The winners of the Cybils Awards have been announced! If you haven’t heard yet, you must still be busy celebrating Valentine’s Day. The winner for the 2017 Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Category is … WAIT!
First, what are the Cybils Awards? They are awards that recognize children’s and young adult authors and illustrators whose books combine the highest literary merit and popular appeal.
Second, I had the pleasure of being a round two judge for this category and reading the seven amazing finalists. Let me tell you, choosing a winner was very difficult, but my fellow round two judges and I did. The winner is:
The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis
The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis. Aventurine is a young dragon ready to explore the outside world, but her family thinks she’s too young to fly on her own. She’s determined to prove them wrong by capturing the most dangerous prey of all: a human. The human tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, which transforms her into one, but results in her finding her passion. Chocolate! Now all she has to do is find an apprenticeship in a chocolate house in a human city. Easy, right?
This book hooked me by the first sentences. I can’t say I ever wondered what it felt like to be human. But then, my grandfather Grenat always said, “It’s safer not to talk to your food…” I loved the twist in this creative story about passion and what it means to find it: the main character starts as a dragon and turns into a human. It was a wonderful journey to take as Aventurine taught us if you want something, you have to work for it.
As I said, all of the finalists are fantastic. I have to share them with you.
Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded by Sage Blackwood. Chantel would much rather focus on magic than curtsying, which is why she often finds herself in trouble. When Miss Ellicott mysteriously disappears along with all the other sorceresses in the city, Chantel’s behavior becomes the least of her problems. Without magic protecting the city, it’s up to Chantel and her friends to save the Kingdom. In doing so, Chantel discovers a crossbow-wielding boy, a dragon, and a new, fiery magic that burns inside her—but can she find the sorceresses and transform Lightning Pass into the city it was meant to be?
Chantel has a problem with deportment, being shamefast and biddable, and I admit I may have the same problem. But that wasn’t all that hooked me. The characters are unique, the descriptions are detailed without losing the wonderful voice, and their adventure is full of tension. Plus magic and dragons? You can’t go wrong.
Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh. Harper doesn’t trust her new home. It’s rumored to be haunted, but she’s not sure she believes it. It gives her a sense of déjà vu, but she can’t remember why. Until her younger brother starts acting strangely. Harper’s blocked out memories can explain her brother’s behavior and the strange happenings in the house. But will she remember it all in time?
Do you like to be scared? Well you’ve come to the right story. The mysteries of the house are just as spine tingling as the mysterious missing memories of Harper. Add to that are the descriptions of the spirit, William. Let’s just say I found myself looking over my shoulder for an evil ghost.
A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander. Rosa just moved to Ingot, the only ghost-free town in the world. She doesn’t understand how her mother—a librarian who specializes in ghost-appeasement—could
want to live in a place with no ghosts. She doesn’t understand why anyone would. Jasper has always lived in Ingot. He has never seen a ghost, and can’t imagine his un-haunted town any other way. Until an apparition thunders into the festival grounds and turns the quiet town upside down. Something otherworldly is about to be unleashed. Rosa will need her ghost appeasement tools and help from Jasper to rein in the angry spirits and restore peace to Ingot before it’s too late.
I loved the plot of this book. An unhaunted town is unheard of? Ghosts are normal? Cool! The characters, their jobs, even the setting in a renaissance festival were extremely well developed and fun ways to tell this story.
Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson. It is Earth year 2213—but there is no Earth anymore. It was burned by the sun, which has mysteriously begun the process of going supernova. Humans fled to Mars, but only as a temporary solution while they planned a one-hundred-fifty-year journey to a permanent home. It’s the last day on Mars and Liam and Phoebe are going to be a few of the last humans to leave. Until they make profound discoveries about the nature of time and space, and find out that the human race is just one of many in our universe locked in a dangerous struggle for survival.
Normally I’m a feet planted on the Earth kind of reader, but I was intrigued by the humans’ life on Mars. The descriptions were so well done, I could almost feel the planet’s dust. This novel is full of tension, sabotage, and aliens, as well as a reality check on how we treat our planet.
A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge. The underground city of Caverna has the world’s most skilled craftsmen who create wines that remove memories, cheeses that make you hallucinate, and perfumes that convince you to trust the wearer. The people of Caverna are ordinary, except for one thing: their faces are blank. Expressions such as joy, despair, or fear must be learned and only Facesmiths can teach them. For a price. Then comes Neverfell, a girl with no memory of her past and a face so terrifying, she must wear a mask at all times. Her expressions are as varied and dynamic as those of the most skilled Facesmiths, except hers are entirely genuine. And that makes her very dangerous.
Once again I was struck by the creativity of this story. People not having expressions? Facesmiths having to teach them? All the while telling the story of the wealthy and poor. And at the heart of it all is a naive girl who influences both.
The Countdown Conspiracy by Katie Slivensky. Miranda can’t believe she was chosen as one of six kids from around the world to train for the first ever mission to Mars. As soon as the official announcement is made, she begins receiving anonymous threatening message, and when the training base is attacked, it looks like Miranda is the intended target. Now the entire mission—and everyone’s lives—are at risk. And Miranda may be the only one who can save them.
This is a winner for science and space lovers. And inventors, people who love strong, independent female thinkers, and those who appreciate the importance of working as a team. Add tension and amazing descriptions and you’ve got it all!
You can find all of the 2017 nominated books here.
All of these books can be found on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Indi bookstores.
HALLI GOMEZ teaches martial arts and writes for children and young adults because those voices flow through her brain. She enjoys family, outdoors, reading, and is addicted to superhero movies. She’s represented by Deborah Warren of East West Literary Agency. You can find Halli on Twitter.