Book Review: We’re Not From Here

35615208We’re Not From Here by Geoff Rodkey is a quick, funny read, and at the same time, it makes you think. It’s the story of a kid named Lan, who has to convince the aliens of Planet Choom to accept a spaceship full of human refugees.

At the beginning of the story, Lan and his family are living on Mars. Life on Earth is no longer an option. Life on Mars isn’t so great either. Lan and his friends try to keep their sense of humor by making funny videos, but the truth is that the station is running low on food and oxygen.

Then, they’re invited to immigrate to Choom, a planet that will support human life. It’s inhabited by several alien species, including the Zhuri, who look like giant mosquitos, the Ororo, who look like giant marshmallows, and the Krik, who look like little, green werewolves. About a thousand people opt to make the journey. When they come out of their bio-suspension pods twenty years later, though, they find that they are no longer welcome.

In the end, the Zhuri government allows one “human reproductive unit,” Lan, his sister, and his parents, to come to Choom as a test case. They’re being set up to fail, of course, but if Lan can make friends and make some of his new classmates laugh, they may have a chance. Luckily, the Zhuri can’t resist a good pratfall.

Everyone agrees it makes for an entertaining story. (And you’ll have to read the book to get this joke.)

On a more serious note, it would be interesting to read this book in a classroom along with a book of realistic fiction about refugees, such as Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh, The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle by Victoria Williamson, or The Eleventh Trade by Alyssa Hollingsworth.

Book Review: Small Spaces

36959639._SY475_When Halloween approaches, the kids at the library always start looking for spooky books. This year, I have a new recommendation for them: Small Spaces by Katherine Arden. It’s a quick read that combines chilling action sequences and a satisfying supernatural mystery.

One day, Sixth grader Ollie Adler sees a woman preparing to throw a book in the creek. She can’t bear to see a book destroyed, so she grabs it, takes it home, and starts to read it. It’s a very old book called Small Spaces about a farmer from Smoky Hollow who makes a deal with the Smiling Man.

The next day is Farm Day at Ollie’s school, and the whole sixth grade class takes a field trip to a local farm. As Ollie explores, she discovers hints that Small Spaces is a true story set on this very farm. Then, on the way back to school, the bus breaks down. With darkness falling and the mist rising, Ollie flees with two of her classmates, Brian and Coco, and the real adventure begins.

I promise you, after reading this book, you will never look at scarecrows the same way again!

And if you want more chills, check out the sequel, Dead Voices.

ARC Review: Race to the Sun

36353103Listen up, Percy Jackson fans. You’re going to want to put Rebecca Roanhorse’s Race to the Sun on your wish list. It’s an action-packed quest adventure that draws on the Navajo legend of the Hero Twins.

Seventh grader Nizhoni Begay dreams of being a middle school superstar. But her one special talent is that she can recognize monsters. Unfortunately, no one believes her when she tells them that her dad’s new boss is up to no good.

Then, her dad is kidnapped, and only Nizhoni, her younger brother, and her best friend Davery can rescue him. They’ll have to pass a series of trials to reach the House of the Sun and obtain the weapons they’ll need to defeat the monsters.

Some of my favorite things about this book were:

  • Mr. Yazzie, the wise horned toad, who mentors Nizhoni.
  • The prophetic poem that Nizhoni receives from the mysterious snack lady in the train station.
  • The Navajo mythological figures that appear in the story.
  • The fact that Nizhoni, her brother, and Davery have complementary skills.
  • The satisfying final battle.

Thank you to Disney-Hyperion and NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book. Its expected publication date is January 14, 2020.

Book Review: Dragon Pearl

34966859Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee combines Korean mythology, science fiction, and mystery in a terrific adventure story. Larrabee and I both loved it.

Min is a 13-year-old fox spirit living on a poor planet with her mother, aunts, and cousins. When her older brother, a cadet in the Thousand Worlds Space Forces, is accused of deserting his post to search for the fabled Dragon Pearl, Min runs away from home to find him. Her quest takes her across the galaxy toward the Ghost Sector.

Some of the things I liked best about this book are:

  1.  Min’s fox magic. In addition to acute senses of smell and hearing, Min has the ability to shape shift and to use Charm to influence other people’s behavior. Although she’s grown up assuming a human form and hiding her magic at her mother’s insistence, all of her special abilities prove useful in her search for her brother.
  2. The Thousand Worlds. From Min’s dome house on dusty Jinju to the sleek corridors of the battle cruiser Pale Lightning, the book’s settings drew me into the story.
  3. Min’s allies. Throughout the story, Min finds friends and allies in unexpected places. I particularly liked the goblin Sujin and the dragon Haneul.

Dragon Pearl is a fast-paced, suspenseful, and immersive read. I recommend it.

Cybils Nominations Open

fullsizeoutput_6604It’s time to nominate your favorite children’s and young adult books published in the past year for a Cybils Award!

The Cybils Awards are given by bloggers to recognize books that combine literary merit and kid appeal.

Anyone can nominate one book in each category between today and October 15.

The finalists will be announced on Jan. 1, and the winners will be announced on Feb. 14. (Pro tip: The lists of finalists and winners from past years are a great source of book recommendations for kids.)

I’m going to be reading the books nominated in the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction category this year, and I’m very excited about it.

Book Review: The Reckless Club

38526585In The Reckless Club by Beth Vrabel, five students arrive at an assisted living home on the last day of summer. They’ve all been invited by the principal to do a day of service instead of serving a suspension for their bad behavior on the last day of school.

At the beginning of the day, they know each other only by reputation. Lilith is the Drama Queen. Wes is the Flirt. Ally is the Athlete, Rex is the Rebel, and Jason is the Nobody.

The story is told over the course of a single day from alternating viewpoints. As the five kids interact with the residents and with each other, they unravel the mystery of the Teddy Bear Nurse and reveal what they did to earn this punishment. In the process, they develop a surprising bond and figure out both who they’ve been in middle school and who they want to be going forward. 

The book’s title is a nod to The Breakfast Club, of course, a movie I loved when I was younger. I expect that most middle grade readers (Larrabee included) haven’t seen it, but that won’t impact their enjoyment of the book.

Book Review: The Lost Girl

40221339._SY475_The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu has a terrific beginning: “The two sisters were alike in every way except for all the ways that they were different.”

Iris and Lark, we learn, are identical twins. They look alike, but they complement each other in personality. Iris is rational and organized. Lark is creative and intuitive. Iris speaks for Lark when she feels anxious, and Lark calms Iris down when she gets angry.

Since birth, they’ve been told that they have better outcomes together. Until this year. For the first time in fifth grade, they’ve been assigned to different classrooms. Their parents have even enrolled them in different after school programs. How are two girls who are better together meant to navigate life apart?

Meanwhile, a new antiques store has opened in Minneapolis. And things going missing all over town–from Iris’s favorite pin to Lark’s beloved stuffed animal to a famous modern art sculpture.

Are these events connected? And who is the mysterious first person narrator who sees so much?

As the narrator tells us in the very first chapter:

“This is a story of a sign and a store. Of a key. Of crows and shiny things. Of magic. Of bad decisions made from good intentions. Of bad guys with bad intentions. Of collective nouns, fairy tales, and backstories.

But most of all this is a story of the two sisters, and what they did when the monsters really came.”

And it’s a really good story. I highly recommend it.

Book Review: Sal and Gabi Break the Universe

36595887._SY475_Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez is one of my new favorite books!

I knew I’d like this book based on the “back seat” test. Larrabee often reads in the car on the way to baseball practice, martial arts, etc. If I hear him laugh, I put his book on my to-be-read list. If he insists on reading lines out loud to me, I move it to the top of the list. And if he brings it inside rather than waiting to read more during the next day’s car ride (like he did with this one), I have to blog about it.

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe is kind of a hard book to describe. On the one hand, it’s science fiction. Sal is able to tear a hole in the space-time continuum and see into other parallel universes. He can even bring people and things from them back into our universe. On the other hand, it’s a story about a middle school for the arts, a friendship story, and a story about family relationships.

What you really need to know, though, is that it’s a book that hooks you from the first page. The main character, Sal, is a talented magician (even when he’s not using the multiverse). He’s just moved to Florida with his dad and stepmom, and he’s dealing with a lot of issues–being the new kid in school, missing his mom, and managing his diabetes. His counterpart, Gabi, is the student council president and the editor of the school paper, and she has lots and lots of dads. Both are kind-hearted kids who make you root for their success.

This book was published by Disney-Hyperion under the Rick Riordan Presents imprint. Larrabee has read most of the books they’ve published in the past year and a half and has enjoyed them all. We are particularly looking forward to Sal and Gabi’s next adventure (coming in 2020).

Book Review: The First Rule of Punk

33245571Recently, Larrabee and I saw Wicked in San Jose. In preparation, of course, we had to re-watch The Wizard of Oz, which he didn’t remember at all. I told him that now that he’d seen it, he’d probably come across references to it all over the place.

And he did. The next day, he started reading The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez. In the first chapter, twelve-year-old Malú makes a zine called “There Is No Place Like Home.”

The First Rule of Punk is a charming coming-of-age story about a 12-year-old half Mexican girl who likes punk rock and zines. She doesn’t want to move with her professor mom from Florida to Chicago. And she definitely doesn’t want to dress like una señorita.

But somehow, over the course of the first couple of months of middle school, Malú finds her own “Yellow-Brick-Road posse” and figures out how to be true to all the parts of herself.

In addition to Wizard of Oz references, the book is full of Malú’s creative zines (and includes instructions for making your own), and it’s a lot of fun.

Book Review: Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire

31180257Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire by John August is a fantasy adventure with plenty of action and lots of mystery.

Twelve-year-old Arlo Finch has just moved with his mom and older sister to live with his uncle in a tiny Colorado town. In an effort to fit in, he joins a scouting organization called the Rangers. He expects that he’ll learn to tie knots and navigate using a compass–and he does. But the Rangers also practice unusual skills that involve harnessing the magical energy of the nearby Long Woods.

Soon, Arlo receives a mysterious warning that he’s in danger. He’ll need all his new skills and the help of his new friends from Blue Patrol to stay one step ahead of the supernatural forces that are after him.

Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire is the first in a planned trilogy. Larrabee and I both enjoyed it. We just borrowed the second one, Arlo Finch in the Lake of the Moon, from the library.

And if you’re curious about how the book came to be, John August has recorded an interesting podcast (Launch) about the whole process from writing to printing.