List Fun: Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Deserves it’s Own Book Club

There’s nothing I love better than getting lost in a new world. Bonus points if there’s a pirate or a map or a glossary or a new language! For those moments that I’m reading speculative fiction, I’m no longer trapped in my body: I’m on adventures, I make new friends, and sometimes I conquer fears.
For a long time middle grade spec fic was kind of an afterthought. Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or Dr. Seuss was smartest fantasy or science fiction a child could find.  Fortunately, authors are figuring out that middle grade readers are smart. And they want smart books that offer a variety of possibilities: children who don’t care for Harry Potter but still want to escape can now find a book to call their own.  Now that they’ve found a book that they love, they need to find other readers to chat with; maybe  like a book club?
If I were going to start a Middle Grade Speculative Book Club, these are the books I would choose:
huntforthehydraThe Jupiter Pirates: Hunt for the Hydra by Jason Fry (2014 finalist) – I’m going to be completely honest here. I chose this book for the title. I will read ANY kids’ book that has a pirate in it. I mean, who doesn’t love pirates, right?  Pirates live by their own rules, they fight for what’s right, and they are always up for adventure. The Hunt for the Hydra intrigues me because the siblings are pirates in space. What’s not to love? Charlotte liked it, so it’s ok with me! Smart book for smart kids.
rithmatistThe Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson (2013 finalist) – If there’s a grown up in your house (maybe it’s you?) who loves Brandon Sanderson, then you’re already familiar with his world building (and map building) skills.  Naturally a Sanderson foray into MG has to be awesome! Students go to a special school to learn how to be magicians. Think math magicians. Mathgicians? Not too outrageous, right?  Maybe not, except that these chalk drawings (cryptic math-like etchings) are committing murder.
falseprinceThe False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen (2012 winner) –  If you can’t get enough of orphans, kings, and costumes, then The False Prince is for you. When the king is searching for an imposter to act as his son who is lost at sea, he trains several orphans to act as the son.  You had me at orphans, which are reminiscent of the cute little Artful Dodger picking pockets and singing around the streets of London. Ok so maybe there aren’t any London streets but you sure will get intrigue.  I love the idea of medieval politics, deceit, and treachery.
11birthdays11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass (2009 finalist) – 11 Birthdays has been on my wishlist for a long time. I don’t know why I haven’t gotten to it yet! I’m a big Wendy Mass fan (A Mango Shaped Space is one fave) and I’ve yet to meet a Tween girl who doesn’t love the 11 Birthdays series. It’s fantasy without flying dragons and all the hullaballoo that sometimes makes spec fic too far out for realistic fiction readers.
savvySavvy by Ingrid Law (2008 finalist) –  Speaking of spec fic that resembles realistic fiction, here’s Savvy.  I read the companion novel, Scumble, and while I wasn’t lost, my Tween book club members informed me that some of the characters in Scumble are also in Savvy. So, when you turn 13 you get your savvy, a supernatural gift. The problem is, your gift might not be as glamorous as creating hurricanes. I’m sure if I shared Mib’s problem my savvy would be along the lines of being able to smell colors. Interesting, but how is that useful in an emergency.  Hopefully Mibs’ savvy is better than that. If you love to laugh at silly situations, Savvy is the book for you.
If you haven’t glanced at middle grade speculative fiction lately, take another look. There’s more to offer than Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.  I’m sure you’ll find something that suits you.

– Pam Margolis, An Unconventional Librarian