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A Tuesday Ten: Speculative Middle Grade Characters: Ten Girls Every Reader Should Meet

This list is purely subjective of course.  And it’s purely of the moment.  I invite all my readers to add their own titles to this list.  But I thought it’d be fun to introduce some of my favorite female protagonists over the years.


Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, translated by Florence Lamborn (Puffin, c1945)

I’ll kick the list off with this red-haired gal from Sweden.  Pippi  is outrageous, wildly nonconformist and an affront to right thinking adults everywhere.  This super-strong little girl is not only capable of living on her own with her horse and monkey, she insists on it.  Watching Pippi interact with the more staid society around her leads to hilarious results.  She really is one of the first female superheroes of literature.   Re-reading this book with my son, as a parent I find myself wincing at many things in this story–but those are some of the very things that make the story so magical and delightful for children.



Dealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede (HMH, c1990)

Cimorene is anything but a proper princess.  She wants to learn how to cook, and do magic, and fight with a sword.  But her parents simply want her to marry a very dull prince as a proper princess should.  So Cimorene runs away and makes a deal with a dragon.  She’ll be the dragon’s princess if the dragon will keep away the princes and let her do all the unproper stuff she wants.  I added the Trina Schart Hyman cover here because it so beautifully captures the Cimorene  (not sweet or elegant) and her relationship with the dragon.  Lots of fun with fairytales turned on their heads.  Check out the rest of the series if you enjoy this one!



The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by by L. Frank Baum, illustrated by W. W. Denslow (HarperCollins, c1900)

It’s easy to forget, given it’s age and weight as a classic that this story contains one of the more forthright and impressive adventurers who’s ever crossed into a fairyland.  Farm girl Dorothy mostly takes things in stride–from her quest to find the wizard, to her show down with the witch, and to her final journey home again.  Think about how rare this was at the time to have a girl in that role (and not a princess).   Then realize that unlike the movie, Dorothy’s journey was no dream, and she’ll return to Oz many more times throughout her life on other adventures.  Baum’s extended series of books set in Oz don’t always feature Dorothy, but she’s an enjoyable character when she does appear.


The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex (Disney-Hyperion, c2007)

When the aliens invaded earth and Gratuity “Tip” Tucci’s mom is taken away aboard an alien ship, Tip is left on her own.  So she does what any self-reliant tween does heads out to steal a hovercar and find her mother–oh, and maybe save Earth from yet another alien invasion in the process.  A fun and funny narrator, Tip makes this story of aliens come to life with hilarious observations and crazy shenanigans.  In the end it’s a darned good SF story too.


Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce (Atheneum, 1983)

Anyone who knows me by now probably has some notion that this series is bound to land on a list like this.  Seriously, Alanna changed my life.  This twin who disguised herself as a boy to become a knight, then  goes on to prove herself and become a champion to the kingdom, well, up until then I’d never seen a female character in a sword and sorcery story succeed as hero by being the warrior.  Alanna is a stubborn, hot-tempered gal who wants things her way–even if that way is a challenge.  Her struggles to both succeed as a fighter and to figure out how to accept herself formed the backbone of my fantasy reading as a tween.


Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, c2009)

Minli is a poor girl who works hard to survive each day with her family, but she loves her father’s fantastic stories that he shares with her.  Stories of magic and adventure and strange places.  When she sets a goldfish free, she doesn’t imagine it will send her on a quest far from home.  Along the way she will meet and befriend different creatures, and have to use her wits to win.  Combining ancient Chinese myths with a girl’s magical adventure story, this is a fantastic read aloud to share with your family.


Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (Greenwillow, c1986)

I could hardly have this list without including Sophie.  Poor, elder sister Sophie who is told her life will be the dullest since she is the eldest.  A girl who is quiet and has mostly accepted her lot in life, until she is cursed.  In a case of mistaken identity, Sophie is cursed by a witch and turned into an old woman.  Horrified by this, and not wanting to face her family,  Sophie decides to seek out the nefarious wizard Howl.  Being old gives Sophie a new latch on life, and she embraces the chance to be as stubborn and cantankerous as she wants.  Sophie has a magic all her own, and with it she might cause the wizard Howl to lose his life . . . or might be his one chance at saving it.


Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall (HarperCollins,  2015)

Alice Dare is being sent to Mars with a shipload of other children so that they may be kept safe and train to one day fight the aliens that have invaded Earth.  When all the adults on Mars go missing, there’s soon trouble–and Alice and her friends find themselves on the run out in the not-so-friendly Martian terrain.  Alice is wry and funny  as she tells her story about how she and her friends wind up bringing about a peace with the alien invaders and saving both races from an even greater threat.  Hilarious SF adventure with several great female characters to cheer on!


The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste (Algonquin Young Readers, Expected Publication April 2015)

Corinne La Mer is a fearless and strong-hearted girl living on an island in the Caribbean.  Unlike so many others, she’s not afraid to venture into the dark forest.  At least she wasn’t until a Jumbie followed her out!  Now that Jumbie has designs on her father and on the village, and Corinne must come to accept her own lineage and decide where her loyalties lie.  In the end that decision is not so simple.  This spooky fantasy tale won me over the first time I read it, I hope others will enjoy discovering Corinne much as I did.


The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett (HarperTrophy, c2003)

If you’ve never encountered Tiffany Aching, I hope you will soon at your next opportunity.  A girl of intelligence, determination and heart, Tiffany finds herself to be the hero of the story, even if others don’t want to acknowledge it.  This is just the first book in an ongoing series about Tiffany and her journey from girlhood to womanhood and becoming a witch.  Sir Terry handles it all brilliantly in my opinion. “Yes! I’m me! I am careful and logical and I look up things I don’t understand! When I hear people use the wrong words, I get edgy! I am good with cheese. I read books fast! I think! And I always have a piece of string! That’s the kind of person I am!”

So there you have it!  Please share your favorites in the comments!


A Tuesday Ten: A Science Fiction Pathway V (9-12 years old)

For those reading along, this is the 5th part of this pathway, the introductory paragraph is pretty much the same  for each of these entries.

So, there are always lists out there detailing these or those must-read Science fiction books. Often SF and Fantasy are thrown in together without differentiation.  It’s inspired me to try a different kind of series of Tuesday Ten lists, one that takes readers on a trip from childhood to adult with Science Fiction stories recommended in each age bracket.  A potential pathway so to speak.  I’m going to limit each bracket to ten titles (which is a REAL challenge in some cases), and I’m going to try and put in a range of works, recent and past, that are still available for readers to find.  After all, the point of this list is to give you ideas of titles share with your kids or read yourselves!  There will be many more options in each age range, this is only the jumping off point after all!  Let’s blast off!

This week’s Ten is focusing on the next group in my age bracket, the 9-12 year-olds.  (You can check out the 0-3 years list here , the 3-5 year-olds here, the 5-7 year-olds here, and the 7-9 year-olds here.)  By now kids are pretty much independent readers.  If they don’t already have some interest in science fiction, it can be a challenge to get them to try the genre, though not impossible by any stretch.  They are having regular school assignments in book reading, both fiction and nonfiction.  Some will be slower readers, still intimidated by page size or story complexity.  Some will be reading their way through YA and adult literature with no signs of slowing.  This is a great time though to discuss both classics and newer stories that have issues and adventures that can be chewed over and explored at length.  It’s still a great idea to be reading aloud to your child at this point, though the books you choose may be from the YA and teen realm, or older classics the kids won’t pick up on their own.

Aliens, dystopias, future worlds, space adventure, invention, time travel . . . there’s a whole world of possibilities here.


The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore (Walker Childrens, 2013)

We’ll kick off with this book–a notable read from 2013 that combines mystery, history, and science fiction in a subtle and delightful way.  Ephraim’s ancestor was once fascinated by the idea of the fountain of youth, but he thought he might be able to create such a thing rather than simply discover it.  Ephraim is on a hunt to find out what his ancestor did discover, along with new friends from the town.  The science fiction in this one slips in and out, important to the plot but not overpowering, and not the traditional “sci fi” sort of setting.  It’s a perfect blend to bring in any reader who likes a good story and enjoys speculating on the truth of the matter.  Readers who enjoy this will probably like exploring stories of invention and near-future discoveries that still take place in a mostly recognizable setting and society.  This kind of story often leads to further discussion of science ethics and the responsibilities one has for their discoveries.


The Giver by Lois Lowry (Dell Laurel-Leaf, c1993)

If there ever was a book that defined dystopia, it is this masterpiece by Lowry.  Complicated, controversial and creepy because it’s actually believable.  Jonas is growing up in a society that is a seeming utopia, without hunger, war or conflict.  But the longer readers are in this society, the more the utopia begins to look like a nightmarish dystopia.  As Jonas discovers the truth about his world and the reader does too, he’ll have profound choices to make.  Not an easy book, and it may not suit every child in this age range.  It raises many questions–as a good science fiction story should.   While the Hunger Games is the dramatic and chilling dystopian vision in everyone’s mind, this one is more subtle, but no less frightening in the end.


The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (Signet Classics, c1895)

It’s certainly a time to try kids on the classics of the SF world.  H.G. Wells is among the early writers of science fiction, and his unforgettable Time Machine remains in print to this day.  This may be a book to read aloud to your child unless they’re particularly precocious or enthusiastic about exploring the traditions of science fiction.  Time travel to the past is a pretty common thread in stories, both fantasy and SF.  But time-travel to the future tends to be less common.  Here our intrepid inventor and explorer does both.


Mars Evacuees by Sophia MacDougall (HarperCollins, 2015)

If you like space adventure, humor,  and aliens I’ve got to encourage you to read this delightfully fun Martian story!  Alice Dare and other kids from Earth are being sent to the Mars colony to keep them safe while the adults back home continue to battle invading aliens.    Only, once they arrive at their new home, the adults go missing, and our intrepid young people soon find themselves travelling across the hostile Martian terrain in search of help.  With the help of an enemy alien and a giant floating robotic goldfish they just might save their worlds from destruction!  Fun, funny, adventurous and fast moving. If you enjoy this, be sure to check out the second book: Space Hostages.


Jupiter Pirates: Hunt for the Hydra by Jason Fry (HarperCollins, 2013)

Want to go a little further in the future?  Jason Fry’s Jupiter Pirates series takes us out further into the solar system where Tycho and his family are privateers.  With their ship the Shadow Comet they track down trespassing ships, and of course, potential treasure.  With a marvelous sense of science fictional fun and a high adventure plot worthy of the old-time pirates, Jason Fry blends swashbuckling with sci-fi!  This series is rich in detail and plotting, so best for the reader who is looking for longer, more sophisticated reads.  There are currently three books out in this series.


Space Dumplins by Craig Thompson (GRAPHIX, 2015)

Space Opera is great stuff, though there isn’t ever a great deal of it for the middle grade crowd.  This new graphic novel adventure takes us to an outer space future populated by sentient chickens, giant space whales and all sorts of aliens.  Our young heroine’s dad has gone missing after his day at work and rather  than simply wait to find out what’s become of him, she heads out with a group of misfits, steals a ship and goes in search of him.  Great fun in a full color illustrations!


Ambassador by William Alexander (Margaret K. McElderry, 2014)

Ambassador is only half the story, and I do suggest anyone reading this first book have Nomad (2015) near to hand to complete this science fiction adventure.  Why do I have it on the list?  Several reasons.  One is that it is one of the rare science fiction stories to actually feature a Latino protagonist.  Two is that it’s a book that takes a different interpretation of the how intergalactic species communicate and cooperate with each other, rather than the traditional rocket ships central planet alliances.  The amazing details really come together in the second book–and I think this will appeal most to thinkers who enjoy being challenged by new concepts and new perceptions of things.


The Ear, The Eye and the Arm by Nancy Farmer (Puffin, 1995)

Futuristic earth-bound science fiction set in Africa?  When it comes to middle grade books, this is the singular one that comes to mind, a story that ties science fictional and folkloric aspects together in a story about children who’ve disappeared and the legendary individuals out to find them.  This was a Newbery Honor for 1995, so it can usually be found in library collections despite being printed in the 1990s.


The White Mountains by John Christopher (Simon Pulse, c1967)

Next to books like the Time Machine, this series by John Christopher may be the most reprinted science fiction series for kids.  The Tripods trilogy (plus a prequel) is a story of alien invasion and oppression, human escape and resistance, and ultimate victory against the vicious Tripods.  Still as vivid today as it was so many years ago.  It’s a critical work in the history of children’s science fiction and deserves to remain  in the canon of suggested reading for years to come.


Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar (Delacorte Books, 2015)

It was hard limiting this to ten, there are so many divergent paths of SF at this point, and so many good books I want to recommend.  But I decided on Fuzzy Mud because it shows off the thriller/horror side of science fiction.  What happens when an experiment gets out of control, leading to dire and deadly circumstances?  What if a mysterious “fuzzy mud” in the woods by a chemical plant turned out to be a mutated experiment that begins to infect everyone who comes in contact with it?  The scary consequences of science gone wrong or out of control can be seen in everything from Shelley’s Frankenstein to stories like this one from 2015.  Great for conversation starters, or just for entertainment!

My earlier pathways can be found here:

A Science Fiction Pathway Part I ( 0-3 years)

A Science Fiction Pathway Part II (3-5 years)

A Science Fiction Pathway Part III (5-7 years)

A Science Fiction Pathway Part IV (7-9 years)

What I’ll Be Reading: 2016 Titles I’m Looking forward to!

Today we’re taking a break from our usual Tuesday Ten to do a Tuesday Fifteen.  Fifteen new stories out this year that are part of a very quickly growing list of to-be-read items that I’ll be diving into in the next few months.  There will be many, many more, but it’s always fun to see what was of interest at the start of the year!


Bounders by Monica Tesler (Aladdin, January 2016)

This winds up on the top of my list by dint of it being on the top of my current pile of to reads.  I’m excited about this fascinating debut.  A science fiction plot that gives us an ensemble cast of kids–kids with a lot quirks that get filed under the “special needs” banner.  Turns out there’s a connection between brains structure and space travel, and particular kids have the knack that just might make them into the next generation of space pilots!  SF military adventure–I can’t wait!


Space Hostages by Sophia McDougall (HarperCollins, Expected Publication February 2016)

Already out in the UK, I don’t think it’s much of a secret that I adored the first title in this series, Mars Evacuees.  This futuristic space romp that combines great science fiction, great characters and lots of fun in one package was one of the best things I read last year.  I’m being patient about cracking the cover on my galley of the second installment of Alice Dare’s adventures in space . . . but I’m only human and I can’t wait to see what happens next!


The Rat Prince by Bridget Hodder (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Expected Publication August 2016)

I almost always have an interest in fractured fairy tales!  And when those particular fractures are notably different from the ones we’ve come to know . . . well then I’m doubly intrigued.  What happens when the Prince of Rats falls in love with Cinderella?  And becomes transformed into her coachman the night of the ball?  This brings to mind a Susan Meddaugh picture book; Cinderella’s Rat (1997). However, I’m rather certain this story will be quite a different turn of fairytale . . .


The Girl of Ink & Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (Chicken House, Expected Publication May 2016)

There are always a few titles that catch me based on cover and title–and this was one of them.  Map making and cartography is an interesting subject for exploration–and I’ve seen it done well in several titles of speculative fiction–I hope it’s done well here.  Isabella Riosse volunteers to lead the way into the Forgotten Territories when her close friend goes missing.  The blurbs about this book suggest it for fans of Frances Hardinge, so it is bound to be an interesting read, I hope!


Secrets of the Dragon-Tomb by Patrick Samphire (Henry Holt and Co. Expected Publication January 2016)

Here’s one I’ve been waiting over a year to see (impatiently).  A fabulous adventure-filled fantastical romp in a Regency-era Mars.  I’m a sucker for Middle Grade books that try something new in the speculative genre, and this strikes me as just such a thing.  Looking forward to giving it a try!


The Eye of Midnight by Andrew Brumbach (Penguin, Random House, Expected Publication: March 2016)

I can’t tell if this one is fantasy or just fantastic historical fiction set in New York City . . . but either way the early reviews have me wanting to give it a try!


The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse by Brian Farrey (Algonquin Books, Expected Publication April 2016)

I very much enjoyed the Vengekeep Chronicles by Brian Farrey so a new adventure series written by him is certain to get my interest!   This one has two strong female protagonists–a princess and a peasant girl– on a dangerous quest.  Trying not to read too much about this one before I can get my hands on it . . . but certainly looking forward to it.


Jupiter Pirates: The Rise of the Earth by Jason Fry (HarperCollins, Expected Publication: June 2016)

Since I’m a huge fan of this series and was missing an installment this past year, I’m very much looking forward to seeing what Jason Fry has in store for our characters in his next Jupiter Pirates novel.  I suspect this one may be moving out of middle grade territory, but since the series has been middle grade up to now, I’ll keep it in the mix.


The Bride From Huanan by Celeste Lim (Scholastic, Expected Publication Spring 2016)

No cover or firm pub date on this one yet, but I’m still eager to see more about this one.  It’s a fantasy set in medieval China about a young girl sold by her family and who must find her own internal strengths to seize the magic of her own destiny.  Looking forward to seeing more info about this particular story as the year moves on.




The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary (Sourcebooks Jabborwocky, Expected Publication: January 2016)

Saki Yamamoto thinks preparing for the traditional Obon festival in Japan is boring.  But when she makes a grave error in an effort to gain the interest of the local children, her life may be at risk! A death curse has been invoked and Saki has three nights to try and undo it . . .  I like the sound of this one, and look forward to seeing how the story plays out!



The Inhabitant of Alexis O’Riley by Holly VanDyne (Egmont, Expected Publication: 2016)

Not a lot yet on this title.  But given the premise of this story I’m curious.  To save her life, Vanessa Meadows’ brain was transplanted into the brain-dead body of another girl.  It’s a body that Nessa doesn’t like and is trying to come to terms with.  But someone out there is out to harm that body, and if Nessa wants to stay alive she’s going to have to figure out who and why!


The Goblin’s Puzzle by Andrew S. Chilton (Knopf Books for Young Readers, Expected Publication, January 2016)

Four characters in a fun fantasy adventure.  A young slave boy, a tricky goblin, plain Alice and Princess Alice.  Can the four of them solve the puzzle?  This one should be available soon, so I’m hoping I’ll get a chance to read it this month!


The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman (Candlewick Books, Expected Publication September 2016)

I’m a fan of Delia Sherman’s Changeling duology from a few years ago, and I’ve been hearing about this book for some time–so I look forward to getting a chance to actually read it!  Not too many details yet, but I’ll be keeping an eye out for galleys on this one!



The Wild Robot by Peter Brown (Little Brown Books for Young Readers, Expected Publication: April 2016)

This is Peter Brown’s middle-grade debut novel about an abandoned robot finding her own place and purpose in the wilderness.  The art for the cover immediately makes me think of Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky and also the animated classic The Iron Giant.  I’m curious to see what this veteran picture book creator will bring to the world of middle grade.s




Games Wizards Play by Diane Duane (HMH books, Expected Publication February 2016)

I’ve been reading the Young Wizards series over the decades and Diane Duane remains one of my overall favorite authors.  It’s been some time since I’ve had a new story to read in this series, and so I will be keeping an eye out for this one to add to my collection.  It’s the tenth book, and a long way since that original magic of So You Want to Be a Wizard, but I’m still kid enough at heart to be grinning ear to ear to add this to my 2016 list.

Admittedly I could be here all day and night adding new titles, so I’m cutting it off at fifteen, just enough to whet some appetites out there and hopefully get some of you looking for great reads this year too.  Please feel free to add your own titles that you’re looking forward to in the comments!