So Your Kids Want to Read Science Fiction, Part 1

R is for Rocket

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By Luke Forney

Science Fiction is a growing genre, that much is clear.  Each new generation is the lifeblood of the future, as well as the lifeblood of the genre of the future.  Unlike certain other literary foundations, which embrace the old guard at the detriment of up-and-comers, science fiction, which does raise certain early genre figures above the new writers just starting, has also been receptive to new authors, as well as new fans.  At a time when young adult science fiction has never been more popular, and more and more classics are coming back in print, now is the perfect time to embrace new fans with arms full of material to introduce them to the genre, be it at a home library or a classroom bookshelf.  For three weeks we will be taking a look at nine great entry points for young new fans who are interested in exploring what science fiction has to offer.  This isn’t a top ten list.  There is no significance to the order.  It is just a brief look at nine books, series, and authors that could do much good in helping science fiction grow a larger fan base and a foundation for the future.

Without further introduction, here are the first three.  If you think of something not here, and think it is simply screaming to be part of the second two thirds, leave a comment!

1)      Ray Bradbury

As far as authors go, few are better at bridging the gap between “acceptable,” “literary” fiction and science fiction that Ray Bradbury.  Even more so, however, few are able to capture the magic and wonder of science fiction as well as Bradbury seems to do so effortlessly.  While some of his most recent efforts haven’t quite matched the power of his earlier classics, it doesn’t take away from the power of his best works.  Bradbury hits everything Twilight Zone-inspiring tales of robot maids (“I Sing the Body Electric”) to the chilling far future evil children (“The Veldt”), the mythic power of the Red Planet (The Martian Chronicles) to time travel via the butterfly effect (“A Sound of Thunder”).  With collections specifically aimed at younger audiences, such as R is for Rocket, Bradbury is very easy for a younger reader to get into.  Even his more adult works (like Dandelion Wine) work on multiple levels, and will intoxicate young readers with their power.  Outside of strictly science fiction, Bradbury’s October Country, One More for the Road, and the young reader-themed Something Wicked This Way Comes, are all brilliant choices for younger readers of all inclinations.

2)      K.A. Applegate’s Animorphs Series

A classic of ‘90s young adult science fiction, this immensely popular series introduced millions of readers to a secret alien invasion that was taking over hometowns just like their own.  As six kids band together to fight for what’s right and save the human species, they are given the ability to change into animals, and use their newfound powers to fight off aliens that literally get into your head.  The series, written by K.A. Applegate and a team of ghostwriters, reached 64 book at its conclusion (54 regular series books, as well as 10 “special” books, for lack of a better term, focusing on larger stories or background events).  Fast-paced, action-filled science fiction adventures, parents and teachers liked the environmental and animal-loving undertones, while young readers liked the vibrant characters and alien vs. large animal showdowns.  The series maintains its focus on the realities of war at its conclusion, with a staggering ending that leaves the world and the Animorphs changed forever.  Few young adult science fiction sagas can match the scope and enjoyment of Animorphs, and the series makes great fodder for a burgeoning science fiction reader.

3)      The Heinlein Juveniles

Robert Heinlein created a name for himself as one of the greatest science fiction writers, and it earned him the very first Grandmaster of Science Fiction award.  Part of his strength was the series of “juveniles” he wrote for Scribner in the ‘40s and ‘50s.  This was an early step in appealing to the young adult age range in science fiction, and Heinlein’s willingness to not avoid hard, technical science, and to not talk down to his readers, lead these novels to become incredibly popular in all age groups, and to retain their classic status today.  The twelve Heinlein juveniles are Rocket Ship Galileo, Space Cadet, Red Planet, Between Planets, The Rolling Stones (also published as Space Family Stone), Farmer in the Sky, Starman Jones, The Star Beast, Tunnel in the Sky (this writer’s personal favorite), Time for the Stars, Citizen of the Galaxy, and Have Spacesuit—Will Travel.  Many also include Heinlein’s Podkayne of Mars, although it isn’t actually part of the Scribner series.  Readers young and old will love these books, and the number of new science fiction fans they have generated is staggering.

(So Your Kids Want to Read Science Fiction, Part 2)
(So Your Kids Want to Read Science Fiction, Part 3)

5 Comments:

  1. No idea if you’re going to have her in parts 2 or 3 or not, but Madeline L’Engle was most kids of my generation’s first SF author.

  2. I devoured her Time Quartet as a kid. I’ve been thinking about putting her in the list, but I’m a bit on the fence to be honest. I want to introduce kids (and the parents, teachers, etc. who introduce books to their kids) to works that they may not be quite as likely to come across otherwise. Do you think A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels (which, at least when I was growing up, were classics of children’s fiction) are pretty well entrenched in children’s literary realm, or do they deserve a dusting off in the brave new 2010s? I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

    • Considering how far back the required reading lists for most schools have been pruned, and the general sense that children shouldn’t be allowed in libraries for their own safety (seriously!), I wouldn’t count on anything being something that parents and kids will automatically discover. That goes for l’Engle, C.S. Lewis, Norton Juster, or any of the others our generation was guaranteed to encounter.

      Of course, J.K. Rowling is one people are likely to discover without any intervention, but that’s an entirely different ballgame…

      • I’ve heard another comment on kids not coming across A Wrinkle in Time, et al., this time from a teacher! I’ll have to make sure to include it. I hope that this list, rather than just evoking memories of great fiction (which is, of course, awesome), also serves as a guide for those in the position of leading kids to books. For everyone who has a kid in their life, I hope they find something in the list worth passing on, leading the youngster to a whole new world (or worlds!) of imagination!

  3. Pingback: So Your Kids Want to Read Science Fiction, Part 2 | Digital Science Fiction

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