younger readers who are not ready for heavier content. This book will also work well as a classroom or family read aloud.

  • Malcolm at MidnightTitle: Malcolm at Midnight
  • Written by W.H. Beck
  • Illustrated by Brian Lies
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
  • Reviewer: Heather L. Montgomery
  • Hardcover/ 272 p.
  • ISBN: 978-0547681009
  • Genre: Novel, contemporary, mystery, humor
  • Lexile Score: 700

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Written by Ian Fleming

Illustrated by Joe Berger

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A splendid adventure story in the best British tradition! After four opening paragraphs explaining that not all cars are mere conglomerations of steel and wire and rubber and plastic (thus priming even the youngest first and second graders to expect a tale of a very special car) the real story begins, as all fairy tales have begun since times immemorial: “Once upon a time….

There was a family called Pott. There was father Caractacus, mother Mimsie, and twins, Jeremy and Jemima, and they lived together perfectly happily in a house in the woods beside a big lake, with the main motorway running all the way to the sea on the other side of the lake. So they could travel to far away places. But, they do not own a car, nor have the money to buy one.

How they get Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and how the car gets that name, are interesting stories in themselves. Suffice to say, broken down wreck (splendid, magical) Chitty Chitty Bang Bang arrives in their lives, and soon becomes a member of the family. They are off on wondrous adventures for as Papa Potts says, “ Never say no to adventures. Always say yes. Otherwise you’ll lead a very dull life.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a car with a heart (willingly given to the family that saved her from the wrecker’s yard). She is now responsible for her family and races to their rescue whenever she perceives them in danger, whether they recognize they are in danger or not. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang the book is a classic that belongs on all reading lists.

Additional Resources:

  • Chitty Chitty Bang BangTitle: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
  • Author: Ian Fleming
  • Illustrator: Joe Berger
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Reviewer: Anjali Amit
  • Paperback:  144 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6666-8
  • Genre: Novels
  • Lexile Score: NR

The Adventures of Titch & Mitch: The King of the Castle

Written by Garth Edwards
Illustrated by Max Stasyuk

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Garth Edwards’ amusing and whimsical story follows the exploits of two pixies who can’t help but get themselves into hilarious trouble. The characters are funny and charming, and totally engaging for young readers. The beautifully illustrated book captivates the reader and pulls him into the magical story.King of the Castle is the third book in the series, The Adventures of Titch & Mitch. In this book, Titch and Mitch are at it again! But this time, they are kidnapped by the King of the Castle to make pixie stew.

The grammar and vocabulary levels of this book are appropriate for the 5th grade reader to promote reading comprehension. Students will be captivated by the witty, off the wall story and they will not want to put this book down. The King of the Castle fosters children’s imaginations through magic and adventure.
This book is a real page turner! It makes a wonderful addition to any classroom, school or home library. The Adventures of Titch & Mitch: The King of the Castle should be included in any school’s fifth grade reading list.

It would be great to include The King of the Castle in a unit about adventure stories. Students will be learning writing techniques and literary genres and would benefit from having this book on their reading list.

Check out the author’s website,, where you can meet the characters from the books, read about the author, and download pictures for coloring!

  • King of the CastleTitle: The Adventures of Titch & Mitch, The King of the Castle
  • Author: Garth Edwards
  • Illustrator: Max Stasyuk
  • Publisher: Inside Pocket Publishing
  • Reviewer: Alessandra Oliveira
  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-9567449-7-5
  • Genre: Action Adventure
  • Lexile Score: 1140