Charlie Bumpers vs. The Teacher of the Year

Book review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
Charlie Bumpers vs. The Teacher of the Year Book Poster Image
Engaging school story about a messy boy with a good heart.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Young readers will get a feel for fourth-grade classroom curriculum and culture. They'll also learn a little bit of geography and a few Spanish words.

Positive Messages

Kids will see that even strict teachers can be very caring, and being kind is just as important as being "good."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Mrs. Burke seems ultra-strict and harsh at first, but Charlie learns that she sees his good qualities; she shows children that kindness and understanding are just as important as rules. Charlie makes a lot of mistakes, but he sets an empathetic example for other kids.

Violence & Scariness

When two boys roughhouse in the school hallway, a flying object accidentally hits  a teacher. Charlie and his friend Tommy talk about a bigger boy who scares them because they know he gives wedgies.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Charlie Bumpers vs. the Teacher of the Year is the first in a new series by Bill Harley. The story's narrated by Charlie, a fourth-grader who gets himself into frequent messes -- literal and figurative. This means Charlie's often on the wrong side of school rules, but he's a kind boy, and his heart's almost always in the right place. Kids may gasp or slap their foreheads -- or even learn a bit of silly behavior -- when Charlie makes mistakes, and they might share his fear of strict teachers and boys who give wedgies. Only a few coarse or insulting words ("shut up," "idiot," "bozo," "boogers") appear.

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What's the story?

The first volume in Bill Harley's new middle-grade series, CHARLIE BUMPERS VS. THE TEACHER OF THE YEAR, begins just before Charlie starts fourth grade with typical school-year preparations: room cleaning and shoe shopping. Charlie's messy closet gives readers their first glimpse of this good-hearted boy's less than stellar organizational skills. Then Charlie learns that his teacher's going to be Teacher of the Year winner Mrs. Burke, and he knows he's already on her bad side after what happened back in third grade. First-day jitters don't begin to describe how nervous Charlie is about getting through a year with a strict teacher who once threatened to keep him in for recess for the rest of his life.

Is it any good?

Charlie Bumpers vs. the Teacher of the Year is an engaging school story in which kids face kid-sized problems like strict teachers and playground disputes. Charlie's poor judgment often results in sitcom-type humor, but he's such a kindhearted kid -- in a believable way, not a too-sweet way -- that readers care about him and share his empathy for others. One aspect that rings slightly false is Charlie's age; his behavior, level of understanding, and adults' expectations for him seem more appropriate for a child of 10 rather than 8. However, it's still a funny, sweet, entertaining book that will teach kids the value of kindness and inclusiveness.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Charlie helps a new boy adjust to their school. What are some ways you can help a new student make friends?

  • The kids in Charlie's class draw book covers for their favorite books. What's your favorite book at the moment? Draw a picture that illustrates what happens in the book.

  • Do you think Charlie's parents are fair to him?

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