|'NOT JUST FOR STORMTROOPERS!" source|
Orson Scott Card (author of Ender's Game) is a writer of both science fiction and fantasy. He provides the following information to differentiate between science fiction and fantasy: "If the story is set in a universe that follows the same rules as ours, it's science fiction. If it's set in a universe that doesn't follow our rules, it's fantasy." He goes on to say that, while plot devices such as time travel can be found in both fantasy and science fiction, if the story contains metal, plastic, and/or heavy machinery, it is science fiction [or it's sub-genre, "steampunk"]; and the reader can assume, until told otherwise, that the known laws of science apply. If the story contains talismans or magic, it is fantasy; and the reader must rely on the author to describe the natural laws that exist in this fantasy world...In addition, science fiction may contain elements of time travel, space opera, alien invasions, post-holocaust worlds, alien worlds, alternative histories or realities, and gadget science fiction. [source]
Below I have complied a (starter, by no means exhaustive) list of good science fiction for kids and teens. Click on the titles for links to reviews/summaries that I have either written or have found from other sources.
Young Children, Ages 4-8
Commander Toad in Space, Jane Yolen, illustrations by Bruce Degen. Think: Frog and Toad meet Star Wars!
Babar Visits Another Planet, Jean de Brunhoff
If You Decide to Go to the Moon, Faith Mcnulty, illustrated by Stephen Kellogg. A whimsical, but educational "travel manual" for visiting the moon.
Elementary School Age
The Iron Giant, Ted Hughes
The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery
The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, Eleanor Cameron. In print since the 1950s, the Mushroom Planet series is still around. Children will enjoy reading about the adventures of Chuck and David, two boys who travel to the alien planet Basidium in their homemade spaceship.
Middle School/Junior High
Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
The Giver, Lois Lowry
The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L'Engle (a blend of sci-fi and fantasy)
Journey to the Center of the Earth, Jules Verne. This steampunk sci-fi novel follows Professor Lidenbrock, his nephew Axel, and their guide Hans as they venture deep into a volcanic crater in Iceland on a journey that leads them to the center of the earth and to incredible and horrifying discoveries.
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins. Katniss is a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and younger sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used be the United States. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, "The Hunger Games." The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed. When Kat's sister is chosen by lottery, Kat steps up to go in her place. (I would hesitate to recommend this to middle-schoolers, although it is a YA novel for 12-17 year olds. For mature readers. My past review is here.)
1984, George Orwell. Portrays life in a future time when a totalitarian government watches over all citizens and directs all activities.
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury. "Although books are outlawed in Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury said in interviews that his main purpose wasn’t to argue against censorship (although that’s clearly a sub-theme). Instead, he said he was trying to paint a picture of where society might be heading, as books and other old forms of media and entertainment were being replaced by what he saw as shallow and frivolous alternatives like television shows. In this future, Bradbury argued that books would become outlawed because people themselves would become increasingly anti-intellectual and see them as suspicious. Not surprisingly, perhaps, he was no fan of electronic books: Those aren’t books. You can’t hold a computer in your hand like you can a book. A computer does not smell… A book has got to smell. You have to hold it in your hands and pray to it. You put it in your pocket and you walk with it. And it stays with you forever. But the computer doesn’t do that for you. I’m sorry." More here.
Frankenstein, Mary Shelley... Did you know that Mary Shelley began this deeply profound work when she was only 18?? When I read it, I was blown away, knowing it was penned by a young woman, and told so chillingly through the first person of Dr. Frankenstein. In this classic novel (considered to be one of the first science fiction books), readers "encounter the reality of evil, and the danger of untempered common sense and moral restraints... At the heart of this myth is the pride of the scientist who would take God's place and become a Creator in his own right...Frankenstein is a tragic story, a cautionary tale...what story could be more relevant to our society, given the increasing power wielded by scientists and businessmen over genetics and human life? Mary Shelley, with an artist's prophetic imagination, reminded us what it is like to be human - and less than human". (quote from BOOKS THAT BUILD CHARACTER, by William Kilpatrick).
The Space Trilogy, C.S. Lewis... More from William Kilpatrick: "Before C.S.Lewis wrote the CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, he became concerned with an ideological frame of mind he called "scientism". According to Lewis, scientism was the belief that technology would liberate mankind from the moral traditions of the past; the end result would be the elevation of certain scientists to the status of godhood, with the power of life and death over the whole human race....The three novels that constitute THE SPACE TRILOGY dramatize the conflict between scientism and the moral tradition of the West."
Out of the Silent Planet - A Cambridge University scholar named Ransom accidentally stumbles onto a scheme in which two men, one a scientist and the other a huckster with intellectual pretensions, prepare to travel to Mars and plunder its rich and strange culture.
Perelandra - Ransom is brought to Venus, where he finds a new Adam and Eve, who are being tempted by the evil scientists from the first novel.
That Hideous Strength - The cosmic struggle between good and evil takes place on Earth, as a scientific institute comes close to asserting its power over the world.