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Flashback Fridays: It Was a Dark and Stormy Night . . .

You’re a girl whose father has gone missing and who just can’t seem to fit in anywhere.  You don’t see yourself as pretty or smart or anything like that.  You wear glasses and have braces and get in fights when other kids provoke you.  But now strange forces are gathering, and they want you and your little brother to go on a quest across the universe to rescue your father . . .

Do you remember:

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, c1962)

It’s finally that time when I can take one of my favorite, Newbery award winning novels off the shelf and read it aloud to my son.  I’ve planned to read it since he was born, but couldn’t be sure when he’d be ready.  At nearly 8 years old, he seems to be ready.

I remember my own encounters with this story, way back when I was in fifth grade,  devouring anything set before me with words.  This was–startlingly different.  I’d read fantasy books.  I’d read science fiction works.  But I’d never read anything that deftly combined the two into one breathtaking whole.  I’d never read anything in science fiction or fantasy that had a character with glasses and braces like me.  Meg was so much like me . . . except that her thing was math and mine was words.  But we were both out of step with the ordinary, but not really at peace with the extraordinary either.  Meg didn’t have superpowers that saw her through her adventure–she had only herself.  And that was enough.

Reading this to my son is the first time I’m hearing the text aloud–and so it’s a reintroduction for me that’s made me realize several things.  The first is that my beloved book has some startlingly dated  word choices.  The most notable of these is the use of the world “tramp” to describe a wandering homeless person who may or may not be a threat.  I found myself reading over that word with some discomfort and having to explain its meaning to my son.  The other word that came up a lot was moron, which is still used some times, but I found it painful when Meg used it to describe herself.  There are other little things that date the book, of course.  At over 50 years old, it hardly exists in a complete vacuum.

Still for all that it’s dated, that only colors the work so far.  My best advice for new readers encountering this book?  Get through the introductory three chapters–once you hit the fourth chapter, the words start to forge themselves into amazing narrative landscapes and story.  Despite the opening line, I found by reading the book aloud that the author really hits her stride by the fourth chapter.  Reading it aloud becomes easier, and more interesting.  Once our characters are set on their journey, things just flow.

Out of all the books, this one remains my fast favorite.  But the Time Trilogy, as it is often termed, is all excellent.  Granted, the books may not be for everyone.  L’Engle willingly and freely combines Christian mysticism with science concepts to come up with her own brand of story, something that may be uncomfortable for those favoring a stricter Christian interpretation or a  purely science and fact approach to story.  But I feel there’s lots of room for a middle ground.  Stories do not have to fall into strict definition of genre in order to be great stories.  Madeleine L’Engle was writing at a time when women writing science fiction at all was unusual.  When having a female protagonist was far from the norm.  And she made it exceptional enough to win the Newbery.

My son and I just got to Camazotz, so it’s hard times ahead for Meg and company.  We’ll begin our battle of the Shadow tomorrow night.

Happy reading!

The Cybils Awards! Winners Announced

So the winners for the 2015 Cybils were announced yesterday.  A big thanks to all the second round judges making the tough decisions from such awesome shortlists!

In the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction category, the winner for 2015 is

The Fog Diver by Joel Ross (HarperCollins, May 2015)

A snippet from the Cybils website:

The Fog Diver is a fun, exciting adventure set in a dystopian future where remnants of humanity live on the highest mountaintops and in airships above a deadly fog of microscopic robots covering the planet. The nannites were created to clean up Earth’s pollution, but got out of control and the fog they created killed billions of humans. A boy named Chess is lowered into the fog each day by his crewmates on a salvage ship flying above the clouds to scavenge on the earth’s surface. He is the best fog diver there is—the fog mysteriously energizes him. The secrets behind his fog-diving ability put a target on his back and will impact the survival of his family, and the fate of humankind.

So glad to part of the judging process this year!  I think I’d have been delighted with whatever title won from the shortlist we selected, but it’s awesome to see this high adventure blend of SF and Fantasy win for the year.  If you haven’t read this one yet, I hope you’ll give it try!

Thanks again to the whole team for another fantastic Cybils year!  Happy reading and blogging for the year ahead!

A Tuesday Ten: Speculative Newbery

The ALA Youth media awards for 2016 highlighted some great books, and I decided it’s a good time to review the speculative fiction books that have won the Newbery Award over the lifetime of the award.    I’ve pulled the most recent ten for this list.


Flora and Ulysses: the Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K. G. Campbell (Candlewick, 2013)

Our  Newbery winner for 2014. Kate DiCamillo is no stranger to Newbery awards, and her newest book is a charming mix of outrageous fantasy and family drama.   A squirrel gains superpowers after a tragic accident with a vacuum and befriends cynical young Flora, a girl who certainly needs a good friend.  Adventure and humor unfold in this partially illustrated story of a girl and her super-squirrel.


The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (HarperCollins, 2012)

The 2013 Newbery.  This story is told through the eyes of Ivan, a gorilla living in captivity who doesn’t really miss the jungle or notice the glass walls until a baby elephant comes to join the animals there.  Little Ruby, who misses her family, brings Ivan’s world into a new, sharp focus and he’ll have to choose the path in order to make things better for everyone.  Heartbreaking, funny  animal fantasy at its finest.


When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb Books, 2009)

This slightly fantastic/sf tale was the Newbery winner for 2010.  It’s New York City in the 1970s.   Amid the drama of friendships and family and trying to handle  sixth grade, Miranda receives a mysterious note: “I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.  I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.”  A powerful story with a science fictional twist that will leave readers thoughtful .


The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, illus. by Dave McKean (HarperCollins, 2008)

A sweet and chilling 2009 Newbery winner.  This fantasy/horror from Neil Gaiman only confirms that this fantasy writer is skilled at producing books for all ages.  Bod is the only member of his family not killed by a vicious assassin.  He hides in the graveyard and is adopted by the ghosts who live there.  But now Bod is old enough to decide to leave the safety of his adopted home, what will he discover?  Neil Gaiman has a way of making even the most creepy story heart warming and sweet, and putting the chill down your spine just when you think everything’s fine.


The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering, (Candlewick Press, 2003)

The 2004 Newbery winner.  A little mouse with big dreams becomes a hero in the castle and helps change the destinies of quite a few characters.  An absolutely charming read in animal fantasy with a fantasy setting.  It’s a favorite for summer reading lists.


The Giver by Lois Lowry (Houghton Mifflin, 1993)

Our only dystopian tale on the list, this future science fiction story is about Jonas, a boy who seems to live in a perfect world without troubles.  But as readers move through the story with Jonas, they soon realize that his perfect world isn’t so wonderful.  As the new Receiver of the community it’s up to Jonas to contain and bear all the emotions and memories and truths that the rest of his community has given up–but is this an acceptable price of their utopia? Still one of my all-time thought provoking reads, this book winds up on a lot of challenged lists.  It’s probably one of the darkest of the speculative fiction reads ever to win the Newbery.


The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley (Greenwillow, 1984)

The 1985 Newbery winner was Robin McKinley’s high fantasy sword and sorcery epic.  A vivid dragon-slaying heroine, a powerful evil,  a mysterious healer . . . all elements in this fantasy adventure that I’ve read and re-read over the years to much delight.  One of my favorite named swords as well!


The Grey King by Susan Cooper (McElderry/Atheneum, 1975)

The 1976 Newbery Winner is the fourth book in The Dark is Rising Sequence. This contemporary fantasy story with ancient roots and legendary characters continues to enchant readers. Will is continuing his quest to bring together the forces for the final battle of good and evil.  He’s seeking the harp that will wake the six sleepers.  But the Grey King guards the harp, and none have yet defeated him. . .



Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien (Atheneum, 1971)

Quite possibly the only Newbery book with a widow as the protagonist. This 1972 Newbery winner features a widowed field mouse who must move her children or face certain death.  Unfortunately, her youngest is terribly ill.  It’s up to Mrs. Frisby to find the rats of NIMH and get their help in saving her family.  Part fantasy, part science fictional in it’s storyline, this is one of those animal fantasy stories that is unforgettable!


The High King by Lloyd Alexander (Holt, 1968)

Our 1969 Newbery winner is part of  a high fantasy epic adventure from The Chronicles of Prydain. This final battle of good and evil will determine the fate of Taran, the would be hero.  Lloyd Alexander’s masterful fantasy storytelling combines epic plot with warm humor and unforgettable  characters.

And there we have the latest ten.  Anyone else notice what I did when I created this list? A full half of these Newbery winners are from the last decade.  The rest seem to average out at one fantasy/SF winner a decade.  Just out of curiosity, I checked over the remaining titles:

  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (Farrar, 1962)
  • The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois (Viking, 1947)
  • Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey (Viking, 1946)
  • Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson (Viking,  1944)
  • The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth (Macmillan, 1930)
  • Hitty, Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field (Macmillan, 1929)
  • Gay Neck, the Story of a Pigeon by Dhan Gopal Mukerji (Dutton, 1927)
  • Tales from Silver Lands by Charles Finger (Doubleday, 1924)
  • The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting (Stokes, 1922)

Overall, it seems we’ve had a unheard of number of fantasy/SF Newbery winners in the last ten years.  An interesting trend to note!

What’s your favorite Newbery winner?  Comments Welcome!