Jonathan Edwards by Simonetta Carr

I’m spending my Thursdays here on the blog in the eighteenth century, 1700’s.

This picture book biography of the great preacher and theologian, Jonathan Edwards (b.1703, d.1758), is just beautiful. The book is hardcover, printed on lovely paper, large print, with both color illustrations and photographs of important documents and places in Edwards’ life. I want all of the books in this series.

The information about Jonathan Edwards is well-written and organized, and the presentation is, again, just lovely. Mrs. Carr, a homeschool mom and former teacher, tells students about Edwards’ scientific explorations of spiders and Newtonian physics. She explains the ins and outs of the First Great Awakening revivals, and the theological controversies that accompanied those revivals in terms that a tenor eleven year old could understand. She writes about Edwards’ youth and his courtship and marriage to Sarah Pierpont and his friendship and partnership with George Whitefield. The biography is thorough enough, but also with only 60 pages, it won’t exhaust the young readers it’s meant to engage.

At the end of the book Mrs. Carr includes a time line of Jonathan Edwards’ life, a list of interesting facts about Mr. Edwards and his lifetime that didn’t fit into the main narrative of the book, and a facsimile of an actual letter from Edwards to his daughter Mary in 1749. The letter is inspiring, It made me want to copy it and send my handwritten (plagiarized) letter to my own grown children who are far away from home.

Here’s just the beginning of the letter:

My dear child,
You may well think it is natural for a parent to be concerned for a child at so great a distance away, so far out of view, and so far out of the reach of communication; where, if you should be stricken with any dangerous sickness, which should issue in death–you might probably be in your grave before we would hear of your danger. But yet, my greatest concern is not for your health, or temporal welfare–but for the good of your soul.

Though you are at so great a distance from us–yet God is everywhere. You are much out of the reach of our care–but you are in His hands every moment! We have not the comfort of seeing you–but He sees you! His eye is always upon you. And if you may but live sensibly near to God, and have His gracious presence, it is no great matter if you are far distant from us. I had rather you should remain hundreds of miles distant from us–and have God near to you–than to have you always with us, and live at a distance from God.

Isn’t that the most deeply loving letter you’ve read in a long time? Read the entire letter here.

Jonathan Edwards by Simonetta Carr is one biography in the series, Christian Biographies for Young Readers. Illustrated by Matt Abraxas. Published by Reformation Heritage Books in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Other books in the series, all authored by Mrs. Carr with the same stunning illustrations by Mr. Abraxas:

Augustine of Hippo.
Anselm of Canterbury.
Athanasius.
John Calvin.
John Knox.
Marie Durand.
Martin Luther.
John Owen.

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Running Out of Night by Sharon Lovejoy

A nameless, motherless, abused white girl and a runaway slave girl named Zenobia are thrown together in a journey toward freedom. Even though the Zenobia gives Nameless Girl the name of Lark, the two find it difficult to trust each other or to trust the people who are willing to help them along their way on the Underground Railroad.

The salient feature of this debut novel by Sharon Lovejoy is the Virginia backwoods dialect that threads through the pages to bring the characters to life:

Zenobia: “Auntie goin to tell you later tonight where you be goin soon. And she give you a fine new name for the travelin. She call you Miss Abigail Harlan, but I likes Lark best.”

Lark: “Zenobia? Trouble girl, answer me. Sorry, so sorry. You was so scairt, I should’ve helped you more.”

I think it’s just enough to make the characters real and interesting without turning them into caricatures and without making the language too dense and hard to understand. If you don’t like the dialect in the examples above, there’s a lot more where that came from, so you probably wouldn’t like the story much.

Otherwise, the book is one chase scene after another. Lark’s pa and her brothers are chasing after her because she’s their “slave”, the one who cooks and cleans and gardens for them. The slave catchers are after Zenobia for the reward. lark and Zenobia get separated and have to chase after one another. Lark has to look for her friends, Zenobia and other runaways and a Quaker woman who helps them, because she knows that the slave catchers are about to catch up with them. Some of the scenes are fairly violent, and the cruelty of slavery and of slave owners and slave catchers is not minimized or played down; rather the opposite, Lark learns that the abuse that her father and her family have subjected her to is still less than the brutality that Zenobia and the other former slaves have seen and experienced.

This novel has a little bit different take on the horrors of slavery, and it ends with peace and thanksgiving. So I recommend it.

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The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham

The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham.
The Luck Uglies #2: Fork-Tongue Charmers by Paul Durham.

The first book in this fantasy series for middle grade readers, published in 2014, won the Cybils Award for Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. I read it when I was on the panel for Cybils, and I thought I had reviewed it here, but it turns out that I was too busy reading to review The Luck Uglies. So, a quick re-cap:

Riley (Rye) O’Chanter lives on Mud Puddle Lane in Village Drowning with her mother, Abby O’Chanter, her little sister, Lottie, and Nightshade (Shady) Fur Bottom O’Chanter, the cat. Rye is a mischievous urchin, but she has quite a few rules to remember. There are her mother’s house rules. (House Rule Number One is: “Don’t stop, talk or questions ask; beware of men wearing masks.”) Then, there are the rather arbitrary Laws of Earl Morningwig Longchance, such as “it’s illegal to feed pigs on Market Street” and “no woman may wear blue without the express permission of the Honorable Earl Longchance.”

All rules and laws become insignificant in the face of the danger that is coming to Village Drowning: the supposedly extinct Bog Noblins are returning, and there are no more Luck Uglies to fight them off. The Luck Uglies, a secret society of outlaws who used to be Village Drowning’s protectors, are now the Earl’s enemies and hence banished from the village. How will the inhabitants of Village Drowning fight off the Bog Noblins, keep the Laws of Longchance, and figure out whose side the Luck Uglies are on?

So, the first book was an exciting and absorbing introduction to Rye O’Chanter, the Luck Uglies, and Rye’s friends and family. Book 2, Fork Tongue Charmers, introduces us to new characters, new places, and new problems for Rye and the people of Village Drowning. In this book, the Luck Uglies are divided and at odds with one another, while Earl Longchance has hired a new enforcer to bring the villagers, and the Luck Uglies, into line. Rye and her family run away to the island of Pest, her mother’s homeland, but trouble follows them there.

The story is, as I said, absorbing. If I had any issue at all with these first two books in this trilogy-to-be, it was the moral ambiguity of the characters and indeed of the entire story so far. It’s hard to tell whether the Luck Uglies, in particular, are the good guys or the bad guys or a little of both. I predict that this ambiguity will be resolved by the end of the third book in the series, and we will find that, though perhaps mistakes and misunderstandings have occurred, the white hats and the black hats are distinguishable after all. But I can’t promise, since there are a lot of unanswered questions yet to be settled.

So what did I like about this second book? I liked Rye and her penchant for going straight to the heart of a problem and solving it. I liked the family dynamics in Rye’s immediate family and in her extended family. I liked “traveling” to the island of Pest and feeling a taste of Ireland, or perhaps Scotland, in this fictional other-world setting and culture. I liked the Robin Hood echoes and the way I was reminded of Heidi’s grandfather in Swiss Alps in Rye’s island grandfather.

The Luck Uglies is good stuff. Different stuff. Perhaps, depending on how the series wraps ups, even classic stuff.

Mikis and the Donkey by Bibi Dumon Tak

This 89-page little gem of a story takes place in Corfu, a Greek island in the Mediterranean, and it’s about a boy and his donkey. Well, it’s really his grandfather’s donkey. The boy Mikis, however, is the one who names the donkey Tsaki and the one who cares for Tsaki when he is hurt and the one who insists on building Tsaki a new stable and the one who finds Tsaki a lady-friend.

This one reminded me of Red Sails to Capri by Ann Weil, a 1953 Newbery honor book: Mediterranean island, simple family life and family dynamics, children exploring the island and learning about their heritage and their place in their culture. Mikis and the Donkey also won an award from the ALSC, the Batchelder Award for children’s books originally published in another language and translated into English.

Anyway, it’s a lovely book, and I wish I had a copy for my library. It’s definitely going on my wishlist.

Middle Grade Middling

All Four Stars by Tara Daiman is cute middle grade fiction about a budding restaurant critic and gourmet cook whose parents only know fast food and microwave cooking. The protagonist, eleven year old Gladys Gatsby, is rather deceitful and dangerously inventive, but she has parents who are unbelievably misguided. Not only will they not allow her to cook in their kitchen at all after an unfortunate accident with a blowtorch (understandable), they won’t allow her to read cookbooks, watch cooking shows, or eat anything other than the fast food and poorly cooked meals that they put together.
story is funny, a bit Wodehousian, and filled with great appreciation for excellent food. However, Gladys is something of a snob, and her parents are myopic in their adherence to poorly prepared junk food. Gladys doesn’t set a good example for middle grade readers when she disobeys her parents to sneak in a few cooking sessions and some reading of recipes, much less when she ditches a Broadway play to go by herself to the gourmet dessert restaurant down the street. But it’s all in good fun, and who’s looking for a role model in a humorous entertainment novel?

The Question of Miracles by Elana Arnold is an interesting story about the death of a friend and the possibility of miracles and an afterlife. Iris has lost her best friend in a car accident, and her parents have moved her to a new town to get her away from the trauma of the tragedy. But Iris hates Oregon where it rains all the time, and she still thinks about and misses her friend Sarah a lot. In fact, Iris is convinced that Sarah could be still there somehow, as a ghost or something, wanting to communicate with Iris if Iris could just figure out how to get a miracle.
All answers to the question of whether miracles are possible and whether Iris’s friend who died could possibly communicate with her after death are left open —except the Christian answers to those question which are never entertained seriously and (when a Catholic priest tries to explain that God answers different prayers in different ways) given short shrift. Also a few casual misuses of God’s name are disconcerting and unnecessary.

Listen, Slowly by Thanha Lai is a middle grade novel set in Vietnam, and I generally like seeing how children in other cultures are both like and unlike American children. However, Mai, the young lady who is the main character in the story, is a California girl through and through, even though she’s forced by her (Vietnamese immigrant) parents to go to Vietnam for the summer to help her grandmother navigate the search for what really happened to Mai’s grandfather during the Vietnam War.
Twelve year old Mai is spoiled, precocious, worldly, and obnoxious. Although she predictably improves by the end of the story, some of the shenanigans she pulls are too much for my “delicate” sensibilities. Example: she tells all the girls in the Vietnamese village where she is visiting that all American girls wear thong underwear and then helps them to turn their underwear into uncomfortable thongs. I just didn’t like Mai, and I had trouble sympathizing with her predicament of being stuck in Vietnam for the summer when she really wanted to be chasing boys on the beach.

Short Takes on Middle Grade Speculative Fiction

The Winter of the Robots by Kurtis Scaletta
Mr. Scaletta’s previous books, Mudville and Mamba Point, were both good solid middle grade reads, and The Winter of the Robots continues on in that groove. If your child is into robots or robot wars or science-y adventure tales, then The Winter of the Robots is a just the ticket. I got lost in some of the science of how to build and operate a robot, and I had to believe pretty hard to swallow some of the events that take place in the novel (kids build a self-propelled robot out of an old car?), but I bet most kids could believe it without even stretching.

Ninja Librarians: The Accidental Keyhand by Jen Swann Downey. I like the idea of secret society of “lybrarians” who are given the task of making the world, past and present, safe for the written word and the free expression of ideas. And I liked the opening two paragraphs a lot:

“Twelve-year-old Dorothea Barnes was thoroughly un-chosen, not particularly deserving, bore no marks of destiny, lacked any sort of criminal genius, and could claim no supernatural relations. Furthermore, she’d never been orphaned, kidnapped, left for dead in the wilderness, or bitten by anything more bloodthirsty than her little sister.
Don’t even begin to entertain consoling thoughts of long flaxen curls or shiny tresses black as ravens’ wings. Dorrie’s plain brown hair could only be considered marvelous in its ability to twist itself into hopeless tangles. She was neither particularly tall or small, thick or thin, pale or dark. She had parents who loved her, friends enough, and never wanted for a meal. So, why, you may wonder, tell a story about a girl like this at all?”

However, the story sort of meanders along and doesn’t get much better than that opening gambit.

The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. This Harry Potter-ish novel about a boy who is sent to magic school to learn to control his magical abilities is well written and intriguing, but the ending is horrendous. After another episode in which a different character lies about being abused by a teacher, our hero ends up concealing a secret so horrible that he cannot tell anyone about it, believing that his very soul is evil, and that no one will help him or believe him or love him if he tells. That’s creepy and disturbing.

The Twistrose Key by Tone Almhjell. This Norwegian fantasy is written by a Norwegian author, but I don’t see any translator credit. So I suppose it was written in English. Nevertheless, there’s a culture gap as far as I’m concerned. Lindelin Rosenquist (lovely name) is the Twistrose (rosa torquata), sent to the land of Sylver to save the Petlings and Wilders there from imminent danger. However, she and her own special petling, Rufocanus, a redback vole, spend a lot of time wandering about and getting into fixes, then taking turns rescuing one another. They talk about having a plan, but the plan is rather muddled, and various characters show up and disappear randomly. I think I missed something in the non-translation, but maybe other readers will be able to think more Scandinavian than I do.

The Islands of Chaldea by Diana Wynne Jones and Ursula Jones. Aileen and her Aunt Beck, the most powerful Wise Woman on the island of Skarr, are sent on a journey to rescue a prince. The characters in this novel do nothing but argue and undermine one another while they travel on a mission that none of them really believes in. The arguing isn’t even witty or funny. It’s a posthumous novel, completed by Ursula Jones (Diana Wynne Jones’ sister). I think the idea had potential, but someone dropped the ball.

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These books were 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.

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.

Zombies!

“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?

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.
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.

Semicolon Speculative Fiction Awards 2014

In reading for the Cybils, I could not resist awarding my own special prizes:

The Jabberwocky Meets Rocky Horror on the Farm Weirdness Award:
Fat & Bones and Other Stories by Larissa Theule. Illustrations by Adam S. Doyle.

Best Speculative Fiction with a British Flair:
The Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett.

The Extremely Annoying Unfinished Novel Award:
Shipwreck Island by S.A. Bodeen.

The Harry Potter Readalike Fan Fiction Prize:
Iron Trial (Magisterium) by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare.

Best Mouse Story:
The Orphan and the Mouse by Martha Freeman.

Best Squirrel Story:
Nuts to You by Lynne Rae Perkins.

Best Superhero Fiction:
Almost Super by Marion Jensen.

Caldecott Artist’s Award for Best Speculative Fiction Picture Book:
Aviary Wonders Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual by Kate Samworth.

Best Ghost Story:
Lockwood & Co: The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud.

Heisman Trophy for Beowulf Meets Football:
Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson.

Best Comedic Speculative Fiction:
The Hero’s Guide to Being an Outlaw by Christopher Healy.

Best Time Travel:
Seven Stories Up by Laurel Snyder.

Best Moon-Based Science Fiction/Murder Mystery:
Space Case by Stuart Gibbs.

Agatha Christie Award for Mystery in an Isolated Inn:
Greenglass House by Kate Milford.

Best Space Aliens:
Ambassador by William Alexander.

The Princess Zelda Cloud City Video Game Fiction Award:
Sky Raiders by Brandon Mull.

12 Favorite Middle Grade Fiction Books of 2014 (Excluding Speculative Fiction)

I enjoyed all twelve of these middle grade realistic fiction books. My favorites are the two pictured to the right.

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff.

Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana.

Curiosity by Gary L. Blackwood.

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin.

I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora.

Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald.

Circa Now by Amber McRee Turner.

Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord.

Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman Philbrick.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander.

The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson.

Somebody on This Bus Is Going to Be Famous by J.B. Cheaney.

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.

12 Favorite Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Books of 2014

This list is both difficult and easy. I read over 100 Middle Grade speculative fiction novels because of my role as a Cybils judge, so I have quite a few books to choose from. However choosing only the twelve best isn’t easy. These are my personal favorites and do not necessarily reflect the views of the other Cybils judges.

1. The Warden and the Wolf King by Andrew Peterson. This fourth book in the Wingfeather series is a saga, and it is a commitment, 519 pages worth of commitment. Obviously, I recommend starting at the beginning of the series with Book 1, At the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, which makes it even more of a commitment. However, dare I say that it’s worth it? Definitely influenced by Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, this series is nevertheless no Tolkien imitation and no Lewis copycat. The entire series would be excellent for read aloud time.
2. The Orphan and the Mouse by Martha Freeman. When Mary Mouse, art thief, and Caro McKay, model orphan, meet, they immediately form a bond that transcends their inability to communicate completely. And when Caro helps Mary escape from the dreaded predator, Gallico the cat, then Mary knows that she must return the favor by helping Caro, even though Caro doesn’t understand the danger she faces.
3. The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier. Two Irish orphan children become entangled in an English family, the Windsors, and the curse that binds them to a crumbling house built around a spooky, twisted snare of a tree that captures the Windsors and their new Irish servants and threatens to carry them to their doom.
4. Nuts to You by Lynne Rae Perkins. Talking squirrels threatened by environmental disaster. If you liked last year’s The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt or even last year’s Newbery Award winner, Flora and Ulysses: the Illuminated Adventures by Kate di Camillo, then Nuts to You should be just up your alley.
5. The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell. A lovely parable about forgiveness and friendship and compromise and negotiation built upon the framework of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale.
6. The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel. The Boundless, a luxury train in a steampunk alternate history world, has everything: 1st class accommodations, a library, dining cars, observation deck, a cinema, a billiard room, stores, second class passenger cars, freight cars, third class for the penny-pinching or poverty stricken traveler, and even a circus!
7. Almost Super by Marion Jensen. All of the Baileys receive their very own superpower on February 29th at 4:23 in the afternoon in the first leap year after their twelfth birthday. So now it’s time for Rafter Bailey, age thirteen, and his brother, Benny, age twelve to get their powers. It should be the best day of their young lives, but superpowers are unpredictable and Rafter and Benny are in for a big surprise.
8. The Hero’s Guide to Being an Outlaw by Chritopher Healy. The new League of Princes book, third in the series, does indeed have pirates, fearless female fighters, and grammar lessons, and all sorts of other hilarious shenanigans. Luxuriate in laughter.
9. The Children of the King When war refugees Cecily and May find two mysterious boys hiding in the nearby ruins of Snow Castle, they beg Uncle Peregrine to tell them the history of the castle. And he does, even though “its story is as hard as winter” and “cruel” and “scary” and “long” and “unfit for childish ears.”
10. Space Case by Stuart Gibbs. A classic murder mystery set on the moon and wrapped inside a bunch of details about life in space, space stations, and the possibilities of what might happen if and when humans begin to colonize the moon.
11. Lockwood & Co.: the Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud. The Lockwood & Co series of ghost fantasies aren’t for everyone. They’re probably too occult-related for some readers, even though the the protagonists—Lockwood, Lucy, and George—are the good guys as they fight against The Problem of evil ghostly manifestations that have become a common peril in this alternate history future.
12. Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson. I would recommend this one to anyone who’s interested in trains, dystopia, futuristic sci-fi, or spunky female protagonists.

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