2017 Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Finalists

A Face Like Glass
by Frances Hardinge
Nominated by: Sam Musher

Those who inhabit the underground city of Caverna are born with blank faces, and have to learn to put on preset patterns of expression. These learned Faces enable the citizens of Caverna to lie and dissemble and carry on dizzying political intrigues. One girl, Neverfell is different. Her guardian, Grandible the Cheesemaster, insists that she wear a mask whenever she meets with anyone else, though she does not know why. Maybe “Ugly” is the only Face she has been given? Or maybe it has something to with her past before she was taken in by Grandible as a seven-year-old, which she can’t remember. Middle grade readers will identify with the difficult task of deciding what face to show to the world while also trying to remain true to oneself and honest in dealing with both friends and enemies. And all readers will enjoy the twists and turns of the plot in this surprising and vividly detailed tale of underground adventure.

Sherry Early, Semicolon

A Properly Unhaunted Place
by William Alexander
Margaret K. McElderry
Nominated by: Maureen E

Rosa Díaz is the daughter of the world’s best ghost appeasement specialist and is training to be one herself.  Everywhere has ghosts, of course – especially libraries, which tend to be full of the ghosts of past readers.  That’s why it makes no sense that she and her mother have moved to the tiny town of Ingot, which is famous two things: its Renaissance Faire, and for having no ghosts at all.  But when Jasper Chevalier, son of the Ren Faire Queen and its Black Knight (who will explain to anyone that there were Moors in Europe in the Middle Ages), takes her on a tour of the Faire, they are attacked by an angry monster, part ghost but very physical.  And when the ghost steals Rosa’s mother’s voice, Rosa and Jasper are on their own. This is a short and fast-moving, just a little scary book perfect for those newly graduating up from early chapter books or for read-alouds, with delightfully off-beat descriptions and illustrations.  Despite the excitement and the shorter length, there’s a lot under the surface for the perceptive reader, from environmental themes to Rosa’s understated dealing with her grief over her father’s death.  This is an alternate reality readers will want to visit again and again. 

Katy Kramp, A Library Mama

Last Day on Mars (Chronicle of the Dark Star)
by Kevin Emerson
Walden Pond Press
Nominated by: Debbie Tanner

This one is gripping middle grade science fiction at its best! 150 years or so in the future, the sun is going supernova, long before it should. Humanity took refuge on Mars, but the expanding sun is about to engulf that planet too. Liam and Phoebe are supposed to be on the last colony ship departing the solar system, but things go wrong. Not ordinary wrong, but evil star-destroying aliens wrong….It’s a tense adventure, with the threat of death by supernova hanging over the characters’ heads, that will leave readers anxious for the next book.

Charlotte Taylor, Charlotte’s Libary

Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded
by Sage Blackwood
Katherine Tegen Books
Nominated by: Brandy Painter

Miss Ellicott’s school  teaches the “surplus” female children of a walled city-kingdom magic and deportment and.. well, mostly deportment, with the intent to make the girls “shamefast and biddable.” Chantel struggles with that, and as a result ends up facing against the kingdom’s ruling Patriarchs and king in order to save the city. There is a lovely array of evil characters as well as friends in surprising places that help Chantel save the kingdom as well as find her own strengths.  She never does learn to be biddable, but she does learn the power of well-placed deportment, and the power of Persisting.  Not only is this a terrific magical adventure, it’s a hopeful and empowering tale, perfect for today’s readers.

Debbie Tanner, The Book Search; Katy Kramp, A Library Mama; and Melissa Fox, Book Nut

Spirit Hunters
by Ellen Oh
Nominated by: Deb

Here is a superb ghost story for kids who want horror that’s scary as heck but won’t scar them for life. Harper’s life has been upended when her family move to a surprisingly cheap old house in a new city. It’s cheap because of the horrors that happened in it, and once Harper starts to see for herself just how haunted it is, she likes it even less. Harper can see and sometimes communicate with ghosts, and when her little brother becomes possessed by the spirit of another little boy who lived, and died, in the house, she had to try to save him. Fortunately, she has the help of her Korean grandmother, who was herself a spirit hunter. Alongside the horror, there’s also a story of family and friendship, and trying to fit into a new place, so that the nightmare is balanced by the everyday. Harper is a great character, strong but uncertain in a believable middle grade way, and her story is memorable and gripping (and scary).

Charlotte Taylor, Charlotte’s Libary

The Countdown Conspiracy
by Katie Slivensky
Nominated by: Pat Zietlow Miller

In the near future, the world has made it through several wars and has decided to come together to form an exploratory Mars program, inviting brilliant children and teenagers from around the world to join, with the idea that in nine years they will be sent into space. Sounds like a perfect unifying program. That is, until things go wrong: our main character, Miranda, is attacked on her way to the training. She and the five other kids who are on her particular team (a diverse group with strong opinions) don’t get along. And someone is sabotaging the training. When they suddenly and unexpectedly launched into space, they are faced with figuring out how to work together…or risk never returning home again. Full of action, suspense, and realistic and plausible science and math, this is not only science fiction at its best, but one for those who love middle grade mysteries and school stories as well!  

Melissa Fox, Book Nut

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart
by Stephanie Burgis
Bloomsbury USA
Nominated by: Heidi G.

Dragons meet chocolate in a treat for fans of both! Aventurine is a young dragon who has never been allowed to leave her cave. She’s convinced that she can be just as brave and wonderful as the rest of her family if they’d give her a chance, and one day she sneaks out on her own. Things go wrong when a human she thinks would be easy prey turns out to be a magician, and he tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate which turns her into a human girl!  Aventurine is forced to go to the big city to find a job and satisfy her newfound passion for chocolate. Can a fierce dragon girl find a place among humans, and enough chocolate to keep her happy?  And what happens when her dragon family comes looking for her?  Themes of finding your true self, and loyalty to family and friends combine with political intrigue and prejudice in a memorable and gripping story.  

Debbie Tanner, The Book Search