There’s nothing quite like corrupting the innocent minds of kids, and science fiction is the best gateway storytelling out there. Yes, better than fantasy (and I’ve got my own well-read copy of The Silmarillion, so any haters can chill).
The books listed here are generally for kids aged from two to twelve, but the age ranges are just suggestions, and most of these are fun for adults to read, too.
Two boys find a newspaper advertisement looking for a homebuilt spaceship. They quickly build one out of tin and scrap wood, and bring it to the advertiser. He makes a few modifications, gives them special fuel, and tells them the must visit the mushroom planet, an undiscovered, invisible moon of Earth’s.
They will require a mascot to be successful, he warns, so they grab a chicken and blast off into space.
Richard sits down to breakfast one morning and discovers that his bowlful of Alien Crisp cereal is home to the real thing—a tiny, talkative alien named Aric, who explains that he has come to save Earth from the evil Dranes, a rival alien race.
It’s a fun, simple story aimed at first- and second-graders.
Matteo Alacrán was not born; he was harvested.
His DNA came from El Patrón, lord of a country called Opium—a strip of poppy fields lying between the United States and what was once called Mexico. Matt’s first cell split and divided inside a petri dish. Then he was placed in the womb of a cow, where he continued the miraculous journey from embryo to fetus to baby. He is a boy now, but most consider him a monster—except for El Patrón. El Patrón loves Matt as he loves himself, because Matt is himself.
A madman has unleashed an army of stilt-walking, laser-beaming, thoroughly angry whales upon the world.
Lucky for Lily Gefelty, her two best friends are the intrepid stars of their own middle-grade series novels: Jasper Dash (better know as the Boy Technonaut) and Katie Mulligan (beloved by millions as the heroine of the Horror Hollow series). It’s going to take all their smarts to stop this insane, inane plot from succeeding.
Always up for a challenge, Tory and her science-geek friends spend their time exploring the marshlands of Loggerhead Island, home to the very off-limits Loggerhead Island Research Institute, where something strange is going on. After rescuing a stray wolfdog pup from a top-secret lab, Tory and her friends are exposed to a rare strain of canine parvovirus, changing them—and their DNA—forever. Now they are more than friends. They are a pack. They are Virals. And they’re dangerous to the core. But are they unstoppable enough to catch a cold-blooded murderer?
Author Kathy Reichs is the creator of the hit television show and mystery series, Bones.
One night a plane appeared out of nowhere, the only passengers aboard: thirty-six babies. As soon as they were taken off the plane, it vanished. Now, thirteen years later, two of those children are receiving sinister messages, and they begin to investigate their past. Their quest to discover where they really came from leads them to a conspiracy that reaches from the far past to the distant future—and will take them hurtling through time.
“In a tantalizing opener to a new series, Haddix taps into a common childhood fantasy–that you are really the offspring of royalty or famous people, and were somehow adopted by an ordinary family—and one-ups it by adding in time travel.”
-Publishers Weekly (starred review)
It’s hard to go wrong with a Daniel Pinkwater book. The guy’s got a fantastic imagination.
Short, portly, and bullied at his new junior high, Leonard Neeble befriends Alan Mendelsohn, a boy whose claims to be Martian set off a riot in the school. Together they set off on a strange adventure involving mind control, folk-singing biker gangs, and alternate planes of existence.
Grumps, the old family robot, is beginning to malfunction. Gavin Bell and his family can’t afford a new, sleek robot, so they accept Eager, an experimental, goofy-looking model. Eager takes some time to understand the world around him, even as he and Gavin (and Gavin’s sister) discover a rebellion of the new, sleek robots against their owners.
The action moves at a brisk clip, but author Fox slips in some questions about what it means to be human, the cost of technology, and the concept of free will.
Liam is a big lad, so big that strangers mistake the 12-year-old for an adult. Too often, they expect to act like an adult, so Liam decides to enter the Greatest Dad Ever Contest. In short order, he finds himself on a rocket ship that is off course and 200,000 miles above the earth.
“A hilarious and heartfelt examination of “dadliness” in all its forms.”
-Publishers Weekly (starred review)
The Giver, winner of the 1994 Newbery Medal, is set in a society which is at first presented as utopian, but gradually appears more and more dystopian. The society has eliminated pain and strife by converting to “Sameness,” a plan that has also eradicated emotional depth from their lives. Twelve-year-old Jonas is selected to inherit the position of Receiver of Memory, the person who stores all the past memories of the time before Sameness, in case they are ever needed to aid in decisions that others lack the experience to make. Jonas learns the truth about his dystopian society and struggles with its weight.
The Giver is a part of many middle school reading lists, but it is also on many challenged book lists and appeared on the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books of the 1990s.
In this lavish picture book, readers accompany a boy on a trip to the moon. It’s a wonderful combination of poetry and science: they boy must prepare properly, spend two and a half days in a ship, contemplate the immensity of space, bounce around the moon’s airless, waterless grey surface, and find a way to get home.
Criticized for its violence (and possibly popular because of it), Ender’s Game shows children on a military space station, training for the war against the evil alien Buggers.
It won the Hugo and Nebula awards, even though the New York Times felt that the plot resembled a “grade Z, made-for-television, science-fiction rip-off movie.”
I remember reading this book in junior high and really liking seeing kids beating up on each other. (Those were some difficult years.)
The city of Ember was built as a last refuge for the human race. Two hundred years later, the great lamps that light the city are beginning to flicker. When Lina finds part of an ancient message, she’s sure it holds a secret that will save the city. She and her friend Doon must decipher the message before the lights go out on Ember forever.
When I think back to being blown away by books as a kid, The Martian Chronicles always comes to mind.
Bradbury imagines a place of hope, dreams, and metaphor—of crystal pillars and fossil seas—where a fine dust settles on the great empty cities of a vanished, devastated civilization. Earthmen conquer Mars and then are conquered by it, lulled by dangerous lies of comfort and familiarity, and enchanted by the lingering glamour of an ancient, mysterious native race. In this classic work of fiction, Bradbury exposes our ambitions, weaknesses, and ignorance in a strange and breathtaking world where man does not belong.
If you have a boy that just won’t read, try this half-comic, half-text chapter book. Stinky & Stan Blast Off! is funny and clever, more than you would expect, given its super-boy-friendly premise: two brothers with near-superhero farting abilities (one silent but violent, the other loud and proud) end up on another planet (Uranus, of course).
The Lucky Starr books are smart, but not too complex, space operas by one of the grand masters of science fiction. This volume includes all six novels:
- David Starr, Space Ranger
- Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids
- Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus
- Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury
- Lucky Starr and the Moons of Jupiter
- Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn
Some extraordinary rats come to the aid of a mouse family in this Newbery Medal Award-winning classic by notable children’s author Robert C. O’Brien.
Mrs. Frisby, a widowed mouse with four small children, is faced with a terrible problem. She must move her family to their summer quarters immediately, or face almost certain death. But her youngest son, Timothy, lies ill with pneumonia and must not be moved. Fortunately, she encounters the rats of NIMH, an extraordinary breed of highly intelligent creatures, who come up with a brilliant solution to her dilemma. And Mrs. Frisby in turn renders them a great service.
The title was changed to The Secret of NIHM, and the family’s name from “Frisby” to “Brisby” to avoid trademark infringement with the Frisbee.
This comic book is a cross between Star Wars and The Wizard of Oz. Fourth-grader Akiko hops aboard a spaceship hovering outside her 17th-story apartment window and is whisked off to the planet Smoo, where she must help rescue a prince and learn how to be a leader.
If your kid likes this, there are eight more books in the series.
I’ve always had a thing for mad scientists, whether hero or villain. Franny K. Stein fits the bill: she prefers poison ivy to daisies, jumps rope with her pet snake, and conducts dangerous experiments after bedtime. The kids in her class think she’s weird, wacky, and just plain creepy.
Tired of being stared at, Franny decides to attempt her most dangerous experiment yet—she’s going to fit in. but when a giant Monstrous Fiend attacks the class, everyone knows it’s up to a mad scientist to save the day.
One day, a boy and a robot meet in the woods. They play. They have fun.
But when Bot gets switched off, Boy thinks he’s sick. The usual remedies—applesauce, reading a story—don’t help, so Boy tucks the sick Bot in, then falls asleep.
Bot is worried when he powers on and finds his friend powered off. He takes Boy home with him and tries all his remedies: oil, reading an instruction manual. Nothing revives the malfunctioning Boy! Can the Inventor help fix him?
“Dyckman’s pared-down prose gives the role-reversal story just enough drama, humor, and robot-inflected dialogue…to keep children entertained for many re-readings.”
-Publishers Weekly (starred review)
I loved this book as a kid. A sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the book begins right after Wonka and Charlie burst through the roof of the chocolate factory in the Elevator. They pick up Grandma and Grandpa and, through an accident, heads into orbit to rendezvous with the Space Hotel.
There, they meet up with one of the most memorable aliens of my childhood, the Vermicious Knids, who are waiting in the hotel to consume the guests and staff.
First prize in the Skyway Soap slogan contest was an all-expenses-paid trip to the Moon. The consolation prize was an authentic space suit, and when scientifically minded high school senior Kip Russell won it, he knew for certain he would use it one day to make a sojourn of his own to the stars. But “one day” comes sooner than he thinks when he tries on the suit in his backyard — and finds himself worlds away, a prisoner aboard a space pirate’s ship, and heading straight for what could be his final destination…
The Little Prince is both the most-read and most-translated book in the French language, and was voted the best book of the 20th century in France.
Whimsical and truthful, this little novella is fable and philosophy, playful with a touch of satire, and a creative journey through love and loneliness.
Normal Earthling Zita is transported to a mysterious alien planet which appears to be the Star Wars cantina dialed up to eleven. Zita must rescue her friend who’s been kidnapped by an alien cult while dealing with con men, bloodthirsty robots, humanoid chickens, a friendly giant mouse, and the impending destruction of the planet she’s standing on.
Zita the Spacegirl is fun and captivating: my eight-year-old has read it many, many, many times. Strongly recommended.
A Wrinkle in Time was rejected by at least 26 publishers, because it was, in L’Engle’s words, “too different,” and “because it deals overtly with the problem of evil, and it was really difficult for children, and was it a children’s or an adult’s book, anyhow?”
The book has been in print continuously since its publication in 1962, so apparently it wasn’t too difficult for children. However, it has been too challenging for the more religious adults: it was on the American Library Association’s list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000 at number 23, due to the book’s references to witches and crystal balls, the claim that it “challenges religious beliefs,” and the listing of Jesus “with the names of great artists, philosophers, scientists, and religious leaders.”