Speculative Fiction Starters for Children and Young Adults

This article was written for the Martian Chronicle blog, but it was never posted so I decided to rewrite and to present it on my blog. Enjoy!

            When children and adolescents show an interest in reading, we—as adults, and as readers ourselves—want nothing more than to load our recommendations and favorite books on to them. Unfortunately, not only will this overwhelm young readers, but also turn them off to reading the books we want them to read (outside of school reading). One of the reasons for this is because many adults fail to pay attention to the genre of literature the kids are reading. If a teen is reading non-fiction, then they’re not going to be interested in historical fiction. If a child enjoys fairy tales, then giving them a book about aliens might not capture their attention. In addition, suggesting “popular” (i.e. Percy Jackson, Magic Tree House, etc.) books isn’t the way to go because those readers might have read those books already. Knowing the books within a preferred genre is worth reading and it will keep the interest of reading in children and in adolescents. 

            When it comes to speculative fiction, adults tend to select the “typical” and/or the “popular” books of the genre to give to children and to young adults. And, there is nothing wrong with choosing Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Watership Down. However, there are so many other books to give to these young readers and the genre has expanded so much that it can feeling overwhelming for everyone. That being said, here are some recommended books for young readers who are fans of the speculative fiction genre. 

CHILDREN

  1. The Wizard of Oz: The Complete Collection by L. Frank Baum

There are 14 books in this series which is often compared to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. Several books, including the 1st book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, does follow Dorothy and her dog, Toto, on their many adventures in Oz, but the series gives readers more insight into the entire world through several other characters who live in different parts of Oz. Think of them as “modern” American fairy tales. 

  • The Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi & Holly Black

Holly Black is more known for her young adult books, but she has co-written this series—and, a sequel series—with Tony DiTerlizzi; and yes, the books are better than the movie. This series follows twin brothers, Jared and Simon Grace, and their older sister, Mallory, as they move into their family manor. As they unpack, they wonder if there is something, or someone, else living in the house. When Jared finds a “field guide” that belonged to their great-uncle who disappeared over 80 years ago, Jared, Simon, and Mallory learn that their backyard is home to numerous magical creatures, both good and bad.

  • Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

DO NOT CALL THIS BOOK, “HOGWARTS IN AFRICA,” because it is NOT THAT!!! This book will remind readers of Rick Riordan and Ursula K. LeGuin, in which “gifted” children attend a school where they learn magic that is based on their heritage. Sunny and her friends learn how to hone their abilities which is based on African shamanism and cultural practices. The plot alone makes this book and its sequel, Akata Warrior, stand apart from other “magic school” stories. 

  • Young Wizards by Diane Duane

What if wizardry and magic weren’t just about casting spells, but protecting the entire galaxy? What if your spell book was real and you had to be able to read the language its written in in order to cast spells? This series, which started in 1983 with So You Want to Be a Wizard, follows Nita Callahan and Kit Rodriguez as they begin their careers as wizards. After completing their “Ordeal,” the two friends travel throughout Earth, to Mars, and to the rest of the galaxy as they work on their tasks using scientific spells. Currently, there are 10 books in the series, and each one sees the development of the young wizards. 

This horror story will make readers question whether or not their local urban legends are real. The story follows 11-year-old Ollie, who is grieving the death of her mother. One day after school, Ollie sees a crazed woman yelling at a book and threatening to throw it into the river. Ollie steals the book and begins to read it. She reads about two brothers who were in love with the same woman, and a deal they made with “the smiling man.” Ollie believes what she’s reading is just a story until her school bus breaks down and her broken watch “warns” her to “RUN.” 

YOUNG ADULT

  1. Brave Story by Miyuki Miyabe, translated by Alexander O. Smith

This book won the Batchelder Award in 2008, and it was written for children as young as 8-years-old. However, this book can be enjoyed by adolescents; and yes, the fact that the book is more than 800 pages long is another reason this book is recommended for adolescent readers. The story follows Wataru Mitani as he goes on a quest in another world to save his parents’ marriage. The difference here is that this story is written in a style that appeals to gamers, especially fans of (Japanese) role-playing games, or RPGs. Fans of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch and Final Fantasy will love this story.

  • Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

What if your father was a famous storyteller who receives his stories from a river of dreams? What happens when that river stops flowing and your father can no longer perform his job? Join Haroun as he journeys to defeat the dark force that is halting the flow of the river, and the stories, which flow to his father. This is a very unusual quest.

  • Memories of the Eagle and the Jaguar Trilogy by Isabel Allende, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden

15-year-old Alexander Cold is sent to stay with his grandmother who works for International Geographic. Her latest assignment takes both of them on an expedition to the Amazon. There, Alex meets Nadia Santos, and the two friends go on an adventure through the Amazon, where they learn about their spirit guides, which are in the forms of animals, so that they can save an ancient city from ruin. Isabel Allende’s YA trilogy, which starts with, City of the Beasts, follows the protagonists’ adventures both in the Himalayas and in Kenya as well. 

This book, which is set in a futuristic war-torn Nigeria, was influenced by the anime series (and its many spinoff series), Gundam. Onyii and Ify are sisters who live in a camp with other orphaned girls that is isolated from the ongoing civil war. However, after an attack on the camp, the sisters are separated and find themselves on opposite sides of the war. In a future where space colonies, A.I.s, and flying mechs exist, how does a war end when both sides have advanced technology. Will Onyii and Ify survive the war and reunite? 

  • Tamora Pierce Pantheon

For almost 40 years, Tamora Pierce has written stories of several characters through generations in the world of Tortall. Alanna: The First Adventure was released in 1983, and it follows Alanna as she and her twin brother, Thom, switch places in order to go to the school they want to attend. Thom goes to school to train as a mage, and Alanna travels to the King’s castle to train as a knight. There is only one problem. Females haven’t trained to be knights in over 400 years. This means Alanna will have to disguise herself as a boy so that she can become the knight she wants to be. And, that’s just the first quartet in that universe! There are a lot more stories about different girls learning and growing into strong women that take place inside and outside Tortall. 

These are a few of several books and series available for young readers of speculative fiction. Now, some of these authors have written other books for children and for adolescents, and I recommend those books as well. This is a starting point for young readers who want to read books that might not receive the recognition they deserve. Yes, let them read Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Earthsea Cycle and the Rick Riordan Pantheon; but, these fantasy, horror, science fiction, fairy tale, and magic realism stories are worth reading, too. I hope you enjoy them all as much as I do!

Knowing What to Love on Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is supposed to be a day about (courtly) love. However, it started off as an acknowledgement to a man who—during the Roman Empire—was jailed for performing forbidden marriages. In other words, Saint Valentine of Rome was jailed for performing acts of rebellion that he believed was the right thing to do. How many other people in human history have died for the same thing? Please note that February is Black History Month.

Today, a shooting in Denmark occurred because there Lars Wilks, a cartoonist from Sweden—who depicted a parodied version of Mohammed—, was attending a forum about free press. Today’s Denmark shootings are a reminder of what occurred in France 3 weeks ago! Apparently, al-Qaeda has a “Most Wanted” list which Stephane Charbonnier, Terry Jones, and Salman Rushdie are on, which is why this shooting occurred. It makes you wonder if Trey Parker and Matt Stone have a secret to all the mocking and avoiding they’ve done over the years.

This year for Valentine’s Day, in addition to reminding ourselves of who we love, we should also take time to recall what we love. At the moment, simple joys of life are costing us simple joys of love. Freedom of religion, press, and happiness are being taken away by a few who believe that one group deserves more than another group. Parodies and insults have existed for millennia, but societies forget how to take a joke, or even when something needs to be mentioned through comedic jokes. South Park and Family Guy are still on T.V. for a reason. Humor cartoonists and comedians are a necessity that we forget we need until something tragic happens. Practicing one’s religion in peace is a given right, but there is more about the few who causes harm while claiming that it is what their religion preaches.

Earlier this week, madman Craig Stephen Hicks shot and killed three college students in North Carolina “after a dispute over a parking space.” Just like the victims’ families—and to the rational mind—no one actually believes that is what happened. Those innocent people were killed because they were practicing Muslims. There is a federal investigation taking place, but who knows what conclusions will be revealed. At the same time, there has been no recent news about John Crawford and/or Tamir Rice. And, several States are attempting to overturn gay marriage.

I think it is time to look again at what is happening in the world and remind ourselves what would happen if we did not have the rights that everyone throughout the world is trying to hold on to. Yes, the world wants to fight ISIL/ISIS and their extreme radical notions, but in the United States, we are killing and segregating people due to their religious beliefs and/or physical appearances. Yes, the Islamic faith does not believe in there being a physical depiction of their prophet, but death threats and assassination attempts are not the answer. Then again, the scandal surrounding #GamerGate has not faded from media coverage.

In the United States, it seems no “minority” is safe whether Indian, Black, Muslim, or LGBT. The U.S. got to add Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha to the “victims’ list,” which already had Trayvon Martin, Medgar Evers, Harvey Milk, and Addie Mae Collins on it. These United States citizens were either living his or her life or trying to make life better for others like themselves. However, people forget that terrorism exists in the United States, too.

So, like the legacy left behind by Saint Valentine, let us remember the different types of love we enjoy in our everyday lives. We get to love each other. We get to love the freedoms—press, religion, and happiness—that are still being fought for each and every day and have cost the lives of so many. Remain vigilant and hopeful! Vigilantism does not and should not involve innocent lives! Remember who and what you love!