Since our latest episode is a little on the dark side, we thought it would be a good idea to have a happier question for you all to think about. We’ve also brought in a friend to sweeten the deal:
The hard thing about choosing books for middle school kids is that a great deal of books for their age group that are fantastic in nature are actually fantasies, rather than science fiction. There isn’t enough science fiction written explicitly for their age group, let alone for the two groups around them (children’s lit and young adult). If we were talking high school, the doors would be wide open for all kinds of stuff, from John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War to Tobias Buckell’s Xenowealth novels (Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin, and Sly Mongoose). But because this group is a young group, content is a big issue. I have no doubt that they can handle more adult material than we’d like to think, but they are still younglings.
With that in mind, I would have to pick The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. The novel may not be meant for middle school kids, but it’s hilarious, fun, and all kinds of weird. Whether they’ll get all the jokes is irrelevant, because the characters are funny enough on their own. The big question, of course, is whether Adams is a good gateway into the SF genre as a whole. I don’t think I can say…
Honestly. I have no idea! I started reading science fiction earlier than middle school, but I think the same books are appropriate. However, they’re a little outdated. To be honest, though I haven’t even read the series yet, I would start with The Hunger Games. I’ve always been of the opinion that to get a kid interested in something for the first time, you have to play to their interests. Not only is The Hunger Games a new series of books, it is also being made into a series of movies. Double win to a teenager (especially if that hot guy from Beastly and I Am Number Four is in it, then you’ll get every girl in America reading the series). I see no reason to throw them straight into the complexities of Ender’s Game or something by Heinlein. I started with Ray Bradbury and Madeleine L’Engle (although I was never a big L’Engle fan) and these are still great authors to begin a science fiction journey with, but to snag a kid so late in the game (yes, I’m calling middle school late) – appealling to them on a less “literary” level might be a good way to go.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.
I think the story is accessible to kids because it’s about kids, their relationships and a lot of themes involved with growing up that they’ll relate to. Plus, the kids are the smartest people in the story (for the most part), which I think they’ll like too.
So, what do you think would be a good SF book to start middle school kids on? Let us know in the comments!