Book Review: Homerooms and Hall Passes

Screen Shot 2019-10-30 at 11.15.15 AMTom O’Donnell’s Homerooms and Hall Passes has a hilarious premise. Five young adventurers from the realm of Bríandalör meet once a week to play H&H, a role-playing game set in J. A. Dewar Middle School.

Vela the paladin plays Valerie the Overachiever. Devis the thief plays Stinky the Class Clown. Thromdurr the barbarian plays Doug the Nerd. Sorrowshade the gloom elf assassin plays Melissa the Loner. And Albiorix the wizard is the Hall Master.

It’s all fun and games until a cursed jewel sends the five friends to the realm of suburbia for real. There, they’ll have to survive a semester of 8th grade without “blowing it” (failing a class or getting more than three unexcused absences).

That’s easier said than done when they have to do it with no weapons, no poisons, and no magic in a world that doesn’t make sense. For example, in Earth Sciences, they learn that rocks apparently aren’t made by Cragnar, the god of rocks. In English class, they have to write a persuasive essay arguing either that cats are or are not good pets, but it’s unacceptable to say that cats are good because they can see ancient spirits or bad because they might be evil wizards in disguise. And Algebra is a completely baffling subject.

Homerooms and Hall Passes is fast-paced and really, really funny. Larrabee and I both highly recommend it.

Book Review: Love Sugar Magic

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Anna Meriano’s Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble is a delightful fantasy full of family, friendship, magic, and baking.

Eleven-year-old Leonora Logroño is the youngest of five sisters. Her family owns a bakery, Amor y Azucár Pandadería, in Rose Hill, Texas.

Leo wants to help with the preparations for Dia de los Muertos, but her family insists that she wait until she’s fifteen. She sneaks into the bakery to see what she’s missing and learns her family’s secret. Her mother and sisters are brujas!

Not wanting to be left out, she smuggles her family’s old recipe book home in her backpack and starts experimenting with her own baking magic. When she tries to solve her best friend’s problem by baking cookies with a love spell, though, she finds that magic sometimes has unintended consequences.

The magical adventure continues in the next book in the series, Love Sugar Magic: A Sprinkle of Spirits, and another one is expected next year. Larrabee and I enjoyed the first two and are looking forward to the third book.

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: 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.

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: 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.