Ben thinks it's amazing when he acquires a whole room's worth of ballpit balls. His parents aren't so pleased and he has to get rid of them - fast. In a sudden burst of inspiration, he fills his homeroom with them and The League of Pickle Makers is born. He teams up with some other kids to have some fun and play pranks (and make pickles, since they do need a good cover). But of course things just can't be that easy. Sometimes it feels like aggressive Bean and new girl Sienna are trying to take over his club. He feels guilty for leaving out his former best friend Hector, but Hector tattled to his grandmother, the principal, one too many times - and about something Ben didn't even do! Then there all the hours Ben's parents are making him put in at their restaurant and you just know something is going to go wrong.
And it does, at the worst possible moment. Ben has just successfully gotten the principal to pass his club's dish of escabeche as authentic pioneer fare (and a pickling entry) pointing out that even though all the textbooks and history books only show white people, people like him and a lot of his classmates were there too. Then Sienna, angry that her father has fallen through on his promise to come visit, ruins everything with a mean prank that backfires spectacularly. Next thing they know, Ben throws up on their fair entry, the principal has canceled ALL extracurricular activities, including sports, and everyone is angry at, well, everyone. Can Ben fix things? Is The League of Pickle Makers gone forever? And can he ever trust Hector again?
I have to admit I'm really not a fan of pranks in general. This comes from growing up cleaning things - while the students are laughing about a ketchup battle, I'm thinking about how long it's going to take me to scrub all the ketchup off the dining hall floor and tables and refill the bottles. However, this book wasn't so bad. While it's never blatantly in your face about it, there are several pointed remarks about how much work the club's hijinks make for the janitor and Ben is constantly anxious that all the pranks be funny, not mean or hurt anyone. Diversity is also a theme that runs through the book, pitting the out-of-touch principal against her more diverse students who don't see a reflection of themselves in the school's beloved Pioneer Fair. And it was quite funny.
Verdict: I can see why this has been a popular book for many years in our library; I recently weeded it due to condition and definitely will be replacing it with a new copy. I didn't get any of my book club kids to check it out, but they weren't quite the right audience for it - it definitely has kid appeal and some talking points too that make it a good choice.
ISBN: 9781596437654; Published 2012 by Roaring Brook Press; Purchased (a long time ago) for the library; Replacement copy to be ordered