this week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci-fi from around the blogs and more (1/23/22)

Here's what I found this week!  Three new books for my tbr list!  please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

Aviva vs. the Dybbuk, by Mari Lowe, at BookPage

The Beatryce Prophecy, by Kate DiCamillo, at Sonderbooks

The Circus at the End of the Sea by Lori R. Snyder, at Pages Unbound 

Dog Squad (Dog Squad #1) by Chris Grabenstein, at Books Teacup and Reviews

Harley Hitch and the Missing Moon, by Vashti Hardy, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads

The Insiders, by Mark Oshiro, at Charlotte's Library

Kingston and the Echoes of Magic, by Rucker Moses and Theo Gangi, at Log Cabin Library

Kelcie Murphy and the Academy for the Unbreakable Arts, by Erika Lewis, at Say What?

The Last Cuentista, by Donna Barba Higuera, at Valinora Troy

The Lock-Eater, by Zack Loran Clark, at Cracking the Cover

The Namer of Spirits, by Todd Mitchell, at the L.A. Review of Books

Riley's Ghost, by John David Anderson, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Secrets of the Last Merfolk, by Lindsay Littleson, at Book Craic

Solimar: The Sword of the Monarchs, by  Pam Muñoz Ryan, at Kidlit Underground

The Stolen Prince of Cloudburst, by Jaclyn Moriarty, at cannonballread
Tiger Honor, by Yoon Ha Lee, at Feed Your Fiction Addiction

The Unforgettable Logan Foster, by Shawn Peters, at Cracking the Cover, Pamela Kramer, and Charlotte's Library

The Way to Rio Luna, by Zoraida Córdova, at Ms. Yingling Reads

two at A Library Mama- Nightingale by Deva Fagan and Eva Evergreen and the Cursed Witch by Julie Abe

Authors and Interviews

Shawn Peters at The Wandering Wordsmith

Alexandria Rogers (The Witch, the Sword, and the Cursed Knights) at  Nerdy Book Club 

Nicola Penfold (Between Sea and Sky) in conversation with Chitra Soundar (Sona Sharma Looking After Planet Earth, which isn't sci fi/fantasy but which sounds fun), at climate fiction writers league

Scott Southall (The Order of Time series) at Gina Rae Mitchell

Other Good Stuff

and, like me, you might be wondering if a mg sci fi/fantasy book will take home the Newbery this year--here are my picks

Will a middle grade fantasy/sci fi book win the Newbery Award this year?

 Back in 2017, I successfully guessed the The Girl Who Drank the Moon had a good shot at the Newbery.  Last year's winner was also fantasy (or at least very fantasy adjacent)--When You Trap a Tiger, by Tae Keller.  Will another fantasy/sci fi book win this year?  Here are some I think might have a chance.

The Raconteur's Commonplace Book, by Kate Milford (my review).  This is my top pick.  I think it is the strongest writing of any mg I've read this year.  Not only did I personally love it and find it entertaining, I think if the committee wants "literature" this might be it.

The Last Cuentista, by Donna Barba Higuera (my review)  A strong contender primarily based on the incredibly powerful story.

Root Magic, by Eden Royce (my review) A powerful, moving, well-written story that is also important.

Too Bright to See, by Kyle Lukoff (my review) ditto

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy, by Anne Ursu (my review)  I think this is Anne Ursu's best book, which is saying a lot.  And the Newbery could use, I think, a bit of smashing the patriarchy.

Do you have any mg spec fic favorites in the running?


The Insiders, by Mark Oshiro

I still have a backlog of review to write for many excellent books read for this year's Cybils Awards; there were so many good ones that I read last fall but the reading was more important back than then the reviewing....and so this evening I offer The Insiders, by Mark Oshiro (September 2021, HarperCollins), is an affirmative portal fantasy that was pretty much a read-in-a-single-sitting for me.

Hector's family has moved to a new town from San Francisco, where he was happy and confident as a gay Mexican American theatre kid, with a tight group of friends and a taste for style and thrifting. Things go badly for him at his new school, when he's targeted by a truly cruel boy, Mike, and his crew of bullying lackies.  The school staff are no help, refusing to believe Mike is a problem.  Miserable and desperate to escape his tormentor, Hector finds a door in the school hallway that opens into a room that shouldn't be there.  It is retreat designed just for him, and though no time passes when he's inside, when the door opens again, the hallway is empty.

Soon he finds that two other kids, from schools in different states, have also found the room.  One is girl whose principal is about to tell her mother she is gay, the other a lonely non-binary kid. They too need an escape place, and the three become supportive friends.  But the room, though magical, is still a room, and Hector must come up with his own plan for exposing Mike and getting justice.

I have to say that the bullying part is hard reading.  It hurts to see Hector being treated so badly, and becoming sad and diminished, and this might well be painful reading for kids, especially gay kids, in similar circumstances (I am glad that although Mike's reasons for being such a homophobic monster are hinted at, we aren't given a redemption arc for him--that would have been too much to swallow).  The magical room part, and the friendships he builds both there, and, with a bit more effort, with other "misfit" kids at his own school, though, makes for warm and friendly reading.  And it's lovely to see Hector's supportive family (and maybe it's shallow of me, but I also appreciated the delicious Mexican food that was eaten along the way....)

It's great that a very gay magical-portal fantasy is out there in the world, and I hope that the kids (straight and queer) who need it find it, even if they can't get into the wonderful room.

disclaimer--review copy received from the publisher for Cybils Awards purposes.


The Unforgettable Logan Foster, by Shawn Peters

I don't remember any books about kids with superpowers in the comic book sense of the word back when I was an actual middle grade fiction reader (decades ago in the early 1980s....); lots of kids with preternatural gifts, but no young superheroes.  It's been fun over the past ten years to get a chance to read all the books in this subgenre, all with different twists, such as this new one--The Unforgettable Logan Foster, by Shawn Peters (January 18, 2022, Harper Collins).

Logan Foster is not a superhero.  He's a kid who's bounced in and out of foster homes, and now that he's twelve, his hopes of getting adopted are practically nil.  It's hard for him to imagine prospective parents who want a kid with an eidetic memory that pours information from his mouth in an unexpected, and often unwelcome, way, a kid whose social skills are non-existent.  But then Gil and Margie arrive, and maybe he has found a real home...

Except that Gil and Margie are seriously weird.  Logan's memory records every perplexing thing he notices, but the actual reason was not something he could have guessed--they are superheroes, whose adventures have been chronicled in the comic books Logan loves!  

Superheroes have been going missing, an earthquake-causing villain is terrorizing the west coast, and now Logan and his memory are pawns in a struggle to control his foster parents and the other superheroes who had dedicated their life to the common good.  And though Logan might not be traditionally super-powered, his gifts are key to saving the day!  (Helped by an new, actual friend--a neighborhood girl who is also more than she seems to be; she is a great character, btw).

It's a fun (also funny) and fast-paced, with mortal peril and considerable action once things really get going.  The reader is essentially told by Logan that he is unlikeable, but this is not the impression the reader, who sees from his point of view, gets (the reader, of course, doesn't actually hear a constant flood of whatever information is bubbling up in Logan's mind, which one can see would potentially be annoying). Instead, Logan, to me at least, was a neuro-divergent kid who desperately needed love, appreciation, and validation, and it was great to see him getting those from both his new foster parents and his new friend!  I hope we get another book--this one ends with some questions still unresolved.

In short, an excellent addition to the corpus of MG superhero stories!

disclaimer--review copy received from the publisher


this week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (1/16/22)

Here's what I found this week; enjoy!  (and let me know if I missed your post)

The Reviews

Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch (Eva Evergreen #1) by Julie Abe, at Life of a Female Bibliophile

Hangman's Crossing by Will Mabbitt, at Cover2CoverBlog

Hilda's Book of Beasts and Spirits, by Emily Hibbs, at Twirling Book Princess

The Horror of Dunwick Farm by Dan Smith, illustrated by Chris King, at Scope for Imagination

Marco Swift and the Mirror of Souls, by D. E. Cunningham, at YA Books Central

Ophie's Ghosts by Justina Ireland, at Book Den

Pax: Journey Home, by Sara Pennypacker, at Sonderbooks

Pencilvania, by Stephanie Watson, at Charlotte's Library

Riley's Ghost, by John David Anderson, at Maria's Melange, Always in the Middle, and A Library Mama

The Silent Night trilogy, by R.L. Stine, at Tor

Steps Out of Time, by Eric Houghton, at Charlotte's Library

Tiger Honor, by Yoon Ha Lee, at The Bookwyrm's Den

Tilly and The Bookwanderers, by Anna James, at booksandscribbles

Twice Magic, by Cressida Cowell, at Fantasy Literature

The Unforgettable Logan Foster by Shawn Peters, at The Wandering Wordsmith

Authors and Interviews
John David Anderson (Riley's Ghost) at Nerdy Book Club

Pencilvania, by Stephanie Watson

 I still have lots of great books read for the first round of the Elementary/Middle Grade speculative fiction Cybils to review...and so I'm squeezing on in this morning to include in my regular EMG spec fic Sunday roundup.

Pencilvania, by Stephanie Watson (August 2021, Sourcebooks), illustrated by Sophia Moore, is a moving portal fantasy that will especially appeal to creative young readers.

Zara has been drawing all her life.  Encouraged by her mother, she fills sketchbook after sketchbook, and the walls of her house are covered with her drawings.  But then her mother gets cancer, and dies.  Zora and her little sister Frankie have to live with their grandmother, who is almost a stranger (in a basement apartment, in a different town). The spark of Zora's passion for art, so closely tied to her mother,  fizzles out.  Instead, in her anger and grief, she starts to furiously scribble over all her old drawings, destroying her old life.

But this destruction opens the way into the world of Pencilvania, and Zora and Frankie find themselves in a place where everything that Zora ever drew, including pictures of their mother, is alive.  Pencilvania is in danger, though--one angrily scribbled out horse, Viscardi, is determined to complete the ruination of Zora's art, and all the other scribbled out creatures she's drawn have fallen under his domination.

If Zora can find the mother she drew as a superhero, maybe she can save Pencilvania, and herself and Frankie, and make everything all right again.

And so their journey begins through a wildly magical world of art come to life, to the final realization that their mother can't, in fact, save them, and it's up to Zora.

Zora's grief is vividly real, and desperately sad.  But the story itself is not just about this sadness--Pencilvania is full of humor; many of its denizens are childhood scribbles (the blobby eeks for instance, and there's also many charming hamsters from the hamsters in pajamas series she drew.  A seven legged horse becomes her greatest helper, and he's a lovely character in his own right.  Sophia Moore's illustrations add to the charm.  The danger is very real, though, and Viscardi is a frightening villain....

It's encouraging to watch Zora grow in maturity during her adventures, and it's great that at the end she gets her creative spark back, and is willing to give her grandmother a chance.

In short, an engrossing read that offers an accessible look at  a difficult topic; best for younger middle grade readers.

(review copy received for Cybils Awards)


Steps Out of Time, by Eric Houghton, for Timeslip Tuesday

Steps Out of Time, by Eric Houghton (1979), is a rather nice time slip story I picked up in a used bookstore last month for $12, on the grounds that it looked old and I'd never heard of it...and I tend to like books with houses on the cover.  I am satisfied that I got my money's worth and can even say that I might well re-read it in future.

Jonathan and his father have just moved into a house of their own in a small English town (Jonathan's mother is dead).  The house needs lots of work to make it into a comfortable home, but both of them are optimistic about it.  Jonathan, shy and kind of social awkward, is a lot less optimistic about being the new kid as school, and indeed, quickly finds himself the butt of unkind jokes.  

Walking home from school, he takes comfort from the thick mist that gathers along the river at twilight... but then, walking through it back to his home, he opens the door to find a strange house, with strangers living in it.  He tries to believe it's just a confusion from the mist, but it happens again, and he's forced to accept that sometimes he walks into a different reality.  The oddest thing is that in that reality he is a boy named Peter, with Peter's words flowing naturally out of this mouth, and Peter's body doing things Jonathan couldn't do--rowing and climbing and drawing and painting brilliantly.  Lots of things are different in this reality--landmarks in the town have changed, and there is strange technology.  It is, in fact, the future.

Jonathan's time spent living as Peter, with Peter's family, especially his sister Helen, changes Jonathan; even back in his own body he retains some of Peter's muscle memory, and his art wins him the admiration of his peers and becomes a bridge leading to group acceptance.  And whatever magic drew him into Peter's time comes to an end.  There are lots of bits I liked about Jonathan figuring out he can draw and paint--full of good detail about shading and perspective and light, etc.  

If this sounds like a somewhat slight plot, that's because it is.  But it is very atmospheric and fascinating. I ended the book thinking the author was not very good at future tech, and indeed those bits of the book were often awkward reading, but then I did the math.  I was about the same age as Jonathan in 1979, and it is now about the same age as the fictional future time.  I wouldn't have had any trouble with the portrayal of the future if I'd read the book when it first came out, so it's not a fair criticism!  

One place where I am still very sure the author faltered is with regards to Peter's mother in the future.  Jonathan has lost his own mother, and is periodically embodied as another boy with a loving mother--this should have elicited strong and poignant emotion, but didn't.  A lost opportunity, which weakened the book.

But in any event, I think I would have loved it as a child* --and even as an adult, I find myself replaying it in my mind's eye, seeing the images from the story vividly, and filling in emotional weight that isn't in the original.  I was impressed enough by the book to see what else Eric Houghton wrote, and am   disappointed that most of his books seem to be for younger children than me (or about Sparticus).  I have added Gates of Glass to my tbr list, though.

*every summer my sisters and I went back to the United States to stay with our grandparents, and I tried to read all the books in the children's section of the Arlington VA Central Library.  Some summers I started at A. others at Z, but never in the middle, and so 1970s authors from about H to N are often new to me.


The Forgotten Memories of Vera Glass, by Anna Priemaza

The Forgotten Memories of Vera Glass, by Anna Priemaza (November,2021 by Harry N. Abrams), is a moving YA real-world fantasy, that is both a mystery and a meditation on loss.

In Vera's version of the real world, everyone is born with a magical knack of some sort--Vera can open locks, her older brother has light magic, and her younger brother can change the colors of anything he wants to.  These are all standard gifts, but others have powers that are beyond ordinary...and don't always use them ethically.

Vera is happy with her family and her tight group of friends, until she's suddenly struck by the sense that's she's lost something important.  There's a sink-hole in her heart, and she's not alone.  At first she tries to shrug it off, going on with her ordinary life--school, hanging out with her friends, getting ready for Halloween, her church's youth-group--but the sense of loss just keeps building, and she realizes she's not alone in feeling this way.

So she sets out to solve the mystery....before all that's left is the ache of unremembered loss.  Is the cause of the empty places in her heart supernatural? aliens? science gone askew?  witchcraft? But when you don't know what you've lost, it's hard to find it again...

I won't tell anything more about the details of the story, because that would spoil the fun of following the clues building up to a climax, an ending that presents a very satisfactory, and magically intriguing, moral dilemma. (nb--I read the ending partway through, which I regretted, because of wanting to know if everything worked out all right, and it did, so now you don't have to).

It's YA in that it's about high school kids, with dating moving towards real romance, but it's a fine read for older middle grade kids too.  These are high school kids still on the younger end of things, still dressing up for Halloween, still just starting out.  There's some familiar school drama--some misunderstandings, some strains in friendships--that is not quite the high stakes of books that are firmly young adult.  

One thing that sets this book apart from most magical mg/ya books is that Vera is a committed Christian--her belief in God and her church community are foundations of her life, and this is conveyed in a matter-of fact way that will, I think, ring true to lots of readers with similar, every-day beliefs who don't often see themselves in teen fiction.

The sense of loss that Vera and others around are feeling is, in this case, tied to a very specific set of circumstances, but it feels universal too--so much of growing up involves moving on from people, places, and things that once brought joy, without necessarily realizing this is happening. But the most memorable thing about the book is, hands-down, the very intriguing mystery of the forgotten memories of the title!  It's a good read, of the sort that feels both quick and immersive.

disclaimer-review copy received from its publicist


This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (1/9/21)

Welcome to this week's gathering of mg sci fi/fantasy posts!  Please let me know if I missed yours.

The Reviews

Amari and the Night Brothers, by B.B. Alston, at Raise Them Righteous and Herding Cats

The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillo, at proseandkahn

The Captive Kingdom, by Jennifer Nielsen, at Pages Unbound

Daughter of the Deep, by Rick Riordan, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Delivery to the Lost City, by P.G. Bell, at Twirling Book Princess

The Dreaded Cliff, by Terry Nichols, at Thin Air

The Ghoul Next Door, by Cullen Bunn, at The Wandering  Wordsmith

The House on Hoarder Hill, by Mikki Lish, Mikki and Kelly Ngai, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Josephine Against the Sea, by Shakirah Bourne, at Kidlit Underground

Kingston and the Magician’s Lost and Found, by Rucker Moses and Theo Gangi, at Raise Them Righteous

Mort the Meek and the Monstrous Quest, by Rachel Delahaye, at Book Craic 

No Humans Allowed (Dungeons and Dragons Academy) by Maleleine Roux, at Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub

The Ship of Cloud and Stars, by Amy Raphael, at Library Girl and Book Boy

Silverworld, by Diana Abu-Jaber, at Colorful Book Reviews

Relativly Normal Secrets, by C.W. Allen, at Bri's Book Review and Charlotte's Library

Riley's Ghost, by John David Amderson, at Say What?

The Tower at the End of Time, by Amy Sparkes, at Alex's Fiction Addiction

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole the Sky, by Kwame Mbalia, at Bri's Book Review

The Unforgettable Logan Foster, by Shawn Peters, at Always in the Middle and Log Cabin Library

Authors and Interviews

Laurie J. Edwards (Unicorns of the Secret Stable series), at From the Mixed Up Files

Other Good Stuff

Gods, Spirits, and Totoros: Exploring Miyazaki’s Fantasy World, at Tor

Valinora Troy (a first round Elementary/MG speculative fiction Cybils panelist this past fall) shares some book she loves that didn't advance to the next round


Relatively Normal Secrets, by C. W. Allen

One of the fun things about being a panelist for the Cybils Awards is getting review copies of books you've been wanting to read, and also books you've never heard of. In December reading is foremost, but now that's it's January, I am determined to turn my attention to my elementary/middle grade speculative fiction review copy backlog! (it is not, frankly, going well, but I am always hopeful that someday there will not be urgent things sucking all of my energy away.....I could have done without the sewage pipe catastrophe, for instance.....)

But in any even, I have a review today gosh darn it! Relatively Normal Secrets, by C. W. Allen (September 2021, Cinnabar Moth Publishing), is a fun portal fantasy/science fiction story.

Zed and his sister Tuesday know that their parents are odd, and Tuesday in particular is determined to discover the secrets she's sure they are hiding. When their parents leave on a last minute "business trip," leaving behind Nyx, their mother's huge guard dog who has never left her side before, the kids decide to search the house for anything that might shed light on their strange parents. But this search is cut short when thuggish intruders, armed with magical, shapeshifting weapons, show up.  And Nyx the dog bursts into flames and attacks them. The two kids run from the house into the woods, and their day gets even weirder when a portal opens, transporting them to the world of Falinnheim, where Nyx is mysteriously there with them.

Falinnheim is a strange mix of sci fi modern and medieval fantasy, and Tuesday and Zed are totally at sea.  All they have is Nyx, who keeps displaying other unusual talents, and coded clues in fragments of nursery rhymes that keep turning up in unexpected places.  The enforcers of the despotic régime start trying to arrest them, and it's not until their captured by bandits working to overthrow the despot that they start figuring out that the secrets their parents were keeping from them were vastly more remarkable than they'd ever imagined.

It's a fun story--the sci fi aspects of Falinnheim's text freshens this alternate world, and the fact that Tuesday and Zed aren't chosen ones with a mission, but simply two kids hoping to find their parents and stay alive, is also a nice change from standard portal fantasy.  And Nyx is a great dog; it was fun to see him manifesting his powers!  Recommend for readers who enjoy mystery mixed with their speculative fiction, and want an enjoyable escape to an alternate world.

It ends with a huge reveal setting up a sequel, which I'm looking forward to!

Thanks, Cinnabar Moth, for sending us panelists hard copies of the book!


This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (1/2/22)

Here's the first round-up of 2022--may we all have a great year ahead, in which all books are page turners and our library holds come in gradually and not ten or so all on the same day.

Nothing from me this week, but this will change; there are lots and lots of great books I've read but haven't reviewed yet. If I missed your post, please let me know!

The Reviews

The Beatryce Prophecy, by Kate DiCamillo, at Not Acting My Age

Jadie in Five Dimensions, by Dianne K. Salerni, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Honest June, by Tina Wells, at Cindy's Love of Books and Nine Bookish Lives

The Lost Amulet,  by Mary Farrugia, at Tinted Edges

Pony, by R. J. Palacio, at Sonderbooks (audiobook review)

A Wish in the Dark, by Christina Soontornvat, at proseandkahn (audiobook review)

two at A Library Mama--The Last Cuentista, by Donna Barba Higuera, and The Monster Missions, by Laura Martin

Authors and Interviews

Sasha Thomas (The Slug Queen Chronicles) at Storyteller Station (podcast)

Other Good Stuff

The Nerdie Awards for MG fiction include some great sci fi/fantasy books

The finalists for the Cybils Awards have been announced; here's the elementary/middle grade speculative fiction list!  (and of course it wasn't possible to shortlist every great books...Here's panelist Valinora Troy on some others she loved)


This year's EMG Spec fic Cybils Shortlist!


And here they are, this year's Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Finalists!!!

Here are the blurbs for each of these, over at the Cybils website (where you can find all the other category's short-lists).

This is the most diverse group of EMG SF Cybils finalists ever, and it turned out that way just because these were the books the seven 1st round panelists agreed (after much struggle, gnashing of teeth, wailing etc, because there were So Many really good books that we loved) best fit the two criteria of literary merit and kid appeal.  

Thanks so much to the first round team, and good luck to the second round folks who have to pick just one of these to be the winner!

And please do consider applying to be a panelist yourself next year!  look for the announcement next August!  If you're interested, feel free to ask my questions and feel free to start reading now! There are lots of great books published and publishing between Oct 16 2021 and Oct15 2022, and it will be just as hard/rewarding to pick just seven next year!


This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (12/19/21)

A very light week....perhaps all the other folks who usual blog about middle grade are just as slammed and anxious as I am (currently quarantined and anxious as heck about whether family Christmas will happen, one kid who will be coming home from a semester in Ireland (travel in covid times is very chancy so I am worried) with a bunch of renovation projects to be completed ASAP, lots of work for my actual job to finish up, and a sick cat.)  But in any event, here's what I found!

The Reviews

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston, at Geo Librarian

The Bookshop of Dust and Dreams, by Mindy Thompson, at Charlotte's Library 

The Fowl Twins Get What They Deserve, by Eoin Colfer, at Say What?

Kill the Farm Boy, by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne, at Puss Reboots

The Last Cuentista, by Donna Barba Higuera, at Not Acting My Age 

Long Lost, by Jacqueline West, at Valinora Troy

The Mermaid in the Millpond, by Lucy Strange, at Book Craic

Orphans of the Tide, by Struan Murray, at Cracking the Cover

Two at The Booksearch--The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy, by Anne Ursu, and The Last Cuentista, by Donna Barba Higuera

There will be no mg sci fi/fantasy round up next weekend end; see you in 2022!  And I hope all of you stay happy and healthy.....


The Bookshop of Dust and Dreams, by Mindy Thompson

Yay me! I have a Timeslip Tuesday post! I also have a house that is slowly becoming habitable after a home renovation project, which involved moving the washer/dryer from a small back room to the pantry, freeing up the whole ex-laundry room for books. The floor of this room has now been varnished, the walls (mostly) painted, and bookshelves are back in place. The books in this room are all stock for my retirement plan (a new and used children's bookstore), though there are shelves of stock in many other rooms and in all the closets too, and on the top shelves in the kitchen that are too high for me to reach. So basically I am living in a used bookstore, a bookstore of dust (thanks to the floor sanding) and dreams, just like the title of today's book--The Bookshop of Dust and Dreams, by Mindy Thompson (middle grade, Oct 21, 2021, Viking Books)

Poppy also lives in a bookstore, named Rhyme and Reason. It is the heart of her world. It is also magical--its doors open to any place and time where there is someone who needs the respite a bookstore can offer. The year of the story is 1944, the place is Sutton, New York, and young men are starting to return from war. Poppy's big brother, Al, didn't go to war because of his asthma, but his best friend Carl did. When Carl is killed, Al is crushed not just by grief but by a huge sense of wrongness....and becomes determiend to use the bookstore's time travelling magic to save his friend, even though this is utterly forbidden by the Council that governs the world's magical bookstores.

When Al starts pushing the magic towards his goal, it has dark and dire consequences. The bookstore magic is a beacon of light against a terrible darkness, but now the darkness starts to find a way in. Things go wrong in the shop, and Poppy's father becomes very ill. Al isn't interested in the store anymore, and Poppy is basically the only person keeping it going. As Al becomes almost entirely a creature of darkness, Poppy struggles to pull him back from the abyss before it is too late...not just for her brother, but for the magical bookstores.

And she does set things right, with the help of two friends she makes in the magical bookstore world during this crisis, and with a time travelling trip of her own to a battlefield in Europe, the one in which Carl is killed. But it is a bittersweet ending....

The bookstore is of course a wonderful setting for a story, and the stress and anxiety Poppy goes through makes the story gripping (especially for those of us who like stories of kids desperately trying to keep the family business going, a niche subgenre I am fond of)! Lonely kids will relate, kids with older siblings going down dark roads will have the heartstrings pulled hard, as will kids who are forced to take on the work of grownups before they are ready for it. That being said, the playful magic of the bookstore never quite becomes overshadowed by the threat of the Darkness, although it came close (I found the threat of the darkness the least interesting part of the book, actually; existential magical threats aren't as interesting to me as small details of daily life).  

(I'm a bit surprised by the bit I remember most clearly--two characters from different time periods both like to sit in the same chair, and get into fierce arguments about it. Finally, Poppy gets fed up with their bickering, and instead of just getting annoyed as she usually does, she asks each of them why that particular chair, and when she knows their reasons, she's able to solve the conflict for good. A useful little life lesson that I appreciated!)

short answer--give this to any 9-11 year old  who loves bookstores and/or time travel!


this week's round-up of mg sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (12/12/21)

Here's what I found this week; please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Calculating Christmas (Lily Sparrow Chronicles #2), by Kristee Ravan, at Andi's Middle Grade & Chapter Books

The Cinderella Theorem (Lily Sparrow Chronicles #1) by Kristee Ravan, at Andi's Middle Grade & Chapter Books

Diary of an Accidental Witch, by Perdita Cargill, at Twirling Book Princess

The Dragon's Blood (Explorer Academy #6), by Trudi Trueitt, at Say What? and Sally's Bookshelf

Escape Room, by Christopher Edge, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

The Last Cuentista, by Donna Barba Higuera, at Charlotte's Library

Minecraft: The Haven Trials, by Suyi Davies, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Ophie’s Ghosts, by Justina Ireland, at Valinora Troy

RISE OF THE WORLD EATER by Jamie Littler, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads

Ronan Boyle and the Strangeplace (Ronan Boyle #3) by Thomas Lennon, at Say What?

The Sherwood Proof (Lily Sparrow Chronicles #3) by Kristee Ravan, at Andi's Middle Grade & Chapter Books

Two at Locus--Even and Odd, by Sarah Beth Durst, and Better Together, by Christine Riccio

Three at alibrarymama--Willodeen, by Katherine Applegate, The Beatryce Prophecy. by Kate DiCamillo, and Robber Girl, by Franny Billingsley

Three at alittlebutalot - Greta and the Ghost Hunters, by Sam Copeland, Stuntboy, In the Meantime, by Jason Reynolds, and Peanut Jones and the Illustrated City, by Rob Biddulph 

Authors and Interviews

Seanan McGuire (The Up-and-Under series) at Middle Grade Ninja

Harriet Muncaster (Victoria Stitch series) at The Great British Book Off

Other Good Stuff

Here's Kirkus' list of the best mg sci fi fantasy of the year.


The Last Cuentista, by Donna Barba Higuera

The Last Cuentista, by Donna Barba Higuera (October 12th 2021 by Levine Querido), is mind-blowing middle grade science fiction.

Halley's comet has been knocked off course, and is about to smash into Earth. Petra Peña is one of the lucky ones who gets a chance to flee across space to a new home, and though her heart breaks to leave her grandmother, she's determined to take with her all her grandmother's stories, and as many other stories from Earth  that she can cram into her head. But instead of waking up from stasis a few hundred years later at the planet that will be her new home, with her parents and brother next to her, she wakes up to a dystopian nightmare.

The ship has been overtaken by zealots of the Collective (who believe the group is all that is important, and that conformity and unthinking cooperation are the path toward peace, because when everyone is the same there is no reason for war). All the sleeping colonists have been brainwashed as they travelled through space, and have been awakened in bits and dribbles during the journey, to serve the cause of the Collective. They remember nothing of their former lives on Earth.

Petra is one of the last to be woken, and the brainwashing did not work on her. She remembers everything...all the stories her abuelita told her, all the books she read, all her love for her family, are still there. And so she sets out to thwart the Collective by making the planet they've finally reached into a home for herself and a handful of other children, a place where she can tell her stories, and new stories can be made.

It is not a comfortable read. It is a powerful, wrenching, disturbing one. I couldn't read it all in one sitting even though the writing was great, Petra was a great heroine, and the story was tremendously compelling. Perhaps the target audience (who I'd put at 10-13 years old) won't find it as emotionally difficult; young readers are better, I think, at taking fictional darkness in their stride...

Happily it ends (after an extra sharp bit of heart-ache) at a happy and hopeful point. I wish I could relax and assume that now everything will be fine....but there is lots of room for a sequel that would be another emotional wringer....

Middle grade science fiction is fairly thin on the ground compared to fantasy, and there are very few books about kids travelling through space and exploring exo-planets (the Zero series, by Dan Wells, and Sovereign, by Jeff Hirsch, are the only ones that come to mind). I very much enjoyed the parts of The Last Cuentista that involved Petra's work as a biologist (the role the Collective determined for her) on the planet. But though this was something of respite from the tension of the Collective controlled space ship, it was overhung by the wrongness that what should have been a magical experience shared with her family was instead part of a desperate child's struggle to find a way to be free to remember and to dream.

It's a powerful, memorable, compelling, terrifying story. I have one reservation regarding disability rep. though--Petra has retina pigmentosa, and right at the beginning it's made clear that this is already having a negative impact on her vision. But once she wakes up from stasis, it becomes back-burnered, and we don't hear about it even when she's on the surface of the planet, with strange vistas all around her, or sneaking around the space ship in dim lighting....there are maybe two more mentions of it, with no substance. I felt a little cheated by this, but not enough to substantively dim my admiration for the book as a whole.

disclaimer: review copy received for Cybils Award consideration.


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (12/5/21)

Here's what I found in my blog reading this week; please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

The Beatryce Prophecy, by Kate DiCamillo, at Pages Unbound and Of Maria Antonia

The Bookshop of Dust and Dreams, by Mindy Thompson, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Daughter of the Deep, by Rick Riordan, at Children's Books Heal

Do Not Distrub the Dragons, by Michelle Robinson, at Twirling Book Princess
Dragon Legend, by Katie & Kevin Tsang, at Celebrate Picture Books

The Fowl Twins Get What They Deserve, by  Eoin Colfer, at The Bookwyrm's Den

The Golden Dreidel, by Ellen Kusher, illustrated by Kevin Keele, at Sydney Taylor Shmooze

Guardians of Porthaven, by Shane Arbuthnott, at Charlotte's Library

Midnight in Everwood, by M. A. Kuzniar, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads

Pencilvania, by Stephanie Watson, at Valinora Troy

Savvy. by Ingrid Law, at BooksForKidsBlog

Sisters of the Neversea, by Cynthia Leitich Smith, at Puss Reboots

Too Bright to See, by Kyle Lukoff, at Raise Them Righteous

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy, by Anne Ursu, at Ms. Yingling Reads and Always in the Middle

Three at alibrarymama--Temple Alley Summer by Sachiko Kashiwaba, translated by Avery Fischer Udagawa, illustrated by Miho Satake, Ghost Girl, by Ally Malinenko, and Beasts and Beauty: Dangerous Tales, by Soman Chainani

Authors and Interviews

Kelly Barnhill (The Ogress and the Orphans) at Nerdy Book Club

Nancy McConnell (Into the Lion’s Mouth) at Literary Rambles

Shawn Peters (The Unforgettable Logan Foster)at Authority Magazine (nb, the book is expected in 2022, not 2002 as the article says....)


Guardians of Porthaven, by Shane Arbuthnott

I very much enjoyed Shane Arbuthnott's first two middle grade books, Dominion, and Terra Nova, starring a brilliant girl who challenges the corporate greed of her society, realizing her ancestors did bad things and working to undo them.  I finished the books wanting more of the characters and their fascinating world.  But although this is not yet to be, I happily dove into Arbuthnott's new Guardians of Porthaven, and found it very good as well, hitting many of the same thematic points just as well (smashing corporate greed and undoing your family's morally bankrupt choices!)

Malcolm Gravenhurst was born into a powerful family; they have been the Guardians of Porthaven ever since aliens began to portal through to this one particular city on Earth.  The Gravenhursts are able to destroy the aliens minions, the robotic klek, thanks to superpowers that they acquired when the gate to Earth was opened.  And this has made them the incredibly wealth and fame, making them de facto absolute monarchs of Porthaven. 

The book begins with Malcolm turning fifteen, the age at which he can use his own powers to help keep the city safe.  He dreams of helping the citizens of Porthaven, not just dispatching of the klek on days they come through the gate, but along the lines of the superheros in the comic books he loves--keeping watch against more ordinary nefariousness.  So he sets off into the night alone....and his world gets upended when he meets three teens who also have powers, who use them for the common good; and these teens had friends who were disappeared when their powers became known to the Gravenhursts. 

Malcolm's belief in the heroic goodness of his family begins to crack, and through those cracks he and his new friends begin to understand the deep rot behind the operation the Gravenhursts are running.

(spoiler alert)

Turns out their powers and wealth actually come from the aliens....and in Malcolm's grandfather's mind, that's worth keeping a gate to hostile aliens open.

Malcolm and his friends disagree, and are proven all too right when the aliens come for real.

(end spoilery bit)

The sci fi plot is full of excitement--there's the interest in uncovering the mystery of the alien gateway combined with lots of action-packed alien fighting.  Supporting and strengthening this is the more character-driven story of a privileged boy recognizing that privilege, and the harm it's done, and trying to do better.  He has to learn, for instance, that now he is part of a small group of rebels he can't just go off making decisions that seem reasonable to him, from his place in the ruling family, because he lacks to context to understand the bigger consequences.  It takes a few times of screwing things up for the group before he learns his lesson, but he does learn it, and tries to do better. 

Malcolm is white, but the 3 rebel kids are more diverse--two have dark skin, and one's name seems Asian.  The two girls in the group are in a relationship.

In short, there are many reasons why I highly recommend it to readers on the upper end of middle grade and into YA (11-14 year olds), particularly to superhero comic book fans, and to young sci-fi fans who are setting themselves up to work on the side of social justice.

Just checked the Kirkus review, and we are in complete agreement, so good job, Kirkus.


no round-up this week

 Instead of round-up the mg sci fi/fantasy post from this week, I get to go on a long long drive on the worst possible day of the year to do same in order to take my kid back to college.....


This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (11/21/21)

 Welcome to this week's round-up, in which I have nothing of my own to share because I have bitten off way more than I can chew in the home renovation department.....sigh. Let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Aru Shah and the City of Gold, by Roshani Chokshi, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads

Children of the Fox, by Kevin Sands, at Semicolon 

Dragon Legend, by Katie and Kevin Tsang, at Bookworm for Kids

Dragon Mountain, by Katie & Kevin Tsang, at Valinora Troy

Dragon’s Winter by Kandi J Wyatt, at The Faerie Review

The Ice House, by Monica Sherwood, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste, at Page Unbound

The Mermaid in the Millpond by Lucy Strange, illustrated by Pam Smy, at Scope for Imagination and Little Blog of Library Treasures

Never After, by Melissa de la Cruz, at Books Only

Root Magic, by Eden Royce, at A Kids Book a Day

The Shadow Throne, by Jennifer A. Nielsen, at Pages Unbound

A Tale of Two Castles, by Gail Carson Levine, at Fantasy Literature

A Touch of Ruckus, by Ash Van Otterloo, at Kidlit Underground

We Will Stand With Them (Time Travel School #3), by Nikki Young, at Whispering Stories

5 Cybils nominated fantasies at alibrarymama--The Threads of Magicby Alison Croggon, The Raven Heir by Stephanie Burgis, Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom by Sangu Mandanna, How to Save a Queendom by Jessica Lawson, and Lotería by Karla Arenas Valenti

Authors and Interviews

Lisa Stringfellow (A Comb of Wishes), at Black Children's Books and Authors


Other Good Stuff

For Wings of Fire fans--Scholastic has a series of discussions going on Homebase (thanks, Ms. Yingling!)


This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (11/14/21)

 Hi all!  Here's what I found of interest to us fans of mg sci fi and fantasy this week; please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

The Accidental Apprentice (Wilderlore #1), by Amanda Foody, at Semicolon

Beasts and Beauty by Soman Chainani, at Fantasy Cafe 

Beyond the Birch, by Torina Kingsley, at Quirky Cat's Fat Stacks

Bradley's Dragons, by Patrick Matthews, at Say What?

The Chime Seekers, by Ross Montgomery, at The Book Muse

City of the Sun, by Aisha Bushby, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads

A Dreidel in Time: A New Spin on an Old Tale, by Marcia Berneger, illustrated by Bernice Castro, at Mom Read It

Fledgling, by Lucy Hope, at Book Craic

The Haunted Mustache (Night Frights #1), by Joe McGee, at  Say What?

Ikenga, by Nnedi Okorafor, at Kidlit Underground

The Insiders by Mark Oshiro, at Rosi Hollinbeck

Kiki Kallira Breaks A Kingdom, by Sangu Mandanna, at Valinora Troy

Last Gate of the Emperor by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel Makonnen, at The Hub 

River Magic by Ellen Booraem, at Children's Books Heal

The School Between Winter and Fairyland, by Heather Fawcett, at Waking Brain Cells

The Shadow Prince, by David Anthony Durham, at Charlotte's Library

Shadow Town, by Richard Lambert, at Library Lady

Snotlings, by Tarryn Mallick, at The Bookwyrm's Den

Temple Alley Summer, by Sachiko Kashiwaba, translated by Avery Fischer Udagawa, at Stories that Stay with Us

The Time of the Ghost, by Diana Wynne Jones, at Tor

Tristan Strong Destroys the World (Tristan Strong #2), by Kwame Mbalia, at Eye-Rolling Demigod's Book Blog

The Unforgettable Logan Foster, by Shawn Peters, at Booklist

Vacancy, by K.R. Alexander, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Welcome to Dweeb Club, by Betsy Uhrig, at Charlotte's Library

Three at alibrarymama--The Plentiful Darkness, by Heather Kassner, Long Lost, by Jacqueline West, Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares. by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Authors and Interviews

Jan M. Hill (The Asteria Adventures. Books 1 and 2—Asteria: The Discovery and Asteria: Annese Does it Again) at The Bookshop at the End of the World

Other Good Stuff

The Spiderwick Chronicles are coming to Disney +, via Tor

For those who love middle grade book covers--a competition is on going at Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books


The Shadow Prince, by David Anthony Durham

I read a lot of middle grade sci fi/fantasy, and it always surprises me how authors can put new twists on familiar tropes and make something that just screams "kid appeal." The Shadow Prince, by David Anthony Durham  (September 28th 2021 by Lee & Low) is such a book.

Ash lives in an alternate ancient Egypt, where the gods walk among the mortals, and where solar tech has reached great heights (literally--cool solar powered flying ships!).   But there's no reason the gods would want to come to Ash's village, out in the middle of the desert, and though there's solar tech, Ash and his guardian can't afford the cool things Ash would like.  Ash's guardian has been training him fiercely all his life, in martial arts, survival, and learning, but Ash can't visualize a future beyond the backwater village that's all he's seen of the world.

On the night of his 12th birthday, that changes.  His guardian explains that Ash was born on the same day s Prince Khufu, making him a candidate for the honor of serving as the princes shadow--a companion for life, tasked with protecting, and even dying, for the prince.  And the next day a solar barge arrives to take Ash and his mentor to the royal capital, where the candidates will be pitted against each other.  There can only be one shadow prince.

And so Ash takes part in five days of tests, each day orchestrated by a different deity.  Demon slaying, battle with monsters, and impossible tasks await.  It is expected that many candidates will be killed.    Ash doesn't give himself great odds, but he's determined to try, and as he begins to see in Khufu someone he'd be glad to serve, his resolve stiffens.

Some of the other contenders are friendly, and form an alliance with Ash. Others are determined to win at any cost.  And this group of shadow prince contenders faces an additional challenge.  The god Set does not want any of them to survive, and uses his powers of chaos to interfere with the tests, making them even more horrendous, and there's tension in the royal family that also adds to the danger the kids are in.

It's tremendously gripping and readers who love dangerous contests will of course be hooked!  The violence is not so great, though, that it will be off-putting to those who prefer more character-driven books; though the trials are violent they don't pit the kids directly against each other until the very last day, and there's plenty of time for Ash to develop the first real friendships of his life, and have his mind blown by the royal city and all its panoply.  

So basically lots of really exciting stuff happens, some of it tense, some entertaining (I loved Prince Khufu's fierce little bouncing hippo protectors), and Ash is a good kid who's easy to cheer for.  There are a lot of characters introduced, but the important ones are easy to track of.   The Egyptian gods are incredibly powerful, and idiosyncratically weird, adding entertainment value and a Riordan-esque feel to the story.  I loved the solar-punk alternate Egypt too--it was just straight out really cool.

Short answer-this book gave me Wings of Fire vibes, even though I can't do a point by point argument for this.  Give it to your sixth graders, and they will love it!

(added kid appeal bonus--one of the contenders who are Ash's friends is a young lioness....)

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


Welcome to Dweeb Club, by Betsy Uhrig, for Timeslip Tuesday

Trying to change the past is often the goal of time travelers, whether it's killing Hitler, or making sure to be in the right place at the right time to meet the right person. Betsy Uhrig has come up with a fresh twist to this type of story in Welcome To Dweeb Club, (September 2021, Margaret K. McElderry Books) that's a fun story of a bunch of 7th graders who find themselves the ones being visited by the future....

At the start of seventh grade, Jason and his friend Steve are confronted with bewildering fair of clubs they could join.  Amongst the panoply and promotion is one odd club, H.A.I.R. There's no description, nothing to try to make it alluring; there's just a piece of paper on which no one has signed their name.  Jason and Steve seize the chance to be founding members....and when other kids see Glamorous Steve, as he's known, signing up, they do to.

So H.A.I.R. ends up with with 8 seventh graders, who are surprised to learn that the club will be in charge of monitoring the school's ritzy new security cameras (donated with the stipulation that H.A.I.R be created for this purpose).  The kids are a mixed lot, but all are eager to mess with their new tech, and they are given a tiny room down in the basement, and start going through the security footage.

The footage proves more interesting then they could have guessed.  They see themselves in the school cafeteria, five years in the future!  None of them are happy about what they see.

And so they set themselves to figuring out what's going on, determined to change the future.  In the processes there's social tension the way only 7th grade can be social tense,  quite a few bits that made me chuckle, and many more that made me grin, some mayhem, and a very affectionate skunk....and the outcome is just what the instigator of the whole shebang would have wanted (or will be wanting, and will be inspired to set in motion....).  

It's a quick and entertaining read, and it might inspire a few of the target audience to introspection about what they might change about themselves (one character, for instance, decides to embrace her inner nerd, another starts working on being less self-centered, etc.; the sort of things that are useful nudges for many 7th graders.).    If you are looking for an oddball, funny sci-book with middle grade angst (and a skunk), this is a good pick! 

(Oddball and quirky is not own personal favorite sort of sci fi, and I don't like being made to think of all the things I'd like future me to have nudged me to change, but despite that I enjoyed it quite a bit!)


this week's round-up of mg sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (11/7/21)

Welcome to this week's round up, and please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Amari and the Night Brothers, by B.B. Alston, at Say What?

Amberly and the Secret of the Fairy Warriors, by Gina Vallance, at Andi's Middle Grade and Chapter Books

The Ash House, by Angharad Walker, at Magic Fiction Since Potter 

Avalina Jones and the Eye of the Storm, by Lori Adams, at Say What?

Explorers at Pirate Island (Explorers' Club #5) by Alex Bell, illustrated by Tomislav Tomić, at Book Craic

Fireborn, by Aisling Fowler, at The Quick and the Read and amyjanealice

Ghost Cloud, by Michael Mann, at Book Craic 

Gobbledy, by Lis Anna-Langston, at June McCrary Jacobs

Hag Storm, by Victoria Williamson, illustrated by Elise Carmichael, at Book CraicThe Artsy Reader and  Stoomio

The Last Fallen Star, by Graci Kim, at alibrarymama

Liar's Room, by Dan Poblocki, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Much Ado About Baseball, by Rajani LaRocca, at Semicolon

Once Upon a Camel, by Kathi Appelt, at Semicolon

Pahua and the Soul Stealer, by Lori M. Lee) at yabookscentral

Race to the Sun, by Rebecca Roanhorse, at proseandkahn (audiobook review)

The Raven Heir, by Stephanie Burgis, at Vilanora Troy

Sisters of the Neversea, by Cynthia Leitich Smith, at Semicolon

Time Villains, by Victor Piñeiro, at Charlotte's Library

Tristan Strong Destroys the World (Tristan Strong #2), by Kwame Mbalia, at Eye-Rolling Demigod's Book Blog

The Two Princesses of Bamarre, by Gail Carson Levine, at Fantasy Literature

We Will Stand with Them (Time School #3), by Nikki Young, at Book Craic

Wishyouwas: The Tiny Guardian of Lost Letters, by Alexandra Page, at The Book Muse

Two at The Book Search--The Girl Giant and the Monkey King, by Van Hoang, and Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom by Sangu Mandanna

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--The Shadow Prince, by David Anthony Durham, adn  Escape from Falaise, by John Flannagan

Authors and Interviews

David Nielsen (Lillian Lovecraft and the Harmlesss Horrors), at Middle Grade Ninja

Sara Pennypacker ( Pax: Journey Home) at The Horn Book

Pam Smy (The Hideaway), at Library Girl and Book Boy

Valinora Troy (The Lucky Diamond) at Iseult Murphy

Other Good Stuff

A book list of MG fantasy about mighty girls, at Accidently Alien
A Wrinkle in Time discussion at Swords, Sorcery, and Socialism podcast

Free Blog Counter

Button styles