2019 Finalists: Elementary/Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction

Cog (Amazon, IndieBound)
by Greg van Eekhout, illustrated by Beatrice Blue
Nominated by: Violet

Cog uses the voice of a robot with artificial intelligence, who looks like a brown-skinned, 12 year old boy, to raise questions about what makes us human. Learning from making mistakes? Our connections with others? After Cog saves a dog from being run over, he lands in the hands of a roboticist who believes robots are tools, and the financial bottom line is the most important thing. When Cog realizes the danger he’s in, he knows he must escape and find his beloved programmer again. Readers will love the rollercoaster ride adventure Cog takes to try to make sure he’s learning all the lessons he’s meant to learn.

Debbie Tanner, The Booksearch

Homerooms and Hall Passes (Amazon, IndieBound)
by Tom O’Donnell
Balzer + Bray
Nominated by: Ms. Yingling

Homework and Hallpasses is a classic “fish out of water” story about a group of kids who get trapped in a game they’re playing. There’s a twist- the group of kids are from a medieval realm and include a wizard, an assassin, a paladin, a Barbarian, and thief. The game they are trapped in is called Homework and Hallpasses, a role playing game set in a modern day middle school. The laugh out loud dialogue and situations that develop as the dangers of middle school are coupled with a demonic curse, will keep all readers turning the pages to the final, hilarious solution.

Debbie Tanner, The Booksearch

Love Sugar Magic: A Sprinkle of Spirits (Amazon, IndieBound)
by Anna Meriano, illustrated by Mirelle Ortega
Walden Pond Press
Nominated by: Eric K.

Leo’s family runs a magical bakery in a small Texas town, and she longs to learn all she can about magic, even though her family doesn’t trust her with it. When she wakes up to find her abuela, dead for years, visiting her in very corporal form, she’s sure that this time it isn’t her fault. Other spirits pop up around town, and if it isn’t Leo’s magic at work, whose is it? Leo calls on her friends to help, and a wild ghost chase ensues. Honoring and balancing obligations to family, friends, and the community is just as important to the story as the magical shenanigans are, and these threads combined make an unforgettably fun, warm, story full of Mexican and Costa Rican culture.

Charlotte Taylor, Charlotte’s Library

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe (A Sal and Gabi Novel, Book 1) (Amazon, IndieBound)
by Carlos Hernandez
Disney Hyperion–Rick Riordan presents
Nominated by: boricuareads

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe is a quirky sci-fi friendship story brimming with humor and heart. Sal Vidón is not your typical diabetic Cuban-American middle school magician. He can tear holes in the fabric of the multiverse and bring things—and even people—from parallel universes into his own. It’s a useful skill, but it can lead to complications. Luckily, he finds a fierce ally in student council president, Gabi Reál. This book tackles serious issues with such a light touch that readers will never want to leave Sal and Gabi’s universe.

Beth Mitchell, Imaginary Friends

The Dark Lord Clementine (Amazon, IndieBound)
by Sarah Jean Horwitz
Algonquin Young Readers
Nominated by: Brenda

Clementine has been raised to follow in her father’s footsteps as a Dark Lord. When he’s cursed, it falls to her to look after their castle and its magical creatures, while desperately searching for a cure. It doesn’t go well. But as Clementine grows in confidence, with two friends on her side for the first time in her life, she subverts the old notions “Dark Lord” and makes the role her own. It’s delightful to watch her come into her own. The humor of her world and the fun twists on standard fantasy are delightful as well, with themes of community, friendship, and forgiveness adding emotional weight.

Charlotte Taylor, Charlotte’s Library

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky (Amazon, IndieBound)
by Kwame Mbalia
Disney Hyperion–Rick Riordan presents
Nominated by: Reshama

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky is an epic adventure that melds African and African American folklore in a riveting fantasy about the power of stories. Tristan, an African American seventh grader, has lost his best friend and is spending the summer down South with his grandparents. There he is transported to a land of lore that is both familiar and strange. Tristan processes grief and guilt while confronting an allegory of his ancestral past in this otherworldly adventure. Told in rich cinematic detail with beautiful attention to dialogue, Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky demands space on the bookshelf.

Jennifer Miller, Raise Them Righteous

We’re Not from Here (Amazon, IndieBound)
by Geoff Rodkey
Crown Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: proseandkahn

We’re Not From Here puts all of us in the place of refugees and new kids when Lan and their family must represent all of humanity on an alien planet. The inhabitants of the planet Choom changed their minds about taking refugees while the human ship was on its way there – and now if Lan’s family can’t convince them that humans are civilized, all the humans on their ship will die in space. Even though the situation is dire and the government of Choom has set them up to fail, the humor in this book keeps the reader laughing along with Lan, learning how to understand truly alien perspectives.

Sondra Eklund, Sonderbooks