I am always looking out for more books to give to kids looking for high-action, funny, and culturally relevant books. This recent series fits the bill perfectly.
Charlie Hernández and the League of Shadows by Ryan Calejo. Aladdin/Simon and Schuster, 2018. 9781534426580 Read from library copy.
Charlie has been living with a not-so-great foster mother, Mrs. Wilson, since his parents disappeared not that long ago. Her most notable quirk is having a very large, very creepy doll collection. He and his friends Alvin and Sam are preparing to compete with their rock band. But when Charlie starts to grow horns and feathers, his life is thrown into even more disarray. He and his crush, cheerleader and budding journalist Violet Rey, set out to discover if the stories his deceased Abuela told him about the Morphling and other Hispanic myths, have any real bearing on what’s happening to him.
Soon, they’re swept up into an epic clash between the evil El Mano Peluda and la Liga de Sombras or League of Shadows. Their adventure roam all over the globe (with the help of magic portals), and we’re introduced to creatures from the stories of many Spanish-speaking countries, including La Llorona, calacas, and more, making clear the breadth and variety of these cultures while still being based in Charlie’s hometown of contemporary Miami. His first language was Spanish, and there is plenty of that mixed in, usually clear from context and defined only when it’s not.
Charlie Hernández & the Castle of Bones by Ryan Calejo. Aladdin, 2019. ISBN 978-1534426610. Read from library copy.
In the second book of the series, Violet and Charlie find themselves with the mostly good witch queen Joanna (introduced in book 1) at the Concurs de Castell celebration in Spain, where people entertain themselves by making human pyramids or castles. But, while there, they find a disgusting castle made out of cow bones, a sign that a dangerous necromancer is trying to rise from the dead. Just being close to it visibly weakens Joanna, and when they return to Miami, she is soon kidnapped. It’s clear she doesn’t have long, so Violet encourages Charlie to sneak out to find and rescue Joanna. They know they only have a few days, and to make matters worse, Charlie’s morphling powers aren’t under control at all, only showing up at all when his life is in danger and not working smoothly even then. They are followed by werewolves and hordes of zombies and forced to work with Brazilian trickster legend Saci Pererê.
The pace and the humor definitely keep up here, and there are also increasing numbers of meaningful looks and blushes exchanged between Violet and Charlie. I was starting to get that Wyld Style feeling, though, that Violet is just cooler than Charlie and stuck being his sidekick because he’s destined to be the hero, but she does have plenty of chances to shine.
Where the first book was around 350 pages, this book is 588 pages and could turn off less confident readers. Once they get started, though, the action is so non-stop and the chapters short enough that it’s hard to stop. (I found myself turning to nonfiction at bedtime.) This series is an excellent choice for Rick Riordan fans.
(I’m trying the new block editor here, in which having an image next to text works quite differently. Let me know if it looks okay!)