ARMSTRONG & CHARLIE for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

You know you’ve read a great book…

…because you’re sad to have it end,

…because it’s a contemporary story with heart,

…because it was set in the 1970s,

…because the theme of racial tension shows how far we haven’t progressed,

…because Armstrong & Charlie are two enduring characters,

…because it ends with a lot of ‘becauses’.

Armstrong Le Rois and Charlie Ross are just two kids trying to understand the world and themselves. They share the telling of the story in alternating narratives within each chapter. The only other voice we hear is from Mrs. Gaines and her hilarious and heartfelt school INCIDENT REPORTS.

These two sixth graders’ lives are thrown together as desegregation becomes an ever present part of the times in the 1970s. Back then (and in many school districts today) sixth grade was a part of elementary school and junior high was 7th, 8th, and 9th. For Armstrong & Charlie, it’s a year fraught with tension, fights, and understanding. For anyone reading their story, you’ll discover our differences aren’t so different. Laughter, friendship, family, and finding that first girl to kiss are embraced across all racial lines.

This is a book for all generations and one that will have staying power for years to come. Read it and embrace it.

A final caution (only because I’ve crossed this path before): MG books typically are clean of those bad words we tell our young ones not to say. Well, they say them here. This novel is  a good one for fifth grade and up, but Armstrong & Charlie contains mild language some parents may find offensive. Just saying…


FULL PLOT (From AMAZON)  Charlie isn’t looking forward to sixth grade. If he starts sixth grade, chances are he’ll finish it. And when he does, he’ll grow older than the brother he recently lost. Armstrong isn’t looking forward to sixth grade, either. When his parents sign him up for Opportunity Busing to a white school in the Hollywood Hills, all he wants to know is “What time in the morning will my alarm clock have the opportunity to ring?”  When these two land at the same desk, it’s the Rules Boy next to the Rebel, a boy who lost a brother elbow-to-elbow with a boy who longs for one.
From September to June, arms will wrestle, fists will fly, and bottles will spin.  There’ll be Ho Hos spiked with hot sauce, sleepovers, boy talk about girls, and a little guidance from the stars.
Set in Los Angeles in the 1970s, Armstrong and Charlie is the hilarious, heartwarming tale of two boys from opposite worlds. Different, yet the same.


  1. Food is an ever present reminder of the times. My favorite: The way Ho-Hos, a chocolate cake with a creamy filling, is weaved into the story.
  2. If your reading is as interrupted as mine gets, it was nice to have natural break within each chapter. The chapters are various lengths but because each is set up with multiple subheadings for Charlie and Armstrong, you can pause at the end of one of these narratives instead of at a chapter’s end.
  3. The family swear jar filled with coins reminded me of my grandfather who charged a quarter if you said a mild bad word. One dollar for a real whopper.
  4. Mr. Kahlil was a secondary character—not a family member or teacher, but a neighbor to Armstrong. Every kid needs a mentor. Mr. Kahlil provided that for Armstrong.
  5. The uncomfortable moments are handled well (and there are many—we’re talking sixth grade boys here). Racial tension, girls, dominance in playground sports, and family issues all drive the story to its satisfying end.


Glazed doughnuts. Fire Stix. Razzles. Pixy Stix. Wax bottles. Bazooka gum. Tootsie Pop Drops. Space Food Sticks. Candy necklaces. Licorice strings. SweeTarts and Appleheads. On Mondays and Fridays, at exactly four in the afternoon, the Helms man drives his big yellow truck, a bakery on wheels, into Laurel Canyon. He sells fresh bread, cookies, doughnuts, and candy. And when his whistle sounds, my hand somehow finds its way into my mom’s purse.

AUTHOR QUOTE (Read more at Steven’s WEBSITE:
I loved playing tennis. It gave me a special bond with my dad and, later, a solid bond with other kids my age. But sometimes when you’re pegged as the “athlete in the family,” nobody sees who else you might want to be. In my case, I was curious too about stories and science. But those identities were already taken.

I didn’t grow up to be a professional tennis player. I grew up to be a teacher. And then I grew up some more to be a writer.

It’s good to be grateful for the gifts you receive. But it can take a lifetime to unwrap the ones you already have.


Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Click on the comments link below.

Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...always striving to reach the next peak in my life and career.
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18 Responses to ARMSTRONG & CHARLIE for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

  1. This book sounds great! I’ll be sure to try it. Thanks for the review!

  2. This sounds like a great story. And love the favorite line you picked out. So many images.

  3. This sounds fantastic. I will definitely keep it on my radar.

  4. Sweet story, indeed. Love the favorite lines you posted.

  5. Wax bottles. I haven’t thought of those in years. I will definitely be checking this book out. Thanks for the recommendation.

  6. I love how you opened your post — it was a mini review and really made me want to read more about this fun and heartwarming story about family. I loved your favorite line. And I ate just about everything on that list. Ho Ho’s were the best! It was a changing time. Will check this one out for sure.

  7. danielle hammelef says:

    I enjoy the author quote about gifts. so true and very well said!

  8. Susan says:

    I grew up in the 70’s, and I’m totally nostalgic about that decade. I could rhapsodize about Ho-Hos, and Hostess chocolate cupcakes… Sigh. And I won a whole PACKAGE of wax bottles for my awesome soap carving of the American flag the year of our bicentennial. (What I’m trying to say is this book sounds great!)

  9. This seems like it would be a good complement to the novel I just read: THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM, 1963. I’ll be on the look-out for it.

  10. msyingling says:

    I really enjoyed this one, and completely spaced on the bad language. I’m okay with garden variety bad language, but not the sort that would cause Mom to wash out one’s mouth with Dial! The details of the 1970s were great, although we favored Ding Dongs in my family, and were never allowed wax bottles, for reasons I still don’t understand.

  11. As the author of a new book in the world, I have a paternal (my wife would say obsessive) interest in how it is being received. Shannon, your post/review warmed my heart and made me feel that my offspring is reaching people in a positive way. So thank you for that. Your caveat to parents about the cussing is fair. I did struggle with the question–to cuss or not to cuss–and decided that some mild swears were needed in the name of authenticity. On a recent author visit to Immaculate Heart Middle School, you can imagine my trepidation when, while reading to an audience of 150 girls and the Headmistress, I came to some of those words. Fortunately I had my vintage cuss box handy and made the required deposit. Afterward, the Headmistress told me how much she loved the book, swears and all.

  12. stevenbfrank says:

    APOLOGIES TO GREG, who I now see was the author of the post.

    • No problem Steven. I’m guilty as charged for writing the post. Shannon is our head cheerleader letting the world know what we are reviewing. I reread your marvelous book again and it’s one I can’t give away. It has a special spot on my bookshelf.

  13. stevenbfrank says:

    I’m honored to be there. Hope to sign it for you someday.

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