2016 Finalists: Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction

Shadow Magic
by Joshua Khan
Nominated by: Sussu Leclerc

13-year-old Thorn was just sold as a slave to the executioner of Gehanna, a kingdom famous for its dark magic. Lillith Shadow, also 13, has just become Gehenna’s queen when her parents and brother were mysteriously killed, and must learn to rule the land of the undead. When Thorn and Lily’s path cross in Gehenna, the two join forces to find the killer of Lily’s parents, while also trying to stop an assassin targeting Lily. Shadow Magic an action-packed fantasy filled with all manner of creepy characters (dead and alive), including an enormous, and rather helpful, bat. It’s a captivating mystery full of magic, with touches of humor and characters to cheer for. It’s perfect for those who like fantasy with a delightfully Gothic twist.

Brenda Tjaden, Log Cabin Library

The Evil Wizard Smallbone
by Delia Sherman
Candlewick Press
Nominated by: Lizjonesbooks

In fierce Maine winter, with werewolves on the prowl, 12 year old Nick runs from him abusive family and finds himself at the bookstore of the Evil Wizard Smallbone. The wizard won’t let him go, but when he’s not being forced to do chores, he secretly learns magic with the help of the bookstore (it offers him just the right books). Nick’s new magical skills are put the test when the evil leader of the werewolves launches an attack on the town Smallbone is sworn to protect. While Nick’s powers have been growing, Smallbone hasn’t been getting any younger, and the werewolves are formidable foes. This is a tremendously fun, imaginative and captivating story. There are lots of enchantments (including some that go wrong), magical dueling, and a beautifully satisfying twist at the end. Though Smallbone might be an “Evil Wizard,” his bookstore and the snowy Maine landscape around it are lovely places to spend some time (if you don’t mind a few hostile werewolfs….)

Charlotte Taylor, Charlotte’s Libary

The Firefly Code
by Megan Frazer Blakemore
Bloomsbury USA
Nominated by: Sarah Sammis

The Firefly Code tells the story of five friends and one summer that irrevocably changes all of their lives. Set in the future in a fairly idyllic community protected from the ravages of the outside world, the Firefly Five have reached that age when they are beginning to question their reality and the place each of them has in it. Asking questions about ethics in science, the power of community, when it is appropriate to rebel, and what it means to live, The Firefly Code does what truly good science-fiction does best. A mystery, a friendship story, and a quest story all in one, this book will give readers a wonderful thought-provoking journey where they will meet characters they will love and think about long after they close the pages of the book.

Brandy Painter, Random Musings of a Bibliophile

The Goblin’s Puzzle: Being the Adventures of a Boy with No Name and Two Girls Called Alice
by Andrew Chilton
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: E.B.

As a kid Mr. Chilton “gobbled up fantasy novels and logic puzzles.” The Goblin’s Puzzle combines these two interests in a delightful story of goblins, girls named Alice, a nameless boy, and dragons. The Boy is running for his life; the goblin, Mennofar, is a tricky sidekick; and the two Alices, one a princess and the other a commoner, are just trying to keep from being mistaken for one another—because one Alice is going to be kidnapped by the dragon, Ludwig. It’s a rollicking good read with loads of humor, a little bit of logic, and some tricky puzzles. Read it and learn why it’s “hard for a goblin and a human to be friends.”

Sherry Early, Semicolon

The Memory Thief
by Bryce Moore
Adaptive Books
Nominated by: Kristen

What if you had the opportunity to erase, add or replace memories? Benji discovers a man named Louis at the fair who can do just that. When Benji gets the power to change memories himself, he tries to “fix” his parents, who have decided to divorce. When things go horribly wrong, Benji tries to find Louis again, only to discover he is missing. Instead, he finds himself in the middle of the schemes of Louis’ old apprentice, a woman who wants to use memories for evil and selfish purposes. Benji must use his new skills as a memory thief and random abilities picked up from other people’s memories to stop her, and save his family. It’s a fascinating premise, and though there are light moments (like Benji’s memories of yoga expertise) the overall tone is suspenseful and chilling. The tension keeps growing as the pages turn, driving home the point of the saying of “be careful what you wish for”.

Kristen Harvey, The Book Monsters

The Voyage to Magical North
by Claire Fayers
Henry Holt
Nominated by: Sheila Ruth

If you want to sail on seas full of magic and monsters, looking for a legendary place that might not exist, take a Voyage to Magical North. Two kids, Brine, servant to a very unpleasant wizard, and Peter, the wizard’s apprentice, are captured by pirates and become part of a harrowing effort to reach Magical North, a place of extraordinary dangers and enchantments. Making things even more exciting (in a bad way) is the seriously evil wizard brought on board the pirate ship because he’s needed to help them get to their destination. It’s not just a story of magical voyaging, but also a more universal story of two young people moving past their intense dislike for each other to work together, and to find truths about who they are and what they are capable of. The vivid descriptions of the places and people encountered are enchanting and haunting, and the brisk pace of the adventure keeps the pages turning very nicely indeed.

Charlotte Taylor, Charlotte’s Libary

When the Sea Turned to Silver
by Grace Lin
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: PragmaticMom

The final installment in Grace Lin’s loosely connected trio of books based in Chinese folklore, When the Sea Turned to Silver is a beautifully told story that takes the reader on a magical journey through China from mountains to the sea. Told in Lin’s deceptively simple, evocative prose, this is a quest full of adventure and action accompanied by gorgeous, colorful illustrations. The characters come to vivid life and experience friendship, love, community, and power-both good and bad. An excellent read aloud for younger children and equally engrossing as an independent read, When the Sea Turned to Silver is sure to captivate readers of all ages.

Brandy Painter, Random Musings of a Bibliophile