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SF Signal Challenge #2: A Kid’s Introduction to SF/F

Listen up, readers. Especially you, RSS lurker! It’s time for another SF Signal challenge!

This one is aimed at identifying good vehicles for introducing science fiction and fantasy to the younger set (12 and under). All of us co-bloggers have kids (or, as I like to call mine, Extra-Mouth-to-Feed, but only to her face) and we have, in one form or another, exposed them to science fiction and/or fantasy. I thought it would be fun to gather a good list – with your help – of introductory sf/f works that appeal to kids.

Some guidelines:

  1. Pick 5 vehicles of science fiction or fantasy, where “vehicle” can be anything (books, movies, tv shows, games, whatever).
  2. Each pick should be appropriate for kids age 12 or younger. Plugged In Online is a good source to determine this.
  3. Post them here in the comment section. Please don’t email them where they will lost in the deluge of mortgage refinance opportunities and pleas for Africa-bound MoneyGrams.
  4. We’ll tally up the votes and generate a list (we likes the lists) in, say, about a week.

To get us started, here is my list of 5…

  • The Iron Giant by Ted Hughes (or the movie version) – About the book I said, “Fun story for kids and adults; great to read to/with your kids.” For the movie, I said “An immensely enjoyable film.”
  • Kiki’s Delivery Service – My daughter loves this movie. It wows her on every re-watch. When I saw the book, I bought that and we read that, too.
  • James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl – Haven’t seen the Tim Burton movie (but want to), but my daughter enjoyed this book very much because of its many colorful characters. (Also: see Scott’s review.)
  • Zathura – Yes, it’s Jumanji in space; both movies are based on books by the same author. So what? This is a thoroughly enjoyable and exciting film, even if the science is not all that sound. Warning: Unfortunately, two instances of bad language would limit this to older kids. (And even that might be questionable.)
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S Lewis – Another enjoyable book. (Haven’t seen the movie, though my wife and daughter did and they both enjoyed it.) The religious allegory will be lost on the younger kiddies, but it still stands as a good story.

What are your picks?

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

19 Comments on SF Signal Challenge #2: A Kid’s Introduction to SF/F

  1. Starman’s Son by Andre Norton. Not only did it introduce me to SF at the age of 11, it introduced my son. He thought it was one of the best books ever (and so did I when I read it.)

  2. Woops! I forgot the other 4. I would rather stick to SF and leave off the fantasy; fantasy is easily introduced early on with Narnia and Wizard of Oz. Continuing with books:

    Have Spacesuit Will Travel by Heinlein

    The Space Cat Series by Todd Ruthven, for the younger readers.

    Two movies:

    Star Wars (the original trilogy)

    I have to agree with Iron Giant. It’s my son’s favorite.

  3. When I was 11 or so, I read and profoundly enjoyed The Foundation Trilogy. That was my introduction to SF. I was admittledy a rather precocious 11-year-old.

    I’ve actually never read any Heinlein, as his worldview and creepy attitude to sexuality always turned me off, and by the time I bothered to look at any Heinlein I wasn’t quite as into idea-oriented Golden Age SF. However, John C. Wright had an excellent post about Starman Jones recently which made me consider taking a look at it. I’ve got to finish Witches of Karres first, which would be another excellent choice for introduction to SF IMHO.

  4. The Harry Potter series is a great book for kids (although it wasn’t written for them.) They can identify with the characters and the language really pushes my 7 year old – he learns several new words every night.

  5. 1. Asimov has a series of books called the Lucky Starr Series that I think were written for children or young adults. They weren’t to complicated., as well as many of his Robot Short stories(something abot a robot named Norby.)

    2. When I was in grade 6 our teacher got us to read a book called “A wrinkle in time” by Madeline L’Engle. It’s a Science Fiction about Time travel and various spacial Dimensions, and I liked it.

    3. Though it’s a mixed Genre, Shows like Looney toons and Tiny toons have introduces Science Fiction with characters like Marvin the Martian and mocking Buck Rogers with ‘Duck Dodger’s and the 24th and a half century.’

    4. John Christopher’s Tripod Series.

    5. Though I absolutely hated the books by Bruce Coville, my sister love them as a kid. He wrote books like “My Teacher is an Alien” and that sort of stuff. I never could finish a book by him, but that’s just my personal taste.

  6. I’ll stick with TV:

    1: The new Dr Who is promoted as a kids show in England, they actually have a webpage for every episode where kids watch the episode and gauge how scary it is:

    2: Samurai Jack. The SF elements are conveyed mostly through visuals.

    3: Any of the old Gerry Anderson shows, most of which are now on DVD. I also like the new Captain Scarlet CGI show, which is also available.

    4: The latest trend in CGI documentaries that follwed Walking with Dinosaurs. There was Dragons, Alien Planet (based on the Wayne Barlowe book) and Extraterrestrial. Pure eye-candy.

    5: The DC animated universe. Batman, Superman, and (most importantly) Justice League. JL was almost exclusively SF/F storylines.

    Rant: Bring a kid to a comic book shop, or the graphic novel section of a bookstore. A lot of current stuff is pre-teen friendly. Hellboy, Mouse Guard, Girl Genius, and the countless Star Wars books leap to mind. The current book Fables, about fairy tale characters living in NYC after being driven from their homeland, is very kid-friendly, but is marketed as a Mature Reader book, so it should be read by parents first. There’s also Books of Magic, which predates and outperforms Harry Potter. If the comic shop has back issues (and most do) there’s old Adam Strange and Warlock books.

    Be aware that comic shops, like book stores, are catered to adults, so expect to see many books with adult themes. There are several court cases pending where parents bought comics for their kids only to learn that there was bad language or nudity in it.

  7. I find myself reading some fiction targeted towards kids, and as an alternative to Harry Potter, I like Artemis Fowl. I know some folks get up in arms about the main character, but I ask them if they have read the whole book. It is a fantasy story, but with a present day flair that is a bit better than Harry. We also saw a new series started with a book called The Lightning Thief that puts a mythological slant on things.

    For a humorous jaunt through time, I suggest the Time Warp Trio books by John Scieszka. These are quite good and cover some bits of history with a wit that kids like (okay, I enjoyed the humor too.

    Iron Giant and Star Wars, I think are must see films as well. Although the kids sometimes think the newer stuff is “better” due to the higher production values.

    As for fantasy, I like the Pratchett books Wee Free Men, Hat full of Sky (stories of Tiffany Aching with more to come), and The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents. Also, I think The Hobbit is a fantastic fantasy novel for younger readers. I have read it a few times, but after listening to the BBC unabridged presentation of the story locked into my son’s memory.

    Also, I have not read them but Bruce Coville does a series of Sci Fi books targeted at younger readers. We have at least one of his books and he was on the suggested reading list for kids entering third grade summer last year.

    I am sure there is more, but I have probably gone way beyond what was asked here for this entry. I just spend far more time helping pick stories for my son than I do for myself sometimes :).

  8. Harry Potter was not written for kids?

    I would add Ender’s Game to the list. A friend of mine couldn’t believe it wasn’t in her local library until she found it in the kid’s books section. Though it is pretty dark.

  9. joshua corning // May 10, 2006 at 11:48 pm //

    A computer with a broad band conection

    A PS3

    a TV with cable

    a membership to netflix

    a 100$ a month allowance

    all with NSA quality parental surveillance

    I am confused is there really a lack of Sci-fi in kids free time these days? I mean many of the sci fi books games and movies i saw and read and played were basicly discriptions of the entertainment and artistic tools that kids now have today for cheap.

  10. I’m thinking mainly of younger kids, when you get to 9 or so I reckon all SF literature is fair game (I read LOTR at that age).

    Star Wars – All the films except Revenge of the Sith which is a 12A certificate in the UK

    Doctor Who – Although every child in the UK already watches this even if they are only 3 years old.

    The Incredibles – Beginners guide to superheroes

    Charlie And The Chocolate Factory – both book and films

    Neil Gaiman’s kids books.

    I’m struggling to think of SF books for younger kids.

  11. I have a 10 year-old daughter, and here is a list of her favorites:

    Harry Potter (books and movies)

    Coraline, Neil Gaiman

    The Little Endless Storybook, Jill Thompson

    Labyrinth (which has also made her a raving David Bowie fan)

    Spirited Away / My Neighbor Totoro

  12. I’m surprised at the emphasis away from books here! How about Heinlein’s books for young adults? Andre Norton? The Jupiter series that Charles Sheffield brought us? The “Off the World” trilogy by David Gerrold? Dolphin Island, Islands in the Sky and a few others by Clarke? And a ton more…

  13. I just want Fred to know I am pushing books darned it!!! Not necessarily all Sci Fi, but they are books…

  14. Some comments:

    1. I cannot believe I left out Star Wars and The Wizard of Oz.

    2. I wonder if I made the question to broad covering both science fiction and fantasy.

    3. I wonder if I made the question even broader be not limiting to one vehicle (say, books). Joshua has beautifully pushed my loose definition to the max.

    4. I fear the list of suggestions will not have much overlap.

    We now resume with our regularly scheduled broadcast…

  15. Baen Books has been compiling a list of SF for young adults. I think there’s a link on their home page.

  16. I listed TV shows for one reason: that was how I got hooked on SF. Seeing Star Trek and Day the Earth STood STill and Forbidden Planet converted me. The problem is, I don’t think I ever read anything that could be deemed “young adult SF,” even by the standards of the time (late 60s). I found a Del Rey catalog around that time, and several trips to the local book store supplied me with “the canon” of Foundation, Dune, Stranger in a Strange Land, etc. When I was 11 a hippy neighbor saw me reading Merchants of Venus and turned me on to the Elric books and Philip K Dick.

    By 12 I had finished Gormanghast and LotR, and watched 2001, as had a LOT of my friends.

    Then Pohl’s Gateway and James Hogan’s Inherit the Stars came out, and I began to sense the varied possibilities of SF. I watched Dr Who, read Stanislaw Lem, and devoured Mystery in Space comics.

    So, I think the idea of kids SF is a bit of a misnomer. Twain didn’t write for children, but his books are tought in grammer school (at least they were in my day). In my opinion, all intellectual pursuits should be treated as marketing opportunities, and nothing hooks a kid like eye candy.

  17. The excellent commenters have covered most of the bases so I thought I would put my sometimes favorites but second tier on this list.

    I loved the Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster when I was younger and it has many fantasy and science fictional elements. My brothers and sister and I read the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings at a very young age.

    Any of the many fun campy science fiction films of the 50’s are age appropriate but serve as introductions to the main tropes in Science Fiction. My favorites from that time were “Them” and “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die”. Embarressingly the last time I saw these movies is when they were spooked on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

  18. Kids are a lot smarter than most people give them credit for so my list is a bit less juvenile than most

    1 Ringworld (if they’re 11 or 12)

    2 Lion Witch and the Wardrobe

    3 A Wrinkle in Time

    4 Splinter in Mind’s Eye

    5 Ender’s Game

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