A Crack in the Sea by H.M. Bouwman

Two worlds. The first world is our world, and various historical events and places make an appearance in this magical realism/fantasy/folktale story about escape from persecution and horror and about forgiveness and peace-making. The second world is only accessible through a crack in the sea that only opens at unexpected times to people with unexpected gifts, like the gift of talking to fish or that of walking on the bottom of the sea.

Three stories. The first story is about Pip, the boy in the second world who can talk to fish. And the second is about Venus and Swimmer, two young people captured in Africa in 1781 and taken on a doomed slave ship, and how they escape. The third is about Thanh and his sister Sang, boat people from South Vietnam whose escape from their own war-torn country goes terribly wrong when they meet with storms and pirates and near-starvation.

A Crack in the Sea is also another story about the power of stories. Although I believe in the “power of stories”, that particular meme is getting a little shopworn. Nevertheless, this novel has some new things to say about tenacity and communication as avenues to restoration and forgiveness. And the author manages to bring the three separate stories together to make a complete picture in a way that was surprising and satisfying.

The question, of course, is what do all of these characters and situations have to do with one another? And indeed, it’s not really clear until near the end of the book’s 350 pages what the relationship is, but trust in the author and the book is part of the journey. If you are interested in reading more fantasy featuring diverse characters, people of color, brother/sister relationships, and peace-making themes, A Crack in the Sea is the book for you.

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This book may be nominated for a Cybils Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

2017 Middle Grade Fiction: Short Takes

Apartment 1986 by Lisa Papademetriou. While skipping school, Cassie meets Cassius, an unschooled and independent spirit who is doing research on art at museums all over NYC. Cassie is dealing with her own family and personal issues, and she and Cassius become friends and allies as they discover that Callie’s family history is both surprising and complicated. The story deals with homosexual behavior, family dynamics and regrets, and forgiveness and restoration, all in a fairly standard, morally tolerant, and one-dimensional manner. The “bad guy” is Callie’s grandfather, a homophobic bigot, who is conveniently dead and gone. The “good guys” are all the ones who realize and understand that “people are born gay.”

Posted by John David Anderson. When cell phones are banned at Branton Middle School, a new communication method becomes a fad: sticky notes. But when the sticky notes begin to turn ugly, Frost and his friends are forced to decide where their loyalties lie. Will they be able to remain friends and even take a new kid into their “tribe”—or will the ugly taunts and bullying notes break up the friendships they have built? The story is told from the point of view of one of the middle school kids, Frost, and I found him to be pretentious and whiny at first, but his voice grew on me. By the end of the book, I was absorbed in the story and fond of most of the characters. Some kids may find the book to be too introspective, but for others it will hit a sweet spot of just right.

Feliz Yz by Lisa Bunker. A gay thirteen year old named Felix lives with his bisexual mother and his gender-switching grandparent (three days a week as Vern and three days a week as Verna; Wednesdays are spent alone and genderless) as Felix deals with he repercussions of a childhood accident that fused his psyche together with that of a fourth-dimensional creature called Zyx. Yeah. If Posted was introspective and angsty, this one is beyond—altogether in another dimension.

Me and Marvin Gardens by A.S. King. Obe Devlin spends his days picking trash out of the creek behind his house and mourning the loss of his family’s land to housing developers. He also spends a lot of time nursing his frequent nosebleeds. Then, one day he finds a new species of animal, and things get interesting. Can Obe save the animal he calls Marvin Gardens from the encroaching housing developments and the curiosity of neighbors? Is Marvin himself a danger to the neighborhood, or is Marvin the solution to the problem of pollution? The story is quite pessimistic and didactic, but if you’re looking for a preachy environmental title, this one will fit the bill.

Gnome-a-geddon by K.A. Holt. Buck Rogers and his best friend, Lizzie, enter the world of their favorite book series, The Triumphant Gnome Syndicate. Immediately, things start to go wrong when Buck realizes that he isn’t necessarily the hero of this adventure, and maybe the gnomes aren’t even the good guys in the story, and trolls, well, trolls are different in the real underground land of the Gnome Syndicate, too. The story alludes to several popular fantasy books, movies, and series, including Harry Potter, Star Wars, LOTR, Princess Bride, Back to the Future, superhero comics, and the Narnia books. Fun for fans.

One for Sorrow by Mary Downing Hahn. I didn’t like any of the people in this ghost story, except for the elderly lady who befriends the narrator at the end of the book. A group of girls bully and torment Elsie, a girl of German heritage, during World War I and the influenza epidemic. Elsie is a liar and a tattletale, and Annie, the new girl in school, must choose whether to befriend Elsie or the mean girls who pick on Elsie. It’s not much of a choice. Unfortunately, there’s no one at school for Annie to be friends with, so Annie becomes one of the bullies. It just gets worse from there with a nasty, mean ghost who harries Annie into a mental asylum.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
Some of these books are also nominated for a Cybils Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

A Single Stone by Megan McKinlay

I read Laurel Snyder’s Orphan Island just after I read this book. Both books are partly about keeping the traditions that are handed down, obeying the laws of your own community, and questioning those traditions and laws. But each book comes to a very different conclusion.

In Orphan Island, questioning and breaking with tradition lead to disaster, a disturbance in the natural order of things on the island. In A Single Stone, questions and rule-breaking lead to freedom from tyranny. In the real world, of course, some rules and traditions need to be questioned, but often the law is for our good, and the transgression of that law leads only to evil and heartbreak. Since I believe the latter lesson is one that rarely gets spoken these days, and since I’m a conservative at heart underneath my rebel tendencies, I have more sympathy for the story of Orphan Island than for A Single Stone.

Jena is one of the chosen seven. She’s been trained and molded for this job ever since she was born, and now she leads the other six girls who also have been chosen to tunnel into the mountains to search for the precious mica that sustains life in their isolated village. The village has maintained itself, precariously, cut off from the outside world by a ring of impenetrable mountains all around, by using mica as a fuel for the long, cold winters. Only the chosen seven young girls can fit themselves into the tight crevices and low tunnels inside the mountains to bring back the harvest of mica that allows the villagers to remain alive.

This is the way it is, and this is the way is has been from time immemorial. That’s what Jena has been taught, and she believes the Mothers who teach and train the children to become useful to the village as they grow up. But what if the Mothers are wrong? What if they’re deceiving the villagers or perhaps even deceiving themselves? Can the world be different? Is there a way through the mountains, and is there something or someone on the other side?

Again, it’s a good book, by an Australian author, but I preferred Orphan Island. Both the premises and the conclusions were more intriguing in Orphan Island than in A Single Stone. Read both for comparison’s sake.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book may be nominated for a Cybils Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Books in Search of a Nomination

Cybils nominations are now open. These are some middle grade speculative fiction books that I’ve either read or intended to read that also have NOT yet been nominated. I believe all of the following books are eligible for this year’s Cybils nominations and fit into the middle grade speculative fiction category.

Books in search of a nominator:

Henry and the Chalk Dragon by Jennifer Trafton. NOMINATED
Tumble and Blue by Cassie Beasley.
Blueberry Pancakes Forever by Angelica Banks.
Broken Pride (Bravelands, #1) by Erin Hunter.
Frogkisser by Garth Nix. NOMINATED
Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr.
Edgeland by Jake Halpern.
A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge.
The Emperor’s Ostrich by Julie Berry.
Dragon With a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis. NOMINATED
The Alarming Career of Sir Richard Blackstone by Lisa Doan.
Grandfather and the Moon by Stephanie LaPointe.
Olive and the Backstage Ghost by Michelle Shusterman. NOMINATED
A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander. NOMINATED
Joplin, Wishing by Diane Stanley.
Quest to the Uncharted Lands by Jaleigh Johnson.
The Song from Somewhere Else by A.F. Harrold.
Siren Sisters by Dana Langer.
The Fearless Traveler’s Guide to Wicked Places by Pete Begler.
The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library by Linda Bailey.
The Silver Gate by Kristin Bailey.
Nevermoor by Jesica Townsend.
Unicorn Power! by Mariko Tamaki.
Warrior Bronze by Michelle Paver.
Threads of Blue by Suzanne LaFleur.
The Wonderling by Mira Bartok.
The Adventurer’s Guild by Zach Clark.
The Night Garden by Polly Horvath.
Emily and the Spellstone by Michael Rubens.
The Emperor of Mars by Patrick Samphire.
The Matchstick Castle by Keir Graff.
The Dollmaker of Krakow by R.M. Romero. NOMINATED
The Star Thief by Lindsay Becker.
The Bone Snatcher by Charlotte Salter.
Beast and Crown by Joel Ross.NOMINATED
Word of Mouse by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein.
A Dash of Dragon by Heidi Lang.
Rules for Thieves by Alexandra Ott.
Black Cats and Butlers by Janine Beacham.
Journey Across the Hidden Islands by Sarah Beth Durst.
Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson. NOMINATED
The Door Before by N.D. Wilson.

Nominations are open this week and next, through October 15th. Be sure your favorite children’s and young adult books of the past year get nominated. I’m on the panel for Middle Grade Speculative Fiction, and I’ll be working with some other great panelists to whittle down the nominations list into a short list of finalists. But your favorite books can’t make it to the finalist list if you don’t nominate now.

Go forth and nominate!

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here or on this link to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
One or more of these books is may be nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own.

Trends and Themes in Middle Grade Speculative Fiction 2016

Settings where (fantasy) stories come true
The town of Fortune Falls, where superstitions are the laws of nature.
An alternate universe/earth where mythological creature are real.
A congenital condition in which the words that people use to describe you appear in print on your arms and legs.
A Dream Shop in which dreams are bought and sold and made alive.
A summer camp where paranormal talents are the norm.
A wrinkled mountain village where “stories have a way of coming true.”
A world of paintings lives “behind the canvas”.
A library where books involving supernatural elements are “finished” as they are lived out in the real world.

Kids with father issues
Not as many mother issues in 2016, although they do show up in one or two books.
The Luck Uglies: Rise of the Ragged Clover by Paul Durham. Rye must decide whether to follow in her outlaw father’s footsteps or not.
My Diary From the Edge of the World. A hapless and neglectful father leads his family to the edge of the world.
Waiting for Augusta by Jessica Lawson. Benjamin Hogan Putter talks to his dead father and tries to carry out his dad’s dying wishes.
Time Stoppers by Carrie Jones. Jamie’s father is an evil troll, and Annie doesn’t have a father.
The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price by Jennifer Maschari. Charlie’s father has “checked out” since his mother died.
The League of Beastly Dreadfuls: The Dastardly Deed by Holly Grant. Anastasia’s father is missing, and only she can find him.
Furthermore by Teherah Mafi. Alice feels rejected by her mother and abandoned by her father.
Baker’s Magic by Diane Zahler. Bee starts with no parents and ends up with two fathers, or at least two father figures.
Edge of Extinction: The Ark Plan by Laura Martin. Sky’s father fled the North Compound five years ago when she was only seven years old, but Sky is determined to find out why and what happened to him.
This Is Not A Werewolf Story by Sandra Evans. Raul feels deserted by his father, who is grieving over the loss of Raul’s mother.
Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart. Rueben is fatherless.
The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman.
Time-Traveling with a Hamster by Ross Welford. Al can’t accept his father’s death.
Red Moon Rising by K.A. Holt. Rae can’t relate to her father and becomes bonded instead to her captors, an alien race called The Cheese.

Death and Dying
My Diary From the Edge of the World by Jodi Lynn Anderson. The Dark Cloud of Death is coming to get someone in Gracie’s family.
Waiting for Augusta by Jessica Lawson. Ben’s dad is dead, but dad’s ashes are speaking to Ben from beyond the grave.
The Wrinkled Crown by Anne Nesbet. Linny’s best friend, Sayra, is dying, and Linny must find a medicine that will cure her.
The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price by Jennifer Maschari. Charlie and his little sister Imogen find a parallel world where their deceased and much-missed mom is still alive.
The Nine Lives of Jacob Tibbs by Cylin Busby. Ship’s cat Jacob Tibbs loses his mother in a storm, and other lives hang in the balance when mutineers try to take over the ship.
Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd. Emma lives next to a graveyard and gives guided tours of said cemetery. She also talks to ghosts and misses her recently deceased mother with a feeling she calls The Big Empty.
Time-Traveling with a Hamster by Ross Welford. Al can’t accept his father’s death.
The First Last Day by Dorian Cirrone. Haleigh wants to keep her friend Kevin’s grandmother from dying by going back in time.
Red by Liesl Shurtliff. Red will do almost anything to find the secret of eternal life for her granny.
School of the Dead by Avi.

Science and logic versus stories and magic
Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier.
The Wrinkled Crown by Anne Nesbet. People on the wrinkled, magic side of the river are in an ongoing conflict with those who live on the plain, scientific side.
Curse of the Boggin: The Library, Book 1 by D.J. MacHale. Marcus and his nerdy friend Theo argue over whether supernatural events are real or can be be explained scientifically.

Ethnic Diversity
Unidentified Suburban Object by Mike Jung. Chloe Cho is tired of being the only Asian kid in town, but things are about to get a lot worse when she finds out the secret that her parents have been keeping about her family’s true heritage.
Curse of the Boggin: The Library, Book 1 by D.J. MacHale. Marcus and his two best friends, Annabella Lu, Chinese American, and Theo McLean, African American, work together to solve supernatural mysteries and lay ghosts to rest.
Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den by Aimee Carter. I think the different animal kingdoms in this one are supposed to mirror human diversity, with “mixed heritage” characters.
The Mighty Odds by Amy Ignatow. A group of ethnically diverse middle schoolers gain individual and oddly specific superpowers.
Time-Traveling with a Hamster by Ross Welford. An ethnic Indian/British (Punjabi) setting and characters in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England.
The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz. Jeanne, a peasant girl who has visions, William, an oblate who is half-Saracen (African) and half French, and Jacob, a Jewish boy with a gift for healing travel across France in the thirteenth century on a quest.
Rebellion of Thieves by Kekla Magoon.

Magical Child with Hidden Talents, Destined to Save the World
The Harry Potter theme.
The League of Beastly Dreadfuls: The Dastardly Deed by Holly Grant. Anastasia, recently freed from captivity in St. Agony’s Asylum, is half-morph and all-princess. Can she find the Silver Hammer which will help to free her grandfather Nicodemus who can in turn find her father, Fred McCrumpet Merrymoon?
Little D by A. ML. “In a world where magic has been all but extinguished, nine year old Donatella Lou Regent, the last of the famous Regent line, has no idea who she is or the power she holds.”
Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier. Sophie and her friend Peter Nimble adventure across the Grimmwald and through the city of Bustleburgh to stop the villains who are planning to stop, destroy and immolate all nonsense (stories, magic, wonder, books!).
The Wrinkled Crown by Anne Nesbet. Linny may be the prophesied Girl With the Lourka who will save the people of the divided city of Bend from ongoing warfare.
Time Stoppers by Carrie Jones. Little Annie Nobody is the child who is destined to be a Time Stopper, find the magical garden gnome, bring it back to Aurora, and defeat the evil Each Uisge and the Raiff.
Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart. Poor, lonely Reuben finds a hidden object, an object that bestows great power on its owner, but also an object that is sought for by a lot of very, very bad people, including the arch-villain of New Umbra who is known only as The Smoke. Can Reuben unlock the secrets of his newfound magical powers and save New Umbra before The Smoke finds him and takes his discovery away?
Behind the Canvas by Alexander Vance. Seventh grader Claudia Miravista finds that she is a magically talented Artisti who can save her friend Pim from a life trapped behind the canvas of the paintings of the world.
The Lost Property Office by James R. Hannibal. Jack Buckles, finds out, by accident, that he is a Tracker, as was his father before him, and he is the only one who can save his father and the world from the evil Clockmaker.
The Lost Compass by Joel Ross. Chess, the foggy-eyed tether boy, may have a gift that will defeat the evil Lord Kodoc and save the world.
Outlaws of Time: The Legend of Sam Miracle by N.D. Wilson. Sam is the one sent to save the world from the evil Vulture, El Buitre.

Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den by Aimee Carter. Simon and his family are all Animalgams, people born with the ability to change into a certain animal at will.
The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart by Lauren DeStefano. Borderline shapeshifting.
Time Stoppers by Carrie Jones.
This Is Not a Werewolf Story by Sandra Evans. Maybe Raul is not a werewolf, but he does shift into a wolf on the weekends.
The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman.

Robots and Artificial Intelligence:
Fuzzy by Tom Angleberger.
Out of Abaton: The Wooden Prince by Jean Claude Bemis. A Pinocchio-like automaton.
The Wild Robot by Peter Brown.
Under Their Skin by Margaret Peterson Haddix.
The Firefly Code by Megan Frazer.

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School of the Dead by Avi

I’ve read and enjoyed other books by prolific children’s author Avi, but none were remotely like this horror story of a boy named Tony who sees ghosts or maybe zombies (although they are never called that), lots of them. It’s certainly not for everyone. If you don’t like horror and occultic elements, you’ll want to skip this story. But if you’re a fan of Hitchcock movies and paranormal fantasy, School of the Dead fits right into the Halloween genre and the Halloween season.

Twelve year old Tony has a weird uncle, Great Uncle Charlie, the kind of guy everyone asks about, saying, “What’s the deal with him anyway? How come Uncle Charlie is so weird?” The answer: “Every family has a weird uncle.” When Uncle Charlie moves in with Tony and his parents, however, Tony finds out that Uncle Charlie is really a great guy, lots of fun. And when Uncle Charlie dies, Tony is devastated. The only thing that Tony looks forward to is his transfer to Penda School, the school in San Francisco that Uncle Charlie graduated from and recommended to Tony.

From the time that Tony enters Penda School, things get really weird. No spoilers, but the plot involves voodoo, haunted corridors, secret rooms, zombie-like creatures, and soul-snatching. And it all takes place on and around Halloween. Again, it’s pretty creepy, and Tony has a hard time deciding whom to trust—or whether there’s anyone he can trust. His parents are suitably, for a scary story, useless and oblivious. In fact, all of the adults in the story are either part of the evil weirdness or else ineffectual and unhelpful.

The story is well written, as would be expected in the hands of such a veteran author, and Tony is a frustrating but understandable character who does all the things the reader would tell him not to do in a horror novel. He opens the door he shouldn’t open, drops the flashlight, shuts himself up in dark places, listens to the bad guys, fails to trust the good guys, etc. etc. But as the narrative progresses, he seems less stupid and more just trapped in an overwhelmingly evil place with an entire contingent of soul-sucking monsters.

Read it only if you’re immune to horror-induced nightmares.

Cybils Nominations Are Open

The 2016 Cybils nominations are now live!

What are Cybils?
The Cybils awards are given each year by bloggers for the year’s best children’s and young adult titles. Nominations open to the public on October 1st.

What are the categories?
An award will be given in each of the following categories:
Easy Readers and Early Chapter Books
Elementary/Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction
Fiction Picture Books/Board Books
Graphic Novels
Middle-Grade Fiction
Middle-Grade/Young Adult Nonfiction
Juvenile/Elementary Nonfiction
Young Adult Fiction
Young Adult Speculative Fiction

Why do I (and why should you) care?
Well, every year thousands of new books for young adults and children are published in English in the United States and Canada. Some of those books are really good, but many are not. Sorting out the good from the bad and the ugly takes time and energy that most of us don’t have. The Cybils help, along with other awards like the Newbery, Caldecott and the National Book Awards, to highlight some of the best children’s books of the year, including some that might otherwise be missed in the rush. And I get to be on the judging panel this year for Middle Grade Fantasy and Science Fiction to choose a shortlist which will be the basis for the award given in that category. (So be sure to nominate your favorite “Middle Grade Speculative Fiction” books so that I and the committee I’m working with have all the best books to read and choose from.)

More important information about Cybils:
Be sure to check out the category descriptions. If you don’t know where the book should go, please read through the descriptions to help you decide. If you’re still not quite sure, make your best guess, and the Cybils organizers can straighten things out behind the scenes.

Take a minute to check out the rules for nominating. The big one: the book needs to be published in the U.S. or Canada between October 16, 2015 and October 15, 2016. Also you can nominate only ONE book per CATEGORY per PERSON. No exceptions. The form will kick you back if you try to nominate more than one book (or if someone else has already nominated the book).

If you have any other questions, check out the FAQ page.

Follow this link to nominate your favorite books in all categories. You have until October 15th.

Baker’s Dozen: 13 Cybils Finalists I Want to Read

The short lists of finalists in all of the Cybils categories came out on January 1st, and although I would love to read all of them, I thought 13 books from the finalist lists was a good goal. These are the ones that I haven’t already read that caught my interest:

1. Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bergman. Middle Grade Fiction finalist.

2. Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy by Susan Vaught. Middle Grade Fiction finalist.

3. In a Village by the Sea by Muon Van. Fiction Picture Book finalist.

4. Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson. Fiction Picture Book finalist.

5. Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall. Middle Grade Speculative Fiction finalist.

6. The Dungeoneers by John David Anderson. Middle Grade Speculative Fiction finalist.

7. The Fog Diver by Joel Ross. Middle Grade Speculative Fiction finalist.

8. One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul. Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction finalist.

9. Ranger in Time #1: Rescue on the Oregon Trail by Kate Messner. Early Chapter Book finalist.

10. Big Bad Detective Agency by Bruce Hale. Early Chapter Book finalist.

11. Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone. Young Adult Fiction finalist.

12. The Six by Mark Alpert. Young Adult Speculative Fiction finalist.

13. House Arrest by K.A. Holt. Poetry finalist.

Among the others that I have read, I recommend:

Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson.
Courage & Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in World War II Denmark by Deborah Hopkinson.
Give Me Wings: How a Choir of Former Slaves Took on the World by Kathy Lowing.
I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives by Martin Ganda and Caitlin Alifirenka.
Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin.
Tommy: The Gun That Changed America by Karen Blumenthal.
The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands.
Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson.

Elementary and Middle Grade Nonfiction: Cybils Suggestons

Do you need a suggestion for a book to nominate for the Cybils in the category of Elementary and Middle Grade Nonfiction? Nominations are open through October 15th, and anyone can nominate a book, as long as the book was published between October 15, 2014 and October 15, 2015. And here’s a link to the nomination form.

The following books are a few titles that haven’t been nominated yet that I’ve either read or heard good things about. I would like very much to get my hands on the ones I haven’t read.

Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens by Nina Nolan. Amistad, January 2015.

The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden by Kevin DeYoung. Crossway, August 2015.

Fur, Fins, and Feathers: Abraham Dee Bartlett and the Invention of the Modern Zoo by Cassandra Maxwell. Eerdmans, August 2015. NOMINATED.

Fire Birds: Valuing Natural Wildfires and Burned Forests by Sneed B. Collard III. Bucking Horse Books, December 2014.

Whale Trails, Before and Now by Lesa Cline-Ransome. Henry Holt, January 2015.

Ira’s Shakespeare Dream by Glenda Armand. Lee & Low, August 2105.

The House That Jane Built: A Story About Jane Addams by Tanya Lee Stone. Henry Holt, June 2015.

The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower, or John Howland’s Good Fortune by P.J. Lynch. Candlewick, September 2015.

Marie Durand by Simonetta Carr. Reformation Heritage Books, June 2015. NOMINATED>

Abe Lincoln: His Wit and Wisdom from A-Z by Alan Schroeder. Holiday House, January 2015.

Draw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews by Kathleen Benson. Clarion, January 2015. NOMINATED

Aaron and Alexander: The Most Famous Duel in American History by Don Brown. Roaring Brook Press, October 13, 2015.

The Fantastic Ferris Wheel: The Story of Inventor George Ferris by Betsy Harvey Kraft. Henry Holt, October 13, 2015.

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Hallmark. Preston Books, October 13, 2015. NOMINATED

High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs by Lisa Schnell. Charlesbridge, April 2015.

The Great Monkey Rescue: Saving the Golden Lion Tamarins by Sandra Markle. Hillbrook, October 1, 2015. NOMINATED

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch by Chris Barton. Eerdmans, April 2015. NOMINATED

Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford. Albert Whitman, February 2015. NOMINATED

My Name Is Truth: The Life of Sojourner Truth by Ann Turner. HarperCollins, January 2015.

Middle Grade Speculative Fiction: What’s In, What’s Out

What’s IN

North, Norse mythology, Northerness

“I was uplifted into huge regions of northern sky. I desired with almost sickening intensity something never to be described, except that it is cold, spacious, severe, pale and remote.” ~C.S. Lewis

Thrones and Bones: Frostborn by Lou Anders.
Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle by George Hagen.
Odin’s Ravens by K.L. Armstrong and M.A. Marr.
The Twistrose Key by Tone Almhjell.
Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson. (Beowulf)
Winterfrost by Michelle Houts.
West of the Moon by Margi Preus.
Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee. (Based on The Snow Queen)

Library setting:

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” ~Jorge Luis Borges

Shouldn’t You Be In School? (All the Wrong Questions) by Lemony Snicket.
The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler.
The Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand by Jen Swann Downey.
Jinx’s Magic by Sage Blackwood.
House of Secrets: Battle of the Beasts by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini.

Trains/steampunk/alternate history North America setting:

“To some, ‘steampunk’ is a catchall term, a concept in search of a visual identity. To me, it’s essentially the intersection of technology and romance. ~Jake von Slatt
“The restlessness and the longing, like the longing that is in the whistle of a faraway train. Except that the longing isn’t really in the whistle—-it is in you.” ~Meindert DeJong

The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson.
The League of Seven by Alan Gratz.
Dreamwood by Heather Mackey.
The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove.
The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel.

Father-quest (Protagonist goes in search of his/her long lost father):

Darth Vader: Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.
Luke Skywalker: He told me enough! He told me you killed him!
Darth Vader: No. I am your father. ~Star Wars

Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle by George Hagen.
The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel.
Dreamwood by Heather Mackey.
The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier.
I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin.
The Lost Planet by Rachel Searles.
The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove.
The Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett.
Saving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos.
The Last Wild by Piers Torday.
League of Seven by Alan Gratz.
He Laughed with His Other Mouths (A Pals in Peril Tale) by M.T. Anderson.
Oliver and the Seawigs by Philllip Reeve.

Superheroes (inside-out):

“No matter how many times you manage to save the world, it always manages to get back in jeopardy again.” ~Craig T. Nelson, The Incredibles.

Dangerous by Shannon Hale.
Minion By John David Anderson.
Almost Super by Marion Jensen.
The Flying Burgowski by Gretchen K.Wing.

Ghost Stories:

Now it is the time of night
That the graves, all gaping wide,
Every one lets forth his sprite
In the church-way paths to glide. ~William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett.
The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage.
The Swallow: A Ghost Story by Charis Cotter.
Lockwood & Co., Book 2 The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud.
Grave Images by Jenny Goebel.
The Secret at Haney Field: A Baseball Mystery by R. M. Clark.
Plus a couple of others that feature a ghost, but it would be a spoiler to tell which ones.

Fierce Female Fighters (FFF!)

Oh, when she’s angry, she is keen and shrewd!
She was a vixen when she went to school.
And though she be but little, she is fierce. ~William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Horizon by Jenn Reese.
The Hero’s Guide to Being an Outlaw by Christopher Healy.
The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson.
Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly.
Pennyroyal Academy by M.A. Larson.
The League of Seven by Alan Gratz.
Hook’s Revenge by Heidi Schulz.

Robots and automatons (particularly robotic servants):

“In the twenty-first century, the robot will take the place which slave labor occupied in ancient civilizations.” ~Nikola Tesla

The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel.
The Winter of the Robots by Kurtis Scaletta.
Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor by John Scieszcka.
Horizon by Jenn Reese.
Aviary Wonders Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual by Kate Samworth.
The League of Seven by Alan Gratz.
How to Survive Middle School & Monster Bots by Ron Bates.
The Lost Planet by Rachel Searles.

Into the Woods: Plant Attack!

I have no fear,
Nor no one should;
The woods are just trees,
The trees are just wood. ~Red Riding Hood, Into the Woods

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier.
Dreamwood by Heather Mackey.
The Twistrose Key by Tone Almhjell.
The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell.
Jinx’s Magic by Sage Blackwood.
Pennyroyal Academy by M.A. Larson.
Wildwood Imperium by Colin Meloy.
The Thickety: A Path Begins by J.A. White.
In Nuts to You by Lynne Rae Perkins, the trees actually get attacked instead of the other way around.


“I’m obsessed with zombies. I like watching zombie movies and I read zombie books.” ~Kevin Bacon

My Zombie Hamster by Havelock McCreely.
Zero Degree Zombie Zone by Patrik Henry Bass.
The Zombie Chasers #6: Zombies of the Caribbean by John Kloepfer.
Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson.

Under the Sea: Shark Attack!

“I don’t like the idea of being eaten by a shark. I like to swim in the ocean, and I think much more about sharks than anyone should.” ~David Duchovny, star of X-Files.

The Shark Whisperer by Ellen Prager.
Horizon by Jenn Reese.
Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly.
Oliver and the Seawigs by Philllip Reeve.
The 26-Story Treehouse by Andy Griffiths.

Magic School (Hogwarts, we love you! Bring on the tests!)

“Whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”
~J.K. Rowling

The School for Good and Evil: A World Without Princes by Soman Chainani.
The Iron Trial by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black.
The Shark Whisperer by Ellen Prager.
Sparkers by Eleanor Glewwe.
Quantum League: Spell Robbers by Matthew J. Kirby.
Pennyroyal Academy by M.A. Larson.
The Ability: Mindscape by M.M. Vaughan.
Death’s Academy by Michael Bast.
School of Charm by Lisa Ann Scott.

Moral Ambiguity (What is Evil? What is Good?)

“There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book.
Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.” ~Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

The School for Good and Evil: A World Without Princes by Soman Chainani.
Blue Sea Burning (The Chronicles of Egg) by Geoff Rodkey.
Minion By John David Anderson.
Almost Super by Marion Jensen.
Jinx’s Magic by Sage Blackwood.
Quantum League: Spell Robbers by Matthew J. Kirby.
Loot by Jude Watson.
Sparkers by Eleanor Glewwe.
The Iron Trial by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black.
Dark Lord: School’s Out by Jamie Thomson.

Popular historical characters: King Tutankhamen, Thomas Edison (villain), Nikola Tesla (hero or crazy).

What’s Out:
Vampires. I read about some blood-sucking valravens, but nary a vampire.
Fairies. There was a weird demonic looking fairy in one book and a drill sergeant fairy in another, but traditional Victorian fairies seem to be mostly passé.
Dragons. I read about a couple of dragons, but that was all.

What popular themes and motifs did I miss? What middle grade speculative fiction books of 2014 that fit into one of the above categories did I forget?

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These books are also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.