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Oh, the Thinks You Can Think, or Strange Creatures of the Imagination in Speculative Fiction

Your assignment: Draw a world that contains many or all of these creatures as imagined by you. You get extra points if you can name the 2014 speculative fiction Cybils nominees that feature each one of these weird and fantastical creatures. You get even more credit for naming a qualifying imaginary being from 2014 middle grade speculative fiction that I neglected to add to the list.


Albino Ackaway.
Albino witch.
Alien Tremist.
Ashari haldani.
Augmented actualizers.
Aviars (bird people).
Ax-wielding Feuerkumpel.
Bad-tempered great grey hippokamp.
Black-eyed terragogg.
Bog Noblins (semi-aquatic lowland Nobificus).
Bombinating beast.
Carnag the Monster Semblance.
Dreaded toothy cows.
Drill sergeant fairy.
Egyptian demigod.
Extraterrestrial from Bosco in the constellation Draco.
Fangs of Dang.
Flesh-eating valravens.
Furry raccoon-shaped Dome Meks.
General Cockroach.
Giant carnivorous weeds.
Gigantic redback vole petling.
Hoppernots.
Icewing dragons.
Incorrigible howling wolf children.
Jabberwock.
Jupiter pirates.
Kampii (fishy mermaid people).
Little green or gray spacemen.
Luck Uglies.
Mangleborn.
Manglespawn.
Masked Venetian magicians.
Medieval pilgrim squirrels.
Mudwing dragons.
Neptunian blorkbeast.
Nightgaunts.
Nightmare scorpipede.
Nightwing dragons.
Ninja librarians.
Phantom fox familiar.
Pink gargoyle dudes.
Platypus police squad.
Plug-Ugly, the disappearing cat.
Rainwing dragons.
Reptilian Exorians.
Rhinebra.
Sandwing dragons.
Seawigs.
Seawing dragons.
Self-assembled artificial intelligence SmartBots.
Serpentii (snake people).
Seven-headed hydra.
Shark whisperer.
Skander-winged puck.
Skirrits.
Skywing dragons.
Soul jumpers.
Sparkers.
Spirit duppies.
Spying blue butterflies.
Sunflower skeleton eraser.
Vain vitrina.
Xanite kasiri.
Zombie hamster.

I wish I could draw.

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Christmas in Virginia, 1864

From Charlie Skedaddle by Patricia Beatty:

“Charley volunteered, ‘On Christmas Day at home we go to Mass and then give each other presents. After that we o visiting people we know, and we always have a real fine Christmas dinner when we can afford to have one, roast goose or roast beef.’

‘Do tell! All those goings-on in one day! Malindy wouldn’ like hearin’ that about the goose. We don’t fuss so much here in the hills, but we do eat a good supper, and we sing some, and outside a feedin’ the livestock we don’ do no work. I ain’t got no gift for ya, but I’ll feed ya fine today.’

Charley had to admit that the highlight of the day was the dinner the best he’s ever eaten here—a tender ham they’d salted down the previous summer and now soaked in water, then baked; and a lard crust pie from sun-dried apples.

After they finished eating Granny Jerusha sang a mountain carol to Charley in her harsh, deep, old woman’s voice.

In turn, Charley sang a carol in Latin which the sisters had taught him. At its end, Granny Bent said ‘Ya got a sweet voice.’ Then she went on to sing him another carol, ‘The Cherry Tree Carol,’ about the tree that at the request of the Baby Jesus let liquid flow off its bent branches to water the thirsty, kneeling animals at the manger.”

Charlie Skedaddle is a Civil War story about a twelve year old boy from New York’s Bowery section who lies about his age and joins the Union army. However, Charley’s first battle is more than he bargained for, and he “skedaddles”. Charley end up in the hills of Virginia, where he takes refuge with Granny Bent, an old mountain woman who trusts Charley about as much as he trusts her—not much. Will Charley always be a coward in hiding from both Yankees and Rebels, or will he grow into manhood in the hills of Appalachia?

Patricia Beatty’s books are all worth searching for and reading. She wrote ten books with her husband, John Beatty, and then after his death, she wrote more than thirty works of historical fiction by herself. Some of her other books that I have enjoyed are Bonanza Girl, That’s One Ornery Orphan, Behave Yourself Bethany Brant, Be Ever Hopeful Hannalee, Wait for Me Watch for Me Eula Bee, and Jayhawker.

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12 Book Lists from 2014

I will round up the bloggers’ book lists at my Saturday Review of Books on December 27th, the day after Christmas, giving everyone plenty of time to post their lists. Also, on the day after Christmas I’ll start posting my several lists of favorites and books I’m looking forward to reading in 2015.

In the meantime, the other end of the year book lists are already starting to multiply. I have a love/hate relationship with lists of “best books” or “favorites”, mostly love. But it is frustrating to see how many books there are that I would love to read and how little time I have to read them all.

On the other hand, what a blessing to have so many books to choose from! What an embarrassment of riches!

14 Best Books of 2014 (with runners-up) by Tony Reinke at Desiring God. These are Christian nonfiction, and there are at least a couple that I want to read, including John Piper’s book on authors George Herbert, George Whitfield, and C.S. Lewis and Karen Swallow Prior’s biography Fierce Convictions, about poet and reformer Hannah More.

Christian Science Monitor’s 10 best fiction books of 2014. Almost all ten of these sound intriguing, and I added most of them to my TBR list at Goodreads.

Speaking of Goodreads, Goodreads Selects Best Books of 2014. Some of these were already on my radar; others are new to me.

Mary DeMuth’s Best Ever Gift Guide for Book Lovers. I added four books to my TBR list from Mary’s gift guide, and I could have added more:
Rush of Heaven by Ema McKinley and Cheryl Ricker.
The Invisibile Girls by Sarah Thebarge.
Living Without Jim by Sue Keddy.
Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler.

The Best Books of 2014, according to Slate staff. Some of these are a bit too risqué or my tastes, but others sound intriguing:
Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War by Mark Harris.
Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade by Walter Kirn.
Lock In by John Scalzi.
Without You, There Is No Us: My Time With the Sons of North Korea’s Elite by Suki Kim.

And another Slate list: 27 Books you shouldn’t have overlooked in 2014. I think I’ll not overlook at least one of these:
Like No Other by Una LaMarche. YA fiction, “featuring Jaxon, who is black, and Devorah, a Hasidic girl who isn’t even allowed a phone.”(!) They meet in a stranded hospital elevator during an electrical outage. Color me curious.

Newsweek: Our Favorite Books of 2014. Not my favorites, but maybe you will find something here?

Washington Post: The Top 50 Fiction Books for 2014. Many interesting pick here:
All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu. About an Ethiopian emigrant, this one fits into my interest in all things African.
The Children Act by Ian McEwan. Mr. McEwan is always provocative–and evocative.
Lila by Marilynne Robinson. I already had this one on my list before it was even published.
An Unecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine.

Washington Post: 50 Notable Works of Nonfiction.
Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos. National Book Award winner.
Congo: The Epic History of a People by David van Reybrouck, translated by Sam Garrett. If it’s readable.
Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World’s First Digital Weapon by Kim Zetter.
John Quincy Adams: American Visionary by Fred Kaplan. For my U.S. presidents project.
A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben MacIntyre.

Hornbook presents its Fanfare! The best books of 2014. I’ll need to read the following, all of which I’ve seen recommended on numerous lists and in numerous reviews:
Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett
The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming.
The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. National Book Award winner.

Entertainment Weekly: 10 Best Nonfiction Books of 2014. The usual suspects, plus a few more.
The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison is starting to sound interesting. Also, maybe I’ll buy What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe as a gift for Engineer Husband.

NPR’s Book Concierge: Our Guide to 2014’s Great Reads.

As she does every year, Susan Thomsen at Chicken Spaghetti has lots more 2014 book lists, specifically those that include children’s and YA books.

Christmas in Alaska, 1948


From The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill:

“When it was Christmastime, we had a tree in the school. . . We put popcorn strings on it and little chains made of green and red paper. That tree looked just beautiful.

It was supposed to have candles on it, but Miss Agnes said that spruce was too dry, the needles just falling off with a little sprinkling sound when you walked by it. We might set it on fire if we put candles on it.

Miss Agnes showed us some Christmas pictures from other countries, and those Christmas trees were just fat. Different from our skinny little trees. Our little skinny tree branches couldn’t even hold a candle, I don’t think.

Miss Agnes taught us a whole bunch of Christmas songs. Some we knew from the radio already. And we put on a play.”

Miss Agnes is the new teacher in a small Athabascan village in Alaska, and the narrator of the story is ten year old Fred, one of her pupils in the one-room schoolhouse. This 113 page book would make a good read aloud story for younger children or a good independent reading book for those who are confident enough to start reading chapter books by themselves. It’s a lovely story about a very special teacher, and the Christmas celebration that Miss Agnes has with her pupils and their parents is especially fun to read about.

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Recommended.

Christmas in New Jersey, c. 1988

From Ten Kids, No Pets by Ann M. Martin:

“Jan was sure she wouldn’t be able to sleep at all on Christmas Eve. The day had already been exciting, and so many more exciting things would happen while she was in bed. The tree had been trimmed several days earlier, but on Christmas Eve Mr. Rosso had turned on its lights for the first time. Jan had looked at her little tree standing in the corner of the living room in a haze of soft, glowing color and thought she’d never seen anything so beautiful.

Then Jan the rest had brought al of their presents out of secret hiding places and arranged them under the tree. They’d sung Christmas carols and had eggnog (Jan had spit hers out), and then Jan had set out a plate of cookies for Santa Claus.

Finally, Mrs. Rosso had said, ‘Time for bed, kids!’ and Jan hadn’t objected Santa would come only after she’d gone to sleep. Then he’d slide down the chimney and fill the twelve stockings and pile more presents under the tree. Before he left he’d stop to eat Jan’s snack. Oh, it was so exciting! How could Jan possibly fall asleep?”

I snagged a copy of this book, featuring a family with ten children, at the library book sale on Saturday afternoon. The children are very happy with their large family, but they long for a pet. I have a special affinity and understanding for this story since my eight children begged for a puppy or a kitten for years before we finally got one of each in one year when my resistance was especially low.

So much for “no pets.”

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Christmas in Ohio (?), c.1994

From Mr. Putter and Tabby Bake the Cake by Cynthia Rylant.

“Mr. Putter loved to give Christmas presents. He started thinking about Christmas presents in July. He liked to think of what he could give to the grocer and to the librarian, and to the postman. Mr. Putter also had to think of what he could give to his neighbor Mrs. Teaberry. This was the hardest of all. He usually had to think about this all the way to December.
Mrs. Teaberry liked strange things. She liked coconuts made into monkey heads. She liked salt shakers that walked across the table. She liked little dresses for her teapots. Mr. Putter could live with monkey heads and walking salt shakers and dressed-up teapots. But Mr. Putter could not believe hat Mrs. Teaberry liked fruitcake. He could not believe that anyone liked fruitcake. . .
He thought Mrs. Teaberry should have a good cake for Christmas. . . And one night as he and Tabby sat dreaming at their snowy window, that is what he decided to gee Mrs. Teaberry for Christmas. Mr. Putter would bake her a Christmas cake. It would be a cinch.
The cake was not a cinch.”

This series of easy readers by Cynthia Rylant has the distinction of being about an elderly man and his elderly neighbor, Mrs. Teaberry, and his cat Tabby. Most children’s books are about children. But I have seen lots of kids enjoy these simple stories about an old man and his simple joys and problems. I enjoy them, too. The other books in the series are:

Mr. Putter and Tabby Pour the Tea
Mr. Putter and Tabby Walk the Dog
Mr. Putter and Tabby Pick the Pears
Mr. Putter and Tabby Fly the Plane
Mr. Putter and Tabby Row the Boat
Mr. Putter and Tabby Take the Train
Mr. Putter and Tabby Toot the Horn
Mr. Putter and Tabby Paint the Porch
Mr. Putter and Tabby Feed the Fish
Mr. Putter and Tabby Catch the Cold
Mr. Putter and Tabby Stir the Soup
Mr. Putter and Tabby Write the Book
Mr. Putter and Tabby Make a Wish
Mr. Putter and Tabby Spin the Yarn
Mr. Putter and Tabby See the Stars
Mr. Putter and Tabby Run the Race
Mr. Putter and Tabby Spill the Beans
Mr. Putter and Tabby Clear the Decks
Mr. Putter and Tabby Ring the Bell
Mr. Putter & Tabby Dance the Dance

I wish I had all of these in my library, but at any rate I do have Mr. Putter and Tabby Bake the Cake–just in time to inspire me to bake something for Christmas.

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Christmas in Antarctica, 1910


“The story in this book really happened on a voyage to Antarctica in 1910. The ship was called the Terra Nova. Her captain was Robert Scott, and Tom Crean, the sailor, was a member of the crew.”

This beautifully illustrated picture book tells the story of Tom the Sailor who is too busy to decorate for Christmas. On a very full ship, nearing the coast of Antarctica, Tom must find a nesting place for his pet rabbit. After Tom finds a place for Little Rabbit,

“Everyone sat down around the long table in the big cabin. They ate . . . tomato soup, roast mutton, plum pudding, mince pies. Then they opened little parcels from their families. They played games and sang songs. They were a very long ways away from home, but it was a good Christmas party.”

After the Christmas party, Tom goes to check on Little Rabbit, and he finds a big surprise, “the best Christmas present ever!”

The end papers tell a little, but not all, of what happened to Tom Crean and his ship and his expedition after the Christmas of 1910. Crean went with Captain Scott overland toward the South Pole, but he was sent back before reaching the pole. On the way back, he saved the life of fellow explorer, Edward Evans, who was afflicted with snow blindness and scurvy. Crean trekked 56 kilometers alone, through the snow and just ahead of a blizzard, to get help for Evans.

The men of Scott’s expedition who went on toward the South Pole arrived to find that Roald Amundsen had reached the South Pole ahead on them. This part of the story is not in the picture book: all of the men of Scott’s polar expedition who reached the South Pole died on the way back. Crean was one of the 11-man search party that found their remains.

After all of that tragedy and adventure, Crean returned to Antarctica withe Shackleton expedition of 1914. He again performed heroic feats, being one of the three men who accompanied Shackleton as he sailed 800 miles through Antarctic seas and then hiked 48 kilometers across a glacier to obtain rescue for the rest of the men of the party who were left on Elephant Island.

Crean retired to Ireland. “He put his medals and his sword in a box … and that was that. He was a very humble man.” (Wikipedia, Tom Crean) I rather doubt that Little Rabbit and his progeny suffered such a happy fate, but the story in this picture book doesn’t deal with Little Rabbit’s later life.

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Christmas in Holland, 1943

A Dutch family celebrates Christmas/St. Nicholas Day during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands:

St. Nicholas told Pieterbaas to look in the bag and see what was in it. To everyone’s amusement, Pieterbaas pulled out six chocolate bars! They were small bars, but they might have been of gold. Chocolate had been unknown in Holland for the past three years. Now Betsy believed more than ever in St. Nicholas’ magic!

St. Nicholas sat at the table and had supper with the family. Mother had added to the meal a sauce of the mushrooms Joris had picked, so that there would be enough food for everyone.

Betsy exclaimed that she had never before eaten with St. Nicholas. “Are you going to see my Daddy,” she asked.

St. Nicholas was struggling with the soup; he seemed to have difficulty finding his mouth through the beard. “Yes, yes,” he said. “Of course, I don’t forget people.”

“And what will you bring him?” asked Betsy. “Bread pudding?” Bread pudding seemed to be a family joke at the stationmaster’s house.

“No, I’m going to bring him good news of his girls. He’ll like that best,” said St. Nicholas. Koba and Betsy nodded. That seemed reasonable. ~The Winged Watchman by Hilda van Stockum

Space Case by Stuart Gibbs


A middle grade murder mystery set on the moon. What more need be said? You either think it’s a genius idea for a middle grade author to write a mystery novel for kids set in a moon colony, Moon Base Alpha, in the year 2041, or you’re not interested in astronauts and NASA and science fiction stuff. If you are a person who’s “thrilled by space travel”, as the author says he is, you would probably enjoy this book. It’s a classic murder mystery 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. It’s fun, well-researched, and well-plotted. I didn’t like the reveal of who the murderer was and why he “done it”, but that’s personal preference.

That said, I’m going to discuss a very minor aspect of Mr. Gibbs’ vision of the future: his depiction of race and race relations. In describing some nasty characters who are residents of Moon Base Alpha, the narrator goes off on a tangent about the state of racial categories in the future:

“You see, Patton and Lily are virtually the only pure white people my age I’ve ever met. Everyone else I know is a blend. Me and Violet, for example (black mom, white dad). Or the Brahmaputra-Marquez family (Indian mom, Latino dad). Or Kira (Asian mom, black dad). Or Riley Bock, back on earth (Korean-Italian mom, Irish-Sri Lankan-Peruvian-Choctaw dad). The Sjobergs, however, are pure northern European Caucasian stock, with blond hair and blue eyes and skin so pale it looks like the belly of a fish. Mom and Dad have some friends like that from their generation, and my grandparents say it was pretty common when they were young, and I’ve been told that back when my great-grandparents were kids, people of different races couldn’t even marry each other in America. I know that’s true, but it still seems impossible.
Every kid I’d ever known was some shade of brown.”

This scenario for the future is quite plausible, and I used to think that such a state of affairs, where every one was so “mixed race” that no one could tell who was what anyway would be the solution for all the divisions and prejudices that exist in our country. If what we call “race” becomes so intermingled and interbred that we can no longer tell black from brown from white because almost everyone is sort of brownish, which is by rights what should happen in a world where communication and transportation are so accessible, then racism as we know it would cease to exist, right?

Or maybe not. Now I’m not so sure. I’m a bit more pessimistic about the future of peace on earth (or the moon) among all mankind. We are by nature sinful people who are full of fear and hatred and pride and who are prone to violence. If we can’t divide people up by skin color, we’ll find something else. Look at the Tutsis and the Hutus of south central Africa:

“The antagonism between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda and Burundi is not a tribal conflict. It is not, properly speaking, an ethnic conflict. By all the most common definitions, Hutus and Tutsis are the same people, which makes their violent history even more tragically incomprehensible to outsiders. . . . Despite the stereotypical variation in appearance – tall Tutsis, squat Hutus – anthropologists say they are ethnically indistinguishable. The oft- quoted difference in height is roughly the same as the difference between wealthy and poor Europeans in the last century (an average of 12cm).” The Independent, November 1996

Anyway, that’s not what the book Space Case is about. But it is one thing it made me think about. Read Space Case for fun and entertainment. Pray for Ferguson and for New York City and for all the places that are filled with division and hatred and all the people in the world who are experiencing fear and injustice and persecution and violence. Pray for peace on earth, goodwill to men, through the only Solution who has ever brought true healing to our broken planet.

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This book is 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.

Christmas in Southern England, c. 1350

The Door in the Wall by Marguerite deAngeli, winner of the 1950 Newbery Medal:

“There never was such merrymaking as took place in the Hall that Christmas Eve. Such ballads sung! Such tales told!

Branches of holly and spruce decked the Hall and filled the air with fragrance. The yule log burned on the hearth and flaming torches filled the sconces.

The King and Queen sat enthroned in the great chairs on the dais. A tapestry was draped on the screen behind them and rich Eastern carpets beneath.

**********

‘Sire,’ Robin began, ‘I do thank you for this great honor, and I beg you to accept my song of Christmas.’ He brought forward the little harp he had grown to love and sang this carol:

Come to Bethelehem and see
Him whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee,
Christ the Lord, the new-born King.
Gloria in excelsis Deo.
Gloria in excelsis Deo.”