As Fantasy and Science Fiction Organizer for the Cybils, I supervised, but didn't participate in, the discussions for the Fantasy & Science Fiction Middle/Elementary category. (I served on the teen side of SFF; see my other post today). In this case, supervising meant basically standing back and watching with awe as this terrific group read like maniacs, chatted up a storm, and selected a terrific shortlist. Here are the SFF Middle & Elementary level finalists:
A Monster Calls: Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd
by Patrick Ness
Nominated by: Monica Edinger
The first night Conor is awakened by a monster he believes it is all a dream, but he soon discovers this monster is very real and very serious about getting the truth from him. But even Conor does not know the truth he must confront. As Conor's story progresses, he grows braver and stronger and bolder with the help of his monster who taunts him and pushes him into admitting what he fears, then learning how to beat it. Developed from an idea originated by Siobhan Dowd, Patrick Ness has written a compelling story about taking on fears and triumphing over them. Gorgeous black-and-white pen-and-ink illustrations add to the uplifting power of Conor's story, which is one part horror, one part fantasy, and full of heart. Get ready to quake in fear, laugh in exaltation, and cry in sympathy as Conor learns about life, love, and loss.
by Anne Ursu
Walden Pond Press
Nominated by: Katie Ahearn
A modern retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen”, Breadcrumbs tells the story of Hazel and Jack. Best friends their entire lives, they are inseparable. That is until, something happens and Jack begins to change. Hazel finds herself drawn into a fairy tale world full of magic, witches, enchanted flowers and spells in order to save her best friend. The writing is poetic and brilliant, and the literary allusions will leave readers searching for the original stories. Enchanting, heartfelt, sincere, and magical, Breadcrumbs is a book that will be loved by middle grade readers whether they are reading it independently or it is read aloud to them.
--Sarah Mulhern Gross
by Joseph Bruchac
Nominated by: April Conant
By the head of the dragon! It’s a good thing Prince Rashko, the sensible second son, is around to defend the royal family’s ancestral castle when Baron Temny and his army of invaders move in, because he’s not going to get much help from his parents (called away to the Silver Lands) or his brother (bewitched by the beautiful Princess Poteshenie). Drawing on Slovakian proverbs and folklore, Bruchac alternates—and eventually intertwines—Rashko’s story with that of the hero Pavol, also depicted in a mysterious tapestry that hangs on the castle walls. The result is high fantasy laced with history and humor, action and adventure, as Rashko and the reader alike uncover the secrets of Dragon Castle.
by Matthew J. Kirby
Nominated by: Betsy Bird
Awaiting word from her father the Viking king, Solvieg is trapped by winter's ice on a remote fjord with her brother Harald, heir to the throne, and her beautiful older sister Asa. Food is running out, the Berzerker soldiers sent to protect the children are restless, and betrayal is in the air. As the brutal cold tightens its grip, and tensions mount, Solveig finds strength in the power of stories, and, secretly, away from her father's prying eyes, trains to be a skald, or storyteller. Kirby effortlessly weaves a gripping tale about the power of words in Icefall, blending Norse myths with the larger story. The result will delight those who like a twist of the extraordinary in their historical fiction.
The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale
by Carmen Agra Deedy
Nominated by: Monica Edinger
Alley cat Skilley is thrilled be taken on as mouser for Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a London tavern renowned for its cheddar. There's just one catch--it's the cheese Skilley wants to eat, not the mice. So he and the mice form an alliance, acting out games of catch and release, much to the amusement of writer Charles Dickens, who watches their doings while struggling with his writing. But the path to cheese is strewn with dangers and difficulties-- an enemy tomcat, named Oliver, aided by an unpleasant barmaid, is scheming to take Skilley's place, and he is a true hunter of mice. But the greatest challenge of all for Skilley and his mouse friends is to return an injured raven to the Tower of London--before its absence causes the whole British Empire to fall. Surprisingly rich in the twists and turns of its story, peopled with a cast of memorable characters, and with unexpected moments of true emotional depth, this is a book for all ages—adults will appreciate the word play and literary allusions and kids will adore the cats and mice.
The Inquisitor's Apprentice
by Chris Moriarty
Nominated by: Laura Wadley
An incredibly rich and rewarding read, The Inquisitor's Apprentice is a mystery steeped in equal parts fantasy and history. Sacha Kessler, a Jewish kid in Turn of the 20th Century New York, accidentally reveals he can see magic, and so is apprenticed to the NYPD Inquisitor's bureau-- the detectives who solve magical crimes. Sacha joins Inspector Maximillian Wolf and fellow apprentice Lily Astral in a race to solve the mystery of who is trying to murder Thomas Edison.
But the tantalizing plot is only a small part of what makes Inquisitor's Apprentice such a great read: it teems with characters both real (larger than life American figures like Edison, Harry Houdini, and Teddy Roosevelt all play a role in the novel) and imagined (Maximillian Wolf is a detective on the order of Sherlock Holmes, or Lieutenant Columbo, and both Sacha and Lily are authentic, fresh, and vibrant). And the setting--this fantasy New York of an alternate past--reads less like history and more like a fully realized and incredibly complex act of worldbuilding. Moriarty has pulled off quite a hat trick here: the young reader will find in Sacha a character whose interior struggles mirror their own, despite his living in an impossibly fantastical past; what's more, that past is revealed to not be quite so impossible, distant or unlike our present as one might think.
Tuesdays at the Castle
by Jessica Day George
Nominated by: Sondra Eklund
The titular castle in Tuesdays at the Castle is one of the most delightful fictional buildings around—it changes itself according to its own magical whims, surprising its inhabitants with new rooms, secret passages, and even whole wings. Young Princess Celie knows and loves the Castle best of anyone in her family. When her parents are presumed to have been killed, and dangerous enemies plot to take over the kingdom, it's up to Celie and her siblings to call on the castle to help them keep their kingdom safe. Celie’s pluck and the castle’s magic combine to create an utterly engrossing adventure.
View all the Cybils finalists