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The Pepins and Their Problems: 11/18/11
The Pepins and Their Problems by Polly Horvath was recommended as a good example of "realistic fiction" for children in first through third grades in Essentials of Children's Literature (p. 159). I chose the book on that recommendation for my "notable books for ages 5 to 8" project.
The Pepin family: Mr. and Mrs. Pepin, children Irving and Petunia, cat Miranda and dog Roy and their "very fine neighbor" Mr. Bradshaw face a series of problems. Whenever they reach a problem they can't solve, they get in contact with the author to ask for advice from her readers. The problems include being stuck on the roof without a ladder, a cow who gives lemonade instead of milk, the arrival of a long lost relative and a neighbor contest between Mr. Bradshaw and retired post office worker, Miss Poopenstat.
The interaction between author and reader is similar to that in The Tale of Despereaux. These back and forth bits between the characters and the reader via the author do a few things. First they teach about narrative conventions by drawing attention to them. Secondly they teach about geography. While the place names seem fictional, they are real and students can be asked to either find them in an Atlas or find them via an online map.
Hafner's line drawings peppered through out the book add to the humor of situation, usually illustrating the most outlandish moment in a chapter.