This week's Middle Grade fantasy/sci fi round-up (6/30/13)

This is the last round-up I will pull together from Google Reader (waily waily).   After doing this 185 times using Google Reader, I have it down to an efficient system, and I am very worried about trying to do it with Bloglovin.   But hope on, hope ever...and let me know if my efficient system failed to find your post this week!

The Reviews

The 13 Clocks, by James Thurber, at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, by Terry Pratchett, at Charlotte's Library

The Apprentices, by Maile Meloy, at Waking Brain Cells

The Borrowers Afloat, by Mary Norton, at Tor

The Cloak Society, by Jeramey Kraatz, at Project Mayhem (giveaway)

The Cypher (Guardians, Inc. 1), by Julian Rosado-Machin at The Write Path

Doll Bones, by Holly Black, at Sonderbooks

The Emerald Atlas, by John Stephens, at Deb A. Marshall

The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle, by Christopher Healy, at Kid Lit Geek

Hollow Earth, and Hollow Earth: Bone Quill, by John and Carole E. Barrowman, at Nerdophiles

Jack Templar and the Monster Hunter Academy, by Jeff Gunhus, at Mother Daughter Son Book Reviews

Lair of the Serpent, by T. Lynn Adams, at Geo Librarian

The Last Synapsid, by Timothy Mason, at Time Travel Times Two

The Magician's Tower, by Shawn Thomas Odyssey, at Geo Librarian

The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail, by Richard Peck, at Becky's Book Reviews

Odessa Again, by Dana Reinhardt, at Becky's Book Reviews and Charlotte's Library

Pegasus--The Flame of Olympus, by Kate O'Hearn, at My Precious

Pi in the Sky, by Wendy Mass, at Abby the Librarian and Charlotte's Library

Playing with Fired, by Bruce Hale, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Prairie Thief, by Melissa Wiley, at Secrets & Sharing Soda

Rules for Ghosting, by A.J. Paquette, at Akossiwa Ketoglo

Sidekicked, by John David Anderson, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The School For Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani, at A Backwards Story (giveaway)

The Summer of Moonlight Secerts, by Danette Haworth, at Akossiwa Ketoglo

The Water Castle, by Megan Frazer Blakemore, at Waking Brain Cells and The Book Smugglers

Winterling, by Sarah Prineas, at Candace's Book Blog

The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop, by Kate Saunders, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

And three short reviews (Thrice Upon a Marrigold, The Menagerie, and The Fellowship for Alien Detection) at In Bed With Books

Authors and Interviews

Soman Chainani (The School for Good and Evil) at A Backwards Story

Other Good Stuff

I put up a call for help last Friday--I would very much like to know how one can keep current with MG and YA fantasy/Sci Fi releases in the UK, and indeed in all countries where books in English are published.    Here's the post with the useful links I know of so far....more are welcome!

Top ten horror stories for junior high readers, at The Nerdy Book Club

And a beautiful (mostly) middle grade fantasy giveaway at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Even though I don't actually love McDonalds, per se, I am tickled to pieces by this Hello Kitty meets Fairy Tales promotion (which happened in Singapore, and is now over...). This is Hello Kitty meets "The Singing Bone."

Read more at Once Upon a Blog

(not middle grade, but I have an ARC of Proxy, by Alex London, to giveaway courtesy of the publisher here, just in case anyone's interested....)


How do you find out about YA and Middle Grade books that are out in the UK?

So I am talking at the upcoming Discworld Convention about how to keep your YA tbr pile well-stocked with books such as would appeal to a Pratchett fan ...and so naturally I was wondering what UK YA and MG books are out there (Terry Pratchett being UKian), that haven't made it across the pond...and then I realized I had little clue how to find out. 

Every time a UK Awards list is posted, I thrill to the sight of new to me MG and YA books that look really, really good.  And I wonder what great books I'm missing, and I wish that I knew of more blogs that covered UK releases for those ages. 

Some publishers I know about, and I guess I could try to check their catalogues, and I know of three useful blogs (Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books, Bart's Bookshelf, and An Awfully Big Blog Adventure), and I read the Guardian.  Is there Something Else one can do to stay au courant with spec fic for the younger reader in the UK?????

Thanks to Katherine Langrish, I've learned about a site new to me, UKYA --"celebrating YA fiction by  UK authors."  Lots of speculative fiction!

And thanks to Malinda Falgoust, I've bookmarked the Kelpies page at Floris Books--classic and contemporary children's books set in Scotland, with a lot of fantasy!

Suggestions welcomed for all other countries where sci fi and fantasy books for kids and teens are written in English.

If I was at ALA this weekend, here's the UK book I would be frantic to get (coming out in the US this fall....)

Proxy, by Alex London (giveaway)

Proxy, by Alex London (Philomel, June 2013, YA)  Courtesy of the publisher, I'm offering an ARC to a reader who comments by midnight next Friday, July 5; US only)

A near-future dystopia is most horrible when it is a logical extension of what's wrong with the present, and the world in which Proxy is set is just that.   To the standard environmental catastrophe and sharper divide between rich and poor, London adds bits of fresh hell--from the merely discomforting haze of projected advertisements that people bombard into their surroundings without conscious volition,  to a system of debt that warps individual culpability most horribly.   In this world, debt traps the majority of the remnant population, even new-born babies.  And the debt of a child can be bought, and the child can be used as a whipping boy, or proxy, to take the punishments earned by the rich kid whose parent owns the debt.  Pretty messed up.

Syd is the proxy to rich brat Knox, and Knox has never given a damn how many times he had to watch (remotely) Syd getting tortured as punishment for Knox's rich-boy "fun."  When Knox kills a girl in   crash, after loosing control when joyriding, Syd is not only physically punished, but years of hard labor are added to the two years of debt he still owes.  So Syd runs.

And that choice sends Syd on a truly unexpected path, one that starts by taking him straight to Knox,who he's never met face to face before.  Knox, whose primary motivation is pissing off his father, goes with Syd to help him escape, and with a third unexpected companion they set off beyond the comfort of Knox's lush life, into a journey with consequences they had never imagined....

The first 150 pages do a fine job of making it clear how messed up this world is.  Syd's life is horrible, Knox is horrible in his self-centerdness, there's violence and torture and lots and lots of ugliness (and homophobia--Syd is gay, which makes his life even harder-- and antisemitism are both alive and well), and London takes his time moving through all this set-up before the story truly gets going.   I frankly wasn't sure I wanted to keep reading--there's Syd, constantly being spat on by life most awfully, and there's Knox, an utter jerk, and there's this ugly, ugly world and people are hurting--but I kept on.

I was rewarded when the story became more Story-ish--having met the characters and their world, the quest begins that might save the world, or at least, bring about one faction's idea of world saving, and Syd, Knox, and the third teenager who joins them have to survive a brutal journey in order to make it happen.   And interest is added by the dynamics between the three teens, especially that between Knox and Syd.  Though I wasn't convinced that what happens between them is the most logical and believable arc,  London works hard to make Knox appear increasingly sympathetic.

I had a sense as I read that there were many patches of thin ice in terms of "believability," most notably, the bit where they set off on horseback, their first time riding, and two of the characters are naturals, and everyone can walk the next day, but there were other bits and pieces as well.  But I tried not to notice, because I didn't want my reading to stall--I was too curious to see what would happen next.

So if you enjoy really screwed-up futures, violence, twisted relationships, and such, that come with a welcome hint of hope (once you get through the first half of the book), and if you find the whipping-boy premise intriguing, you might well enjoy this lots.

Here are the two things I liked best:

Syd, like all orphaned refugee babies, is named for a literary character--his full name is Sydney Carton, from Dickens' ATale of Two Cities, and London makes a very satisfactory nod to how things play out for the Sydney in that book that pleasantly surprised me with its twist.

One of the few bad things about life today that doesn't survive into Syd's world is prejudice based on skin color (perhaps because of Nigeria's rise to global power).  So, for those looking for diversity, Syd is a fine example of a black, gay hero of a dystopian YA novel.

I'm the final stop on Proxy's blog tour--you can find the other stops here at Alex London's website.

Disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


The Silver Six, by AJ Lieberman and Darren Rawlings

It is a lovely time to be a young reader of graphic novels, and rather nice for us parents of reluctant readers (my 12-year-old) that we have so many of them to offer.  The Silver Six, by AJ Lieberman and Darren Rawlings (Graphix, June 2013), is the latest to arrive in my house, and it has been read multiple times with much enjoyment.

I thought, when I saw the title and the cover, that this would be a superhero book, which are not uncommon, but it turned out to be much more interesting.  It's science fiction, with brave orphans (they're wearing orphan uniforms, not superhero costumes) saving Earth from environmental catastrophe at the hands of the evil, power-hungry, overlord of the energy extraction company that's wrecked the planet.   Adding to the sci fi fun, there's space travel to an orphan moon, high tech weapons, and a very endearing robot!

Young Phoebe is one of six kids orphaned in a single shuttle crash--their parents, brilliant scientists, were on their way to talk to the aforementioned bad guy about an alternate energy source.  The kids don't meet up until a year has past, when they find each other at a brutal orphanage.  When they realize they have each been left one part to a final message from their parents, they escape to the orphan moon where the parents had been on the verge of a breakthrough. Though distracted by the unspoiled natural beauty of the moon, the kids come together as a team to solve the mystery of their parents' death.

Unfortunately, they are being pursued by a deadly weaponized probe, and Phoebe is captured.   The bad guy must be defeated, Phoebe must be rescued, and the energy crisis solved...but how?????

Why it's worth offering to your child/reading yourself:

--Good story, beautifully and clearly illustrated.   Lots of action, but some more peaceful interludes for people (ie me) who get dizzy when there's too much mayhem, and some nice bits of humor.

--Characters one can root for (and I do like that so many graphic novels with strong boy appeal have girl characters front and center!).  They are smart, but believably so, and it's nice to see them come together as a team.  That being said, there wasn't a lot of time to fully establish each one as a rounded character, but those who got the most round-ing had appealing individual identities.  I liked that they missed their parents.  I myself would want to be missed.

--There's a nod to diversity, with one girl of Japanese descent and one boy of Indian sub-continent descent

--I like the message, which is basically that reckless energy exploitation that has no regard for conseqences is bad.

So yeah, a very good one for readers from eight on up!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, by Terry Pratchett

So I am steadily working my way through the complete oeuvre of Terry Pratchett, in preparation for the North American Discworld Convention.  When I was invited to be on the program last fall, I had read only a few Discworld books, but that was enough to make me eager to be part of the fun.  I have read 24 Discworld books so far this year, and enjoyed every one of them lots (although some more than others).   And what has surprised me, in the best possible way, is that they aren't just fun and games--I have been moved to tears by the poignant humanity of them (increasingly so as the series progresses) and even would go so far to say that I want my kids to read them too as one part of becoming better, more thoughtful people. 

Yep, even The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (2001), a light-hearted reimagining of the Pied Piper ala Discworld, made me teary (not that it takes much), and think a few deep thoughts en passant on what it means to be human.

Maurice is a cat, and the rodents are rats, and they can think and talk just as well as, if not better than, most people.  Maurice is a cat with ambition, and he has organized the rats, along with a boy musician of a dreamy, unambitious nature, into a money making con operation.   They arrive at a town, the rodents Infest (brilliantly--with the regiments of Light Widdlers and Heavy Widdlers heading out to do their worst while the more dextrous rats work on trap defusing), and then the boy pipes them away once the town is desperate.

But then they arrive a town whose Bavarian-esque charm hides rat-related depravity.  Though there are no rats in evidence, and the town rat-collectors thrive on the culture of fear they've built up and grow fat while the people go hungry.

It's up to the Educated Rodents--Dangerous Beans, the visionary, Peaches, his closest companion and scribe, Darktan, the strategist (who reminded me a lot of Sam Vines, from the Discworld books about the City Watch), and many others--to get to the bottom of the horrible cruelties being practiced on the local rats.  And Maurice, self-centered cat though his is, has to decided if he will help too.

And in the meantime, a local girl (Malicia), obsessed with the tropes of all the fairy tales she's read, gets in on the action--and miraculously, her hair pins open locks, secret passages are where she expects them to be, and so on.

So yeah, it's a lot of fun.  But it posses thought provoking-ness too, on what it means to be a thinking person, prejudice, working through difference, cruelty to animals, and how the tourism industry can be used advantageously.

I am determined to get my boys to read it.

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents was written explicitly for a younger audience than the bulk of Discworld, and won the 2001 Carnegie Medal (the UK Newbery equivalent).  But adults can enjoy it just fine too.


Odessa Again, by Dana Reinhardt, for Timeslip Tuesday

Odessa Again, by Dana Reinhardt Wendy Lamb Books (May 14, 2013)

Fourth-grader Odessa's life has just shifted unpleasantly.  Her parents have gotten divorced, and she has moved into a new house with her mother and little brother, Oliver (aka the toad).   At least, after vigorous complaining and cajoling, she's been able to get a room of her own, up in the attic...but what she really wants is for her father and mother to be together again (and for her father not to be marrying Jennifer, nice though she is).  And it would be nice if her ex-best friend, Claire, were still speaking to her...

One day, in an ordinary fit of 9 year old rage, she is stomping across the floor of her attic...when the extraordinary happens.  Odessa slips backwards 24 hours in time.  Yay!  She can fix everything that went wrong the day before.   It's not a one time fluke either--the next time she tries stomping (deliberately) she goes back 23 hours.  And voila! Small embarrassments at school (the sort that seem large to a kid!) can be anticipated and avoided.

Gradually Odessa, tremendously immature at first (she is only 9, after all), begins to think.   There are only 24 hours, after all...and so she begins to try to use her time-slipping more carefully, to fix the more important things, like her friendship with Claire.

But the most important thing to fix, of course, is her parents ex-marriage.  Will a few hours rewound be enough to ruin the wedding of her father and Jennifer, and bring her parents back together?

Odessa is not an immediately likable character for much of the book, but she's a tremendously relatable one.   Fortunately, her time-travelling does kick her forward into greater maturity, and she learns (in a non-preachy, but profound) way, what things really matter.  This includes being more thoughtful regarding poor Oliver (who, though objectionable in many younger brotherly ways, deserves more sisterly affection).   I don't think it will come as a surprise to the reader when Odessa's parents (though they continue to be friendly to each other) don't get back together--this sympathetic, picture of divorced parents might well be comforting to a young child of (amicable) divorce.

In short--a fun concept, engagingly executed.  It skews a tad younger than 11 Birthdays, by Wendy Mass (my review), a book with a similar "do-over" premise; that one I'd recommend to grown-ups, Odessa not so much, although the target audience of 8-10 year old girls should enjoy it lots, and I myself had a pleasant time reading it!  There's a slight teaser for a sequel, and if there is one, I'll be reading it.

Here's the bit that I found most poignant--Odessa gradually gets to know the old lady who owns the house they are living in, and sometimes stops in to visit her and eat cookies (spurred initially by Odessa quite naturally wanting to know more about her attic!).  After not going for a while, she is enjoying that day's cookies, and in a flash of insight (part of her growing maturity), she wonders how many cookies the old lady baked on the days she didn't come.... I like a nice intergenerational friendship, and this one pleased me.

Here's another review, at Jen Robinson's Book Page.


Pi in the Sky, by Wendy Mass

Pi in the Sky, by Wendy Mass (Little Brown, June 11 2013, MG)

In the grand scheme of things, Joss's family is rather important--his father, after all, is the Supreme Overlord of the Universe, and all his six older brothers have important parts to play in the smooth workings of the Cosmos.   Joss's job is to deliver pies, and though they are pies of unusual gravitas, he can't help but feel unimportant as millions of years of pie delivery pass by and he slowly grows up...

Then the even tempo of Joss's life is shattered when a girl from Earth looks through the telescope...and sees the Realms of the cosmic managers.   It's important that sentient planet dwellers not know the truth, so naturally (!) the whole world must be destroyed.

But one human girl, the one who saw too much, ends up travelling through space time pretty much to Joss's door.   And Annika, thinking she is caught in some strange dream, changes Joss's perspective on reality.   Together Annika and Joss struggle to bring Earth back into being, recreating its cosmic soup from scratch...but someone has sabotaged their mission, destroying all but two of the data files about Earth.

Joss's is a bizarre world, part utopian fantasy, part sci fi/fantasy metaphor for the workings of the universe (with science built explicitly into the narrative).   The story, too, is something of a hybrid, as the two kids with a desperate mission (standard plot, with interesting twist) explore the scientific underpinnings of planetary creation (not standard at all!).   It required me to relax my mind somewhat in order to accept the premise-- the idea of a childhood that lasts for billions of years, as Joss's does, and the whole idea of the Realms (whose denizens I think of as Cosmic Science Angelish types) were tricky for me.

Fortunately Annika's plight and her sturdy character, and the shock waves her arrival sends into Joss's view of reality, provided a substantial emotional framework for the fantastical.   She is a determined fighter, and their relationship is the best part of the book.

This is one, I think, for younger middle grade readers.  Younger kids will perhaps be more willing to suspend disbelief that 6th or 7th graders might be, might be most receptive to the humor that fills the story,  and might not yet be familiar with the scientific tidbits that the science minded 12-year-old will already know about.

Interest is add for all ages by the inclusion of quotes form famous scientist at the beginning of each chapter, most memorably this one from Carl Sagan:   “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


This Week's Middle Grade Sci Fi/Fantasy Round-up (6/23/13)

 Welcome to another week of middle grade sci fi/fantasy fun (and yes, there are no less than three sci fi books represented this week!).  Please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

The Apothecary, by Maile Meloy, at Book Nut

The Apprentices, by Maile Meloy, at Speculating on SpecFic

The Bell Between Worlds, by Ian Johnston, at From the Writer's Nest

Bigger Than a Bread Box, by Laurel Snyder, at That's Another Story

The Brixen Witch, by Stacy DeKeyser, at Reading Rumpus Book Reviews 

Claws, by Mike and Rachel Grinti, at crunchings and munchings

The Cup and the Crown, by Diane Stanley, at Sonderbooks

Doll Bones, by Holly Black, at Abby the Librarian 

Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine, at Don't Be Afraid of the Dork

The False Prince, by Jennifer Nielsen, at Jalyn Reads

The Fellowship for Alien Detection, by Kevin Emerson, at Bluerose's Heart

Frogged, by Vivian Vande Velde, at Book Trends

The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall, by Mary Downing Hahn, at Ex Libris

Goblin Secrets, by William Alexander, at In the Forgotten Realm

Goulish Song, by William Alexander, at The Book Monsters

Haunters, by Thomas Taylor, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, by Christopher Healy, at A Word's Worth 

The Hidden Kingdom (Wings of Fire 3), by Tui T. Sutherland, at Charlotte's Library

Horton's Miraculous Mechanisms, by Lissa Evans, at Sonderbooks

In a Glass Grimmly, by Adam Gidwitz, at Michelle I. Mason

In Search of Goliathus Hercules, by Jennifer Angus, at Sharon the Librarian

Jack Templar, Monster Hunter, by Jeff Gunhus, at Sher A Hart (review at the end)

Keeper of the Lost Cities, by Shannon Messenger, at Dark Faerie Tales

King of Shadows, by Susan Cooper, at Reads for Keeps

The Last of the Dragons, by A. de Quincey, discussed by Lucy Coates at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

Liesl and Po, by Lauren Oliver, at Dark Faerie Tales

Odessa Again, by Dana Reinhardt, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

Once Upon the End, by James Riley, at Shannon Messenger

The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate, at Mister K Reads

The Planet Thieves, by Dan Krokos, at BookYAReview, Alice Marvels, Charlotte's Library, and Books In Bloom

The Reluctant Assassin, by Eoin Colfer, at Bookfever and Paranormal Sisters

Rump, by Liesl Shutliff, at Deb A. Marshall

The Runaway King, by Jennifer Nielsen, at Kid Lit Geek

Runemarks, by Joanne Harris, at Great Imaginations 

Sidekicked, by John David Anderson, at Charlotte's Library

Storybound, by Marissa Burt, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

The Throne of Fire, by Rick Riordan, at Fyrefly's Book Blog 

Wednesdays in the Tower, by Jessica Day George, at Librarian of Snark

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, by Alan Garner, at Fantasy Literature

The Wells Bequest, by Polly Shulman, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile and Charlotte's Library

The Wimpy Vampire Strikes Back, by Tim Collins, at Wondrous Reads

The Vengkeep Prophecies, by Brian Farrey, at Kid Lit Geek 

Zombie Mommie, by M.T. Anderson, at Confessions of a Bibliovore

Authors and Interviews (last week there were so many; this week not so much)

Malia Ann Haberman (Chase Tinker and the House of Magic) at somewhere in the middle

Other Good Stuff

The shortlists for 2013 Scottish Children's Book Awards were announced last week, and the books in the 8-11 year old category are all fantasy/sci fi, and look appealing as all get out (found at Waking Brain Cells):

Accidental Time Traveller cover Black Tide cover Really Weird Removals cover
The Accidental Time Traveller by Janis Mackay
Black Tide by Caroline Clough
Really Weird Removals.com by Daniela Sacerdoti

Here's me looking at diversity in MG sci fi/fantasy so far this year, with help from authors and commenters.

Elizabeth Wein's top ten dynamic duos in fiction, at The Guardian


The Planet Thieves, by Dan Krokos

Full-blown military science fiction in space written for middle grade (9-12ish years old) readers is currently so thin on the ground that The Planet Thieves, by Dan Krokos (Starscape, May 2013) is the only example from the past decade I can think of.  Maybe, what with the Ender's Game movie, there will be more...but it's good to at least have this one.

Here's the gist of the story:  A 13-year-old Earth kid, Mason Stark, is one of seventeen cadets on board the SS Egypt. They're peacefully logging their required time in space for the Academy, when their ship is attacked by the alien Tremist, enemies of Earth for the past sixty years.

It is a vicious attack, and the crew of the Egypt can't withstand it. Violence and mayhem abound, and soon the cadets (shunted off to the sidelines) find themselves the only able-bodied crew left aboard the ship.  And then they discover the reason for the attack -- the Egypt was carrying a powerful weapon that could have won the war for Earth. 

Mason, appointed acting captain by the one injured officer still on board, must find a way to rally his fellow cadets to take back the ship, warn Earth, and try, desperately, to stop the Tremists from using Earth's own weapon against them.

But things are not exactly what they seem...and just when Mason things there's might be hope for himself, his friends, and his planet, the dice are rolled again...

So yeah, cool technology, mayhem, cunning plotting, interesting aliens, some neat character interactions....a great read for kids who are only just discovering the joy of sci fi geekdom, and fun for us grown-ups who already know we enjoy it (though it won't break any new ground for the adult sci fi reader).   It's also a fine example of the "kids coping in a desperate situation without adults" genre, which I almost always enjoy.

That being said, military sci fi is not really quite my Thing.  I skimmed much of the fighting, so I can't offer an opinion as to its quality (I always skim the fighting).  I could have used more down time, with more plotting and intrigue, and less zapping, and as I read on, with things snowballing further and further out of control, I felt a tad dizzy.  But for those who like heart-pounding adrenaline and desperate struggles, go for it!

(Minor thing that threw me terribly every time it came up--the Tremists have a class of super warrior/wizardly dudes, called Rhadgasts.  I read it as Radagasts every time (as in Lord of the Rings)....It's hard (and not fair to the book) when the bad guys become ditsy dudes with brown robes and hedgehogs.)

Note on age of reader:  The violence is not sugar coated, the casualty list is long, the aliens are scary, and the stakes are high. I'd give this to a kid before I'd give them The Hunger Games, but it's not going to be every young reader's cup of tea.  Fortunately (though not for the characters) the fighting starts quite soon, so it can be put down by those who are off-put by the violence.

Here's a sample of the book, along with a discussion of how its cover came to be, at Tor.

New Diana Wynne Jones Book!!!!!

The last book Diana was working on before her death,  The Islands of Chaldea, has been finished, and will be out in the summer of 2014!!!!  It was nearly completed, but had no ending...happily, her sister Ursula was able to finish it.

Here is the Publishers Weekly article with all the information.

I did not know that Ursula was a children's book writer in her own right.  I certainly did not realize that the Ursula Jones who wrote one of the books that has been sitting on my very own TBR pile for almost a year, The Lost King, was Diana's sister.  Guess what I'm reading this weekend...

(which would be Ursula's book.  Not Diana's.  Not yet....)


A look at diversity in middle grade fantasy and science fiction so far this year

Over at The Open Book, the blog of publisher Lee and Low, Jason Low asks a number of writers and reviewers and thinkers why the number of multicultural children's books hasn't gone up in the past 18 years. The responses are fascinating and thought provoking.

Apprently only ten percent of children's books published in a given year have multicultural content, but I think it's a lot lower in Middle Grade fantasy and science fiction, and I don't seen any surge in diversity.  2013 is, in fact, looking like the least diverse year since I started paying attention five or so years ago.

The year is pretty much half-way done, and these are all I know about and have read; please tell me I'm missing lots! 

Middle Grade fantasy and sci fi books

Astronaut Academy Re-Entry (2013), by Dave Roman  (quick insertion of much love for Astronaut Academy)

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Race Against Time, by Frank Cottrell Boyce (2013 in the US)

Jinx, by Sage Blackwood (2013)

The Menagerie, by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland (2013)

The Water Castle, by Megan Frazer Blakemore (2013)

The Wells Bequest, by  Polly Shulman (2013)

Ms. Yingling adds Playing With Fire (School for S.P.I.E.S., book 1) by Bruce Hale.  Thanks.

Upper MG/pushing toward YA

 City of a Thousand Dolls, by Miriam Forster (2013)

Hammer of Witches, by Shana Mlawski (2013)

I don't get it.  Looking at the five solidly MG books above that I've read (one graphic novel, four regular books), it's clear that it's really really easy to have a central character who isn't white in a fantasy/sci fi book.  And the fact that a central character might be a kid of color doesn't have to have anything to do with the plot--it does in The Water Castle, but not in the other four.   It doesn't have to be waved enthusiastically, with more emphasis than any other description of any other character.  All it takes is a tiny little default to non-white in one or two sentences, and you have the main character of The Menagerie--a kid who happens to be African American, or a bit of family background casually described, and you have one of the main characters of The Wells Bequest, who's family is from India.

Really easy.  Doesn't effect book marketing or sales.   Young readers won't bat an eyelid (unless they are excited to see themsleves represented). Why don't more writers/publishers do it? 

To end on a brighter note--I am not particularly aware of forthcoming books in general (for all I know, a flood tide of diversity is on its way...), but I do want to share the cover of an ARC that arrived in the mail recently from Scholastic.  It is the first book of the forthcoming Spirit Animals series, and it is utter bibliocake* for kids--it will be devoured.  It was only in my house for five minutes before my youngest was reading it.    And look!  A brown girl on the cover! She is not half hidden by another character, and she is not at all passive.  And my son, reading away, added that her animal is the one shown front and center, making it clear that she is a powerful main character.  (It is also a lovely cover for reversal of gendered expectations--the girl looks by far the most fierce).

And I bet that making her non-white was not hard at all, and I bet the series is going to sell like hot-cakes.

*"bibliocake" is like "bibliocrack," but age appropriate

Edited to add: thanks to commentors, here are some more forthcoming books with kids of color-- Sarwat Chadda's The City of Death, Paradox by A.J. Paquette, and possibly The Real Boy, by Anne Ursu.  Edited to add:  The Real Boy is a go! (confirmed by Anne herself in the comments).


And I've thought of another forthcoming one-- Darwen Arkwright and the School of Shadows, by A.J. Hartley.

Updated again:  Jinx, by Sage Blackwood, is now counted!  I couldn't remember him being described in the text, but Sage pointed me to the description-- "He saw himself reflected in the glass, a thin boy with black hair, brown eyes, and tan skin" (page 23 of the ARC, which is what I have), and indeed, Jinx as shown on the cover is several shades darker of skin than me (not that this is hard...).   And given the fact that he lives in a dense forest, the tan part isn't from time in the sun...

I totally missed that line of description both times I read the book...and it raises questions about how, when you have characters in a fantasy world, it can be hard to make it clear that they don't default to "white."

On the one hand, I think that authors having to underline the ethnicity or skin color of non-white characters is something that shouldn't Have to happen (and although it's possible to do it gracefully--see above--when your character isn't living on earth, you loose geographical referents that can serve as confirmation, and might have to fall back on food similes.  Assuming they have chocolate and coffee in fantasy land).

But on the other hand, people come in all sorts of colors, and often there aren't sufficient grounds for confident assumption, so even if you have a brown character on the cover, textual description is sometimes necessary to clinch things.   Like maybe two descriptions.  Thoughts????


Sidekicked, by John David Anderson

In the past few years, middle grade superhero books have sprung up like crazy, and I am rather impressed at how varied and interesting they are in their take on the subject.  The latest such book to come my way is Sidekicked, by John David Anderson (Walden Pond Press, June 25, 2013), and it brings a new emotional twist to the genre.

The Highview Environmental Revitalization Organization (H.E.R.O.) is not your typical school club.  The kids who slip off to its meetings are not ordinary kids.  They are Sidekicks, the superheros of the future.  Each one has a unique talent, each one is matched with a Superhero mentor.

But though Andrew has a superpower--preternaturally enhanced senses-- it is hard to be a Sidekick when your Superhero has no interest in your, or the Cause of Justice.  In fact, the legendary Titan is just about the worst mentor a Sidekick could have.  On the other side of the scale, Andrew's best friend Jenna, ak The Silver Lynx, is almost ready to take her place fighting in public at the side of her hero, The Fox.

But when a dastardly villain from the past, thought to have been annihilated by the Titan long ago, re-emerges, will the Superheros of the present be enough to stop him?  Only the Fox seems to stand a chance, with Jenna fighting at her side.   But Andrew, though he doubts how useful his own powers can be, isn't ready to give up on the Titan...and the bad guys haven't given up on revenge.   Andrew must figure out who he can trust, and if he can trust himself, or else the bad guys will win.

What makes this one stand out is that the hero, Andrew, isn't the sort of person who's going to charge out and save the day with stupendous superhero deeds of daring.   Instead, he's a kind of awkward, uncertain type of 13 year old, who worries that his powers are not ever going to have that much point, who worries that he might never find his way socially, who worries that even though he's "special," he's going to be left behind.    And these anxieties are, of course, exacerbated by the fact that his "mentor" the Titan wants nothing to do with him, and instead of using his titanic powers for good, spends his time in a seedy bar.   Unlike the Fox, darling of the public....

Which raises the question of obligation--if you have the power to do good, do you have to?  And what if one person's path to perfect justice involved killing innocent people along the way? What does it mean to be a hero?  So it's not just a book about middle school angst with superpowers, but it also gives a nod to Bigger Philosophical Questions.

My one disappointment is that I wanted more of Andrew using his super-sensory powers.  He does put them to good use in a useful way on more than one occassion, and I guess I wouldn't have liked him to suddenly be Saving the Day and becoming the Hero of the Hour, because that would have felt contrived, but it didn't feel like quite enough.  I wanted there to be more heavy underlining to the realization on Andrew's part that he can contribute...and so the ending felt a tad flat to me.

That being said, Sidekicked is a fine addition to the ranks of middle grade Superhero books--entertaining and interesting, with emotional depth.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.


The Wells Bequest, by Polly Shulman, for Time Slip Tuesday

The Wells Bequest, by Polly Shulman (Nancy Paulsen Books, June 2013, MG).  

Imagine a library that's a repository of things--old things, fascinating things, mundane things--that you could check out.  That's the New-York Circulating Materials Repository, where a teenager named Leo has come to study the history of robots (and how cool is it that the library has the actual early automatons and proto-robots in the flesh, as it were?). But Leo is interested in more than robots--he's also more than a bit curious about time machines.   He has good reason--he just saw one in action.  And it was in his room, and tiny, and he was in it, shrunk down, with a beautiful girl.  Neither time travel nor girls are part Leo's normal life, spent tinkering with gizmos and playing computer games, the youngest, and least stellar (or so he thinks), kid in a family obsessed with scientific accomplishments.

There at this strange and wonderful library Leo meets the girl he's going to travel through time with--Jaya, the head page.  Leo begins to wonder what this wonderful library might have in the way of time-travel devices....and finds his way to the Wells Bequest, and H.G. Well's tine-machine.  Because this library contains fictional devices, and the Wells Bequest is one of many collections from stories here in our world for real.

Leo knows he and Jaya are going to time travel....but he doesn't know why, and the time-machine in the library has never worked.   But when one of the other library pages turns twisted, and starts threatening to use Nikola Tesla's death ray to destroy New York, obviously Leo and Jaya are going to have to find a way to go back to Tesla's time, and keep the secret of the death ray from being stolen.

A dash to London, to recover the miniature working model of Well's Time Machine as it materializes on its trip from the past, back to New York in Jule's Verne's miraculous steampunky ship, the Épouvante (from Master of the World), then off to 1895 New York, with the help of a handy shrink way....and then they must find Tesla while navigating the strange city of the past.

It is an excellent book, and pretty much has it all--the appealing, believable characters (not the bad guy so much, but Jaya and Leo), the really really cool premise of fantastical objects being real, and the shear fun of the way the premise and the plot combine.   There's a bit of romance, which Leo angsts believably about, there are grown-ups actively involved (which makes the plot more believable), but not taking over from the smart young protagonists, and there's Mark Twain. 

And Jaya's family is from India, making this multicultural sci fi/fantasy!

What more can one ask for?  Indeed, right from the first chapters, I was pretty sure this was going to be a good one, and I wasn't disappointed.

The Wells Bequest is a companion to The Grimm Legacy, which first introduced the Circulating Materials Repository, and one of its more magical collections.  But there's absolutely no need to have read that one first.

Disclaimer:  review copy received from the publisher


The Hidden Kingdom (Wings of Fire, Book 3) by Tui T. Sutherland

It was a bit touch and go as to whether I would get a chance to read my review copy of The Hidden Kingdom (Wings of Fire, Book 3, Scholastic, May 2013) by Tui T. Sutherland.  My ten year old and his classmates are huge fans of this series, and after my son devoured this one, it disappeared into his extensive reading circle*, and made many children happy**.  Fortunately I remembered before the end of school that I needed it back, and so it returned to me, and I finally got to read it.  And I enjoyed it very much too.

So the basic premise is that the various clans of dragons are at war, and there's a prophecy that five dragonets will bring peace.   The Dragonets of Destiny, as they are known, were taken as eggs to a secret cave, and raised by The Talons of Peace...until they escaped, to try to find their destiny (and their families) for themselves.

Each book focuses on a different young dragon, and The Hidden Kingdom is Glory's book.  Glory has had a harder life than the others-- She's a RainWing, thought to be lazy and worthless by the other dragon clans,  and she isn't actually in the prophecy.  There were problems with the SkyWing egg that the prophecy had called for, and her egg was a last minute substitute.  So all her life she's been bullied by the Talons of Peace, and told she's worthless, so she feels angry and defensive.   But now she and the other four have reached the kingdom of the rain dragons, and she'll see for herself just what her people really are like....

But though the life of the RainWings is peaceful and rather lovely, it has a darker side.   RainWings have been disappearing, and no one is doing anything about it.   And so the Dragonets find themselves on a desperate rescue mission that takes them into an adventure just as dark and dangerous as anything that's ever happened to them.

So yes, there's some violence, but it's not something the characters take lightly.  Glory has used her RainWing venom on other dragons to save herself and her friends....something she finds no RainWing would do.    But once again, she's faced with no alternative...

New characters are introduced, and the existing characters continue to work out their dynamics, and new and fascinating world-building takes place (raising interesting questions---is a society of peaceful inaction acceptable?).   It's a fine, page-turning addition to the series, and if you haven't offered these books to your handy fourth grader (boy or girl), do so tout suite!  And read them yourself because if your fourth grader is like mine, he or she will want to talk about them with you, and also because you might, like me, find them fun light reading for your own pleasure.

The Hidden Kingdom ends on a cliffhanger, and both of us want to be the first to read The Dark Secret (coming in October).  I will probably be forced to model gracious unselfishness.  Sigh.

Here are my reivews of the first two books:  The Dragonet Prophecy, and The Lost Heir.   The Hidden Kingdom is my personal favorite so far.

* I am so jealous of this aspect of my son's childhood.  There are about twelve truly avid readers of fantasy in his class, boys and girls, and they recommend and share and play imaginary book based games like crazy.  They even call and text each other to talk about books.

**I feel compelled to let Scholastic know that their book sales have not been undercut--the kids have all been buying their own copies at the school book fair.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.


An interview with Diana Wynne Jones from 2008, now online

A quick just to say:

Emma Jane Falconer just shared with the Diana Wynne Jones list that an interview she did with Diana back in 2008 is now online--here at Emma Jane's blog.  I was very pleased to see that DWJ loved a book I did too--The Hotel Under the Sand, by Kage Baker (my review). 

But now I am sad, reminded again that both DWJ and Kage Baker have left us....

This week's Middle Grade Fantasy and Science Fiction round-up (6/16/13)

I think this might be the most reviews I have ever rounded-up!  I was particularly diligent/obsessed in my hunting this week, because it seemed like I might be able to make a dream come true--a review for every letter of the alphabet.  Sadly, no Y review ever materialized, and I wasn't able to get a hold of a Y book in time, so I am saving my precious X review for another week....

Please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews:

The Apprentices, by Maile Meloy, at Charlotte's Library and A Reader of Fictions

The Borrowers, by Mary Norton, at Tor

Chase Tinker and the House of Secrets, by Malia Ann Haberman, at Im's Book Shelf

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Race Against Time, by Frank Cottrell Boyce, at Charlotte's Library

City of Lies, by Lian Tanner, at The BiblioSanctum (audiobook review)

The Clockwork Three, by Matthew Kirby, at Sylvia Liu Land

Counterclockwise, by Jason Cockcroft, at Time Travel Times Two

Doll Bones, by Holly Black, and Lace and Fog Autheress and Reading Rumpus Book Reviews 

The Emerald Atlas, by John Stephens, at New, Borrowed, Used 

Flora and Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo, at Fuse #8 

The Girl Behind the Glass, by Jane Kelley, at Kiss the Book

The Glitter Trap, by Barbara Brauner, at Small Review

Handbook For Dragon Slayers, by Merrie Haskell, at Bibliophilic Monologues

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, by Christopher Healy, at Cari's Book Blog (audiobook)

The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle, by Christopher Healy, at Lori Calabrese Writes!

The Hidden Gallery, by Maryrose Wood, at Sonderbooks

Hit the Road, Helen (Myth-o-mania#9), by Kate McMullen, at Ms. Yingling Reads 

Howl's Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones, at Karissa's Reading Review (audiobook)

The Ifs, by J.D. Pooker, at Sapphyria's Book Review (there's a large excerpt, and then the review)

In a Glass Grimmly, by Adam Gidwitz, at Becky's Book Reviews

The Infinity Ring series, books 1 and 2, at Great Books for Kids and Teens

Island of the Aunts, by Eva Ibbotson, at Here There Be Books

Jinx, by Sage Blackwood, at alibrarymama  and Kid Lit Geek

Keeper of the Lost Cities, by Shannon Messenger, at Fiction Freak

The Key and the Flame, by Claire Caterer, at Book Nut

Larklight, by Phillip Reeve, at alibrarymama (audiobook)

Loki's Wolves, by K.L. Armstrong and M.A. Marr, at On the Nightstand

The Lost Heir, by Tui T. Sutherland, at Challenging the Bookworm

Lupus Rex, by John Carter Cash, at Tor

Mirage, by Jenn Reese, at The Book Smugglers

My Very Unfairy Tale Life, by Anna Staniszewski, at Michelle I. Mason  (giveaway)

New Lands, by Geoff Rodkey, at Easy as Pie

North of Nowhere, by Liz Kessler, at Akossiwa Ketoglo

The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate, at Staircase Wit

Pi in the Sky, by Wendy Mass, at Pub Writes

The Planet Thieves, by Dan Krokos, at Watchamacalit Reviews

The Quirks: Welcome to Normal, by Erin Soderberg, at Secrets and Sharing Soda

The Raven Mysteries series, by Marcus Sedgewick, at Wondrous Reads

Remarkable, by Lizzie K. Foley, at Temre Beltz 

The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic, by Jennifer Trafton, at The Book Smugglers

Saranormal, books 6 and 7 (Giving Up the Ghost and The Secrets Within), by Phoebe Rivers, at Charlotte's Library

Shadow Breakers, by Daniel Blythe, at Books Beside My Bed

Shadow Chaser, by Jerel Law, at The Write Path

The Suburb Beyond the Stars, by M.T. Anderson, at An Obsolete Child

Summerkin, by Sarah Prineas, at Charlotte's Library

The Trouble with Toads, by Danyelle Leafty, at Sher A Hart 

Tunnels, by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams, at Log Cabin Library

Unlocking the Spell, by ED Baker, at  Sharon the Librarian

The Unseen Guest, by Maryrose Wood, at Sonderbooks

Verdigris Deep, by Frances Hardinge, at things mean a lot

The Wells Bequest, by Polly Shulman, at Ms. Yingling Reads and A Reader of Fictions

What We Found in the Sofa and How it Saved the World, by Henry Clark, at For Those About to Mock

The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop, by Kate Saunders, at books4yourkids

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L'Engle, at Book Nut (audiobook)

Zombie Mommy, M.T. Anderson, at Sticky Books

Four reviewlets at Random Musings of a Bibliophile--In a Glass Grimmly, Rump, Tilly's Moonlight Garden, and The Vengekeep Prophecies.

Authors and Interviews

Marissa Burt (Story's End) at Literary Rambles (giveaway)

Melanie Crowder (Parched) at Smack Dab in the Middle

Philip Reeve (writing about gender and romance in fantasy) at Cynsations

Mary G. Thompson (Escape From the Pipe Men) at The Enchanted Inkpot

Dan Krokos (The Planet Thieves) at My Shelf Confessions

Mikey Brooks (The Dream Keeper) at Shirley Bahlmann Biz

Kelly Light (on illustrating The Quirks) at inkygirl

Barry Wolverton (Neversink) at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

Andrea Offermanm (illustrator of many middle grade covers, as well as picture books) at Writing and Illustrating

Other Good Stuff

A nice list of mermaid books for girls, at Readatouille

Scholastic is celebrating the 15th anniversary of the year Harry Potter arrived in the US, and the forthcoming paperbacks with Kazu Kibuishi covers.  Plan a Harry Potter Celebration for you library, and be entered to win a party prize pack.  Here's more information.

And just because I think its a Good Thing, here's something cool from io9--how ordinary people can become citizen scientists.

And finally, if you want to come play with me at this year's US Discworld convention, the conference hotel rate has been extended until June 19th....

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