The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin by Josh Berk

Here’s the author’s website, but I did not find any book trailers.This is a fan-made video trailer.

Summary from Being a hefty, deaf newcomer almost makes Will Halpin the least popular guy at Coaler High. But when he befriends the only guy less popular than him, the dork-namic duo has the smarts and guts to figure out who knocked off the star quarterback. Will can’t hear what’s going on, but he’s a great observer. So, who did it? And why does that guy talk to his fingers? And will the beautiful girl ever notice him? (Okay, so Will’s interested in more than just murder . . .)

Those who prefer their heroes to be not-so-usual and with a side of wiseguy will gobble up this witty, geeks-rule debut.

Personal Reaction: Mature content similar to Stuck in Neutral‘s obsession with female anatomy, but with a sign language Hardy Boys (and Nancy Drew-ish cameo) twist. It was very dark, yet engrossing.

Any Cautions: I read Guy Langman, Crime Scene Procrastinator (also by Berk) a few years ago. My summary notes for that title are – HS only. I laughed, but this book is packed full of penis humor and “that’s what your mother said” jokes. This book has similar YA humor. HS math teacher’s physical relationship with football captain and his posting of trophy snapshots from his conquests online should be taken into consideration for recommendations.

Curriculum or discussion topics: Bullying, hearing impaired history/education, coal mining

Connections to other books: I like the smart/witty characters with a snarky attitude. Try Berk’s other books or Neutral by Trueman mentioned above. John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines or The Boxer and the Spy by Parker, are good, too. For middle grades, go with Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer by Grisham, I,Q by Smith or The Last Thing I Remember by Klavan (completely awesome). Non-fiction companions: Signing Illustrated and Growing Up in Coal Country.

Items to display with book: “Deaf child in area” sign, a box  of Hamburger Helper? I have never heard of a texting device called a Crony, but if you can find one (I guess any kind of tablet will do) or a photo, it would be cool; or, a printout of a text conversation from book. Fake beard & moustache, dark glasses. Private notebook.  Lump of coal. Map of (northeastern) Pennsylvania. Football helmet. Fake Facebook page for Leigha or Purple. Stuffed black dog. Pack of fanned out playing cards (party invitations), especially face cards.

Food items connected to story: Anything will do, served on a cafeteria tray for that extra touch – pizza, fried ravioli, ice cream, hamburgers, broccoli casserole

The Dead Boys by Royce Buckingham

The author’s website (doesn’t mention DB except in bio) There is a video trailer on his website for another book, Goblins! which I liked very much, though there are a few curse words in that one.  Here is a fan-made video trailer for Dead Boys.

Summary from There’s a dark side to Teddy’s new town…

When Teddy Mathews moves to Richland, his main concern is making new friends. But something is not right about this quiet desert town: All the boys he meets seem to vanish before his eyes, while the imposing shadows of the giant tree outside his house appear to be hiding more than darkness.

With the branches of the massive sycamore scratching at his window, Teddy’s life becomes a waking nightmare that no one else believes. Can Teddy escape the tree’s terrifying grasp and solve the mystery of the missing boys before he becomes the next boy to disappear?

Personal Reaction: Very dark and very twisted story. I get that this is a supernatural thriller, but at the end I kept wondering how a kid would survive being held hostage for years without food/water while being part of the tree’s fertilizer.

Curriculum or discussion topics: Environmentalism?

Connections to other books: (I kept coming back to the movie Poltergeist for the creepy tree imagery.) I can’t think of any other evil tree books! I would definitely recommend House of Dark Shadows by Liparulo for fans of Dead Boys. How about Thirteen Days to Midnight by Carman, Revenge of the Witch by Delaney (movie on the way), and City of the Dead by Abbott for creepy suspense?

Items to display with book: photo of creepy gnarled old tree next to dilapidated house, photo of nuclear power plant, photo of housing development in desert or construction site;  real or fake news articles about missing boys; sand; old yearbooks

Food items connected to story: water, granola bars, milk/cereal

Two on an Island by Bianca Bradbury

The author does not have a personal website and there are no book trailers online. This book was published in 1965. This is a link to a page list of her books.

Summary: This is the story of a brother and sister who take their dog on a quick daytrip to a sandbar island. They do not leave a note behind for their grandmother (who is not expecting them to arrive for a visit for several days). Their boat is swept away and the siblings must cooperate to survive.

Personal Reaction: I agree with most other reviewers who shared that this was one of our favorite books as an elementary school child. Now in my 40’s, I can recall how suspenseful this survival story was for me way back when I had read the book. As soon as another reviewer mentioned the tomato juice and pineapple juice, I could instantly remember my reaction to that scene in the book. Wonderful read.

Curriculum or discussion topics: boating safety, survival tips, sibling rivalry

Connections to other books: Hatchet by Paulsen, Island series by Korman, The Box-Car Children by Warner, My Side of the Mountain by George, The Swiss Family Robinson by Wyss, Lost in the River of Grass by Rorby, Storm Runners by Smith, Red Midnight by Mikaelsen (for gr7+); Elite Forces Survival Guides by Wilson, Survive Alive series by Champion; SOS: Stories of Survival by Butts

Items to display with book: stuffed animals (German Shepherd, rat, crab); photo of sandbar island, rickety fishing shack; toy helicopter

Food items connected to story: Milk, tomato juice, oatmeal cookies, bananas

Liberty Frye and the Witches of Hessen by J.L. McCreedy

Liberty Frye and the Witches of Hessen
by J.L. McCreedy

The author’s website has a great map of Liberty’s adventures through Germany and links to websites where you can read the Grimm fairy tales for free. I did not find any book trailers online.  **Full disclosure – I received a print copy of this book for free from the author.

Summary from author’s website:

The average ten-year-old girl seldom travels far from home.  She doesn’t worry about being kidnapped by witches or imprisoned in medieval castles where children are ensnared to meet their unspeakable demise.  She rarely gives thought to curses, potions and magic.  She certainly isn’t risking life and limb to decipher ancient rites and lost treasures….

But Liberty Frye is about to discover she is not just an average girl.

When a cryptic note from long-lost relatives arrives, the news it brings flips Libby’s small-town existence upside down.  Soon, she finds herself lured to a foreign land where retired witches, talking bats and geriatric World War II pilots await.  It’s up to Libby to unravel the sinister plot that brought her there in the first place, but in so doing, she’ll uncover a shocking secret that will change her life forever … if she survives the challenge.

Personal Reaction: I liked it!

Any Cautions: Boiled boy imagery

Curriculum or discussion topics: Fairy tales

Connections to other books: Grimm’s Fairy Tales: Complete and Illustrated, The Sisters Grimm series by Buckley, A Tale Dark and Grimm by Gidwitz, Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird by VandeVelde; Germany travel book, cookbooks

Items to display with book: Stuffed animals (goose and raven), recipe cards or family book of recipes, slingshot, letter in yellow envelope, map w/ “future adventure” dots; photo of dilapidated Victorian house, German castle and German cottage; toy robot, walkie-talkies, blue amulet on a silver necklace, map of Germany or Hanau, “Fairy Tale” road map, backpack, photo of P-40 Army Air Corps fighter plane WWII, black cauldron, photo of bright red tree “Baum des Feuers” (here’s a shot of a red maple)

Food items connected to story: Berries (purple – try blueberries or jaboticaba), Herbs and spices (witch’s pantry stuff); tea, any kind of bakery pastry, bread rolls, chocolate cake, fruitcake, strudel, cheesecakes

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Here is the author’s website which includes an enthralling video book trailer and information about the real Ivan. There are other fan-made trailers available on YouTube.

Discussion guide is available for download on the Harper Collins publisher website.

Summary: (from Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope


Personal Reaction: I loved it. It was extremely moving. (I did hope for more illustrations, they were so well done. Reminded me again of Flawed Dogs by Breathed or The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by DiCamillo). Very simple chapter breaks so you can read as much or as little as you want each day. Try knuckle walking for five minutes!

Any Cautions: Reading aloud to kids younger than 4th grade might cause distress for the death involved and brief discussion & display of cruelty to circus animals, so use your judgment as to age sensitivity.

Curriculum or discussion topics: Animal rights/welfare; responsibility for caring for your pets; here’s an interesting article about animal artists / art – this is a good time to showcase your drawing instruction books (like Draw 50 Animals  by Ames); discussion of elements of a story – how the simplest of illustrations move stories along.

Connections to other books: Saving Lilly by Peg Kehret, Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby (this one contains fearful scenes of animal testing); Jackie’s Wild Seattle by Hobbs; nonfiction about zoos – I don’t know of anything for kids grades 4-6, but there might be some, short nonfiction on topics like zoo enclosures, zoo doctors, etc.; books like Amazing Gorillas and Elephants.

Items to display with book: Crayons, markers, paints and paper; stuffed gorilla, small dog and elephant; photos of the real Ivan or a silverback gorilla, reproductions of Ivan billboard signs

Food items connected to story: Bananas, carrots, Pepsi, apples, oranges, cake with chocolate frosting, yogurt raisins (animal fare);  soft pretzels, popcorn, hotdogs, pink cotton candy, lemonade, ice cream cones (circus fare) *You could be gross and serve me-ball meatballs!