Susan Rowan Masters
Author and Playwright

Teaching Guide: The Secret Life of Hubie Hartzel

Grades 3, 4, 5, and 6

Dear Teacher/parent: You may find other ways this book has been helpful to discussion and understanding. If you would like to have some of your own ideas considered for expansion to this guide, please e-mail me with your suggestions.

"Hubie Hartzel has problems. He's failing math, he's overweight, he's stuck between a spoiled little brother and an impossible older sister, and he's the target of Ralph Marruci, class bully. But he has an escape–daydreaming. He imagines himself everything from a rock star to a prize fighter, depending on his current dilemma, and draws pictures in his notebooks in class, specializing in caricatures of his teachers, family, and friends. Unfortunately, Hubie's attempts at coping with life often backfire. He winds up in more trouble than before and when the perfect plan for revenge on Marruci blows up in his face, he really hits bottom. Masters does manage to rescue Hubie from peril in this entertaining first novel. She writes confidently and engagingly of the ironies that beset fifth-grader Hubie. Her characters are developed with a light, humorous touch that renders them human, and the plot moves quickly along to its happy but not-too-obvious ending. Most readers are sure to identify with Hubie's plight and cheer him on." -- School Library Journal

Secret Life of Hubie Hartzel's fast-paced story about the perils of life in the fifth grade. Humor is one of the themes that helps lighten the story as Hubie deals with family, school, a class bully, and the eventual loss of the family pet.

What are some things you can do with your "best friend?" (I.e., take your pet for a walk, listen to you when you need someone to talk to, and even guard your house.) But a pet can do much more. Research has shown that a pet can change your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, and ease the times you might be feeling lonely. As with any "best friend" you must consider his/her needs too. On page 52 Hubie makes sure there is plenty of fresh water and food for Fred. Along with the basic necessities, what other things can you do in caring for a pet? (I.e., provide time for play and exercise, groom your pet, visit the veterinarian, etc.) Discuss how caring for the pet's physical as well as emotional needs are ways of showing their love.

The book opens with Fred Ferkle as an elderly, sick cat. On page 23 Dad tells Hubie, "Sometimes it's best to put a sick animal out of its misery." Tell students that putting an animal to death painlessly for merciful reasons (i.e., a painful illness that cannot be cured, etc.) is called euthanasia. Ask if any of them have had to help their families make that difficult decision.

When the times does come for their own pet to die, they will experience a variety of feelings: sadness over their great loss, confusion, sometimes even guilt. Have the students reread pages 120-121. What are the emotions Hubie is going through? To help ease a loss, tell students that they can begin by embracing their memories: talk with teachers/friends/family members about their pet, and about the pet's death. And finally they must give themselves plenty of time to work through their grief. Sometimes, however, they might hear comments from others that are not constructive (i.e., "It was just a cat," "You can always get another pet," or "Now you don't have to take care of him any more.") Tell the students that these phrases are clichés: overused or trite expressions. Hearing these and other similar clichés only make grieving more difficult.


Everyone has a talent. In Hubie's case it is in the arts. Ask students to think about their own special area of interest (i.e., playing a particular sport, building/fixing things, writing, etc.) Leave them with this question: How might they further develop their own talents?

Suggestions submitted by Joan Masters, certified teacher in N-6 Elementary and Special Education.