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Bill Harley's Charlie Bumpers books feature an engaging fourth grader with a talent for unintentionally creating chaos. In the first Bumpers book we had a boy getting ready for fourth grade and worried about how he'd measure up to a demanding teacher. The next book revolved around Charlie's attempts to get the right part in a school play.
In this outing we have Halloween themed hijinks, but nothing in the scary category as such. Sometimes adults forget that Halloween is a daunting holiday for Charlie age kids. You need a costume; there's a parade at school and competition among friends; who do you trick or treat with; how long can you stay out; how much candy can you eat; can you go without Dad this year. It's like prom angst for middle graders, but without corsages.
That's what you have here. Charlie needs a kick butt costume, but he's having trouble coming up with ideas. Charlie's going to a Halloween sleepover, but it is going to feature the mega horror movie "Screaming Skull" and Charlie's afraid of horror movies. Older brother Matt is using aversion therapy to cure Charlie by telling him horrifying stories every night. Charlie is feeling guilty because he's blowing off trick or treating with his little sister to go to the sleepover. So, lots happening and you can see that each of these mini-plots has the right ingredients for laughs, positive messages and a bumpy ride.
Luckily, Charlie is alert and observant, with good instincts about people and a fundamentally decent outlook on life. He has patient and understanding, but still human, (i.e. sometimes exasperated or preoccupied), parents. He has siblings who are both annoying and loyal in an aggravating sibling way. So, we benefit from a funny but solid family vibe. Charlie's pals are the usual range of wise fools, and can be helpful or hopelessly inept as the situation warrants. They are all very supportive of each other and are actual friends in the full meaning of that word. It sometimes strikes me how little classic friendship is displayed in contemporary kid fiction, especially in the books built around mean girl and frenemies plot lines. Not so here.
Our narrator is Charlie, and he has a pretty dry wit and is just oblivious enough that some of the humor he intends and some is at his expense. His interior monologues can be very realistic; there are some very sharp throwaway lines and observations; there are a lot of grace notes that add authority to the narrative. The conversations among the kids sound authentic, again with that mix of insight and cluelessness that I see as a signature aspect of this age group. And there's no meanness here, or actual bad guys. You can root for everyone.
So, good-hearted, engaging and well crafted- a nice possibility.
Please note that I received a free advance ecopy of this book in exchange for a candid review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.
Reviewed in the United States on September 10, 2014
Charlie Bumpers vs. The Squeaking Skull by Bill Harley is a great book for young readers. It is Halloween-themed, but I think it can be enjoyed anytime of the year. Charlie has a few things to worry about this Halloween. He wants to go trick-or-treating in an upscale neighborhood with his friend instead of taking his sister around their neighborhood. He wants to go to a party after trick-or-treating but one of the planned activities at the party is watching a horror movie. Charlie DOES NOT do horror movies. And he needs to come up with a prize winning costume because he sure wants to win movie tickets but he’s having trouble coming up with the perfect costume. Grab a copy of this book for your child and go along for a funny, heartwarming journey with Charlie to solve all his problems.
The writing style flowed easily and the writing was age appropriate. The characters were well-developed and seemed very realistic. The interactions and conversations between Charlie, his sister, his parents and his friends could be found in many homes anywhere. There were not many illustrations throughout the book and they were in black and white. I didn’t feel they added that much to the story.
I would recommend this book to any child that likes a funny action packed book or to any adult who likes to read this type of book to a younger child that cannot read yet. I plan to read this story as a chapter book to my 5 year old granddaughter. I’m sure she’ll enjoy listening to it as much as I’ll enjoy reading it to her.
4.0 out of 5 starsCharlie’s school is having a costume contest but he doesn’t want to have an ordinary costume it has to be something amazing and
Reviewed in the United States on December 29, 2015
Charlie Bumpers vs. the squeaking skull is a hilarious book about a boy named Charlie whose juggling a Halloween contest, a “descaring” operation, and a sleepover that is (probably) going to scare him out of his wits! Charlie’s school is having a costume contest but he doesn’t want to have an ordinary costume it has to be something amazing and original, but what? When he finally gets an idea, is it too late to make the costume in time? Meanwhile Charlie is invited to a sleepover with some of his best friends, and they are watching the scariest movie ever, The Shrieking Skull. Now his brother Matt wants to de-scare him, but it seems like he’s just enjoying himself watching Charlie scream. You’ll laugh your pants off when you read this book! Review by Masha K, age 10, Boston Mensa
4.0 out of 5 starsGive this chapter book to the 4th grade boy in your life--and watch him come back for more.
Reviewed in the United States on September 20, 2014
Halloween is a time for scary things, and Charlie Bumpers has any number of fears this year: the 4th grade bully; that he won't have a cool enough costume; and that he'll be stuck taking his little sister Mabel ("the Squid") trick-or-treating again this year. An invitation to a sleepover at a friend's seems to eliminate that last fear, but exposes an even worse one: the sleepover will include showing horror movies, and Charlie is secretly terrified of horror movies--and equally terrified his friends will find out. Charlie is a likable hero, whose highly relatable problems, solutions (older brother Matt embarks on a nightly scarefest of storytelling designed to "de-scare" Charlie), and loving, lively family are all realistically depicted. Give this chapter book to the 4th grade boy in your life--and watch him come back for more.