Kids of Polk Street


By Patricia Reilly Giff, Illustrated by Blanche Sims


Published by A Yearling Book; Reprint edition (November 2, 1987)

Available in hardcover, paperback, Kindle, NOOK, audio cassette

At the time of this review, there were 16 Kids of the Polk Street School series available.


Hard truths don’t come easy.

This classic chapter book has a fun cover and title, leading many to assume it’s a saccharine romp through the world of fall sweets. That’d be like saying Snow White’s apple was succulent. Perhaps it was… but that’s not the point.

The Candy Corn Contest packs a serious punch in the deceivingly simple world of second grade. Kids are snide and cruel to one boy, who is a notorious bed wetter. Classmates call him names, comment on his stink and generally make him palpably uncomfortable. It’s a book that makes the reader squirm.

Because of that, I almost passed on this review. The vibe I picked up from parents is nostalgia for a book they loved… until they revisit it with their child. Some parents find offense with the harsh nature of the social treatment covered in the book.

But in the end, I think it does an exceptional job dealing with tough, important topics that don’t go away because we as a society get more politically correct. (Or so we hope.)

The Candy Corn Contest examines all the stuff kids have to deal with every day. Anxiety over who is going to be at a sleepover. Fear of not being liked. Desire to be included in the popular kid’s circle. Worry over being caught sneaking candy. Humiliation in being a slow student.

It’s a complex, exceptionally well-written book that is a wonderful teaching tool. It employs a terrific use of boys as protagonists (hard to find in chapter books), and it takes the main character through an emotional, sensitive discovery of what he knows is right. The Candy Corn Contest allows a child the tough, rocky journey from reaction to thoughtful action. And sometimes, second chances.

Now that’s a sweet ending.

What do you say teachers, parents and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….

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