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Book Review

Surprises According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the fourth book in the "Humphrey" series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Humphrey the classroom hamster observes how the students in Mrs. Brisbane's class are moving tiredly to decorate the room for spring. When the fire alarm goes off, Mrs. Brisbane allows her students to take their classroom pets with them. The rulebook says to drop everything and leave in case of a fire, but she isn't sure whether this is a drill and wants the animals to be safe.

Mrs. Wright, another teacher, reprimands Mrs. Brisbane, while Jeff the visiting fireman explains to the children that it's part of the firemen's job to rescue pets. Jeff later returns to review fire safety with the class. One student, Heidi, talks out of turn as usual, and Mrs. Brisbane is particularly frustrated with her.

The next day, Garth scribbles an insulting note to his best friend, A. J. Humphrey soon learns that Garth is upset over being picked last to play ball at recess, even though he's not good at sports. A new janitor arrives to clean the room in the evening. She is a girl wearing a hoodie and headphones. Humphrey is confused by the wires in her ears and is convinced she is an alien who abducted the usual janitor, Aldo.

Garth gets permission to take Humphrey for the weekend. He puts Humphrey in the hamster ball while his family works in the yard, and Humphrey accidentally rolls himself down a hill, under a bush and within the reach of a cat. He is protected by the hamster ball but also cannot roll away. As the sun goes down, Garth's parents call A. J. and his younger sister over to help look for Humphrey, who is eventually found and brought inside. A. J. ends up spending the night. Watching Humphrey practice running in the ball, A. J. mends his friendship with Garth by offering to play catch with him as practice for recess.

Humphrey discovers the alien-janitor is actually Aldo's niece, who was filling in for him while he studied for a Spanish test to become a teacher. Mrs. Brisbane plans a special day after the class takes tests. On this day, none of the rules apply — namely, if anyone forgets to raise his or her hand to answer a question, the rest of the class gets to make monkey noises. Heidi soon gets frustrated when she can't be heard and learns why it's important to raise her hand.

Over spring break, Humphrey stays at Mrs. Brisbane's house. Mr. Brisbane is in a wheelchair due to an accident the previous year, and he takes Humphrey to his former rehabilitation center to visit the residents.

Back in school, Humphrey realizes Mrs. Brisbane is underappreciated. He writes a suggestion to throw Mrs. Brisbane a surprise party, which is later put in the principal's suggestion box. The whole school works together to make the party a reality.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems


Authority Roles

Mrs. Brisbane, as the classroom teacher, plays the most prominent authority role. Humphrey knows the students by the instruction Mrs. Brisbane most often gives them, for example, Raise-Your-Hand-Heidi Hopper and Don't-Complain-Mandy Payne. When he learns Mrs. Brisbane is considering retirement, Humphrey is convinced no other teacher could help students the way she has. Mrs. Wright is belligerent in enforcing the rules, and Jeff the fireman teaches the children what to do in case of a fire. Mr. Morales is acknowledged as an important figure but has little interaction with the children.





Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

You can request a review of a title you can't find at reviewrequests@family.org.

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

7 to 9


Betty G. Birney






Record Label



Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Books


On Video

Year Published



A BookSense Pick, Kansas State Reading Circle Recommended Reading List, California Collection Selection


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