Book: Charlie Bumpers vs. the Squeaking Skull
Author: Bill Harley
Illustrator: Adam Gustavson
Age Range: 7-10
Charlie Bumpers vs. the Shrieking Skull is the third title in the Charlie Bumpers series of illustrated chapter books, written by Bill Harley and illustrated by Adam Gustavson. I have not read the first two books, but didn't find this to be a problem.
Fourth grader Charlie is excited when a friend invites him to a Halloween sleepover. He expects trick-or-treating in Alex's more upscale neighborhood to be more lucrative than usual, and he looks forward to NOT having to take his little sister out with him. But when Charlie learns that Alex plans to show a VERY scary movie that night, his enthusiasm wanes a bit. Luckily(?) Charlie's older brother undertakes a de-scaring regimen, to help Charlie learn not to be so frightened of scary stories.
Charlie Bumpers vs. the Shrieking Skull seems well-suited to newer readers who are ready to move past easy readers and into chapter books. There are black and white illustrations sprinkled throughout the book, some woven in with the text. The chapters are fairly short (~3-6 pages), and the text spacing is wide. I didn't notice much in the way of challenging vocabulary.
Charlie's fears and interests seem authentic for a fourth grader (and accessible to readers a bit younger), though his personality is perhaps a tad idealized. There's a scene near the end of the book in which he admits his fears to his friends, and is supported,that didn't quite read as authentic to me. Nice, but not quite authentic. But I am probably more cynical than members of the book's target audience.
Apart from that one point, I found Charlie Bumpers vs. the Squeaking Skull to be an enjoyable read, with a nice balance of Halloween-related drama and ordinary family and school interpersonal dynamics. Charlie's working mom is too busy to help him with his costume, and he has to make it at school. His older brother delights in scaring him. His younger sister complains and complains when he reveals his plan to not take her trick or treating, but clearly adores him. His dad likes to tease, threatening to go trick-or-treating in his underwear.
Here are a couple of quotes:
"Right!" said Tommy, getting more excited. "The bigger the houses, the bigger the candy bars! Then maybe we'd have to carry extra bags for when the first ones got filled up. That would be stupendous."
"Terrific!" I said.
"Stupific!" Tommy said.
"Stupific!" I repeated. "That's hilarious." (Page 4)
Then they proceed to use "stupific" throughout the rest of the book.
"Sure," I said. The plan sounded a little crazy, but when your best friend wants to be a werewolf, you help him be a werewolf." (Page 103)
Gustavson's illustrations add some detail to the characters that is not necessarily revealed in the text (like the fact that Tommy seems to be African American). They also add to the Halloween creepiness of the book, by bringing to life Charlie's brother's scary story, the cover of the scary movie that the kids are supposed to watch, and so on. The little sister comes across particularly well in the pictures, adding an extra touch of warmth to the story.
Charlie Bumpers and the Squeaking Skull is a fun and age-appropriate book for second through fourth graders, perfect for reading during this Halloween week.
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers
Publication Date: September 1, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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