July 01



There’s an old cliché that says that the age of twelve is the best time to start reading science fiction. However, science fiction is too important to wait until 7th grade! This genre can teach science-fictional ways of thinking, a mindset that helps us process new technology and think critically about science. Thanks to that old belief that kids won’t read science fiction until age 12, there isn’t nearly as much of it for younger readers. This list features ten great examples of science fiction to launch even the youngest reader into the possibilities, limits, and consequences of science. The list starts from picturebooks for the youngest audiences and ends up with middle grade readers for 9+.

Beegu by Alexis Deacon (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2003).

In this picturebook, a little yellow alien with long droopy ears wanders, lost, through various gloomy landscapes and failed attempts at communication. She finally finds a connection and kindness from children at a playground. Beegu offers a pleasant, simple version of science fiction’s ability to re-examine our everyday reality through an alien perspective.

Cosmo and the Robot by Brian Pinkney (Greenwillow Books, 2000)

This picturebook demonstrates the power of taking things apart to learn how to put them back together. This method of learning does get the protagonist Cosmo in trouble with his sister, Jewel, and their robot, but it also helps them resolve the story’s conflict when the robot goes rogue. Cosmo and his family are  Black, sending an implicit hopeful message about diversity in science and the future.

The Barnabus Project by Terry Fan, Eric Fan, and Devin Fan (Tundra Books, 2020)

This picturebook introduces Barnabus, a tiny mouse/elephant hybrid who lives in a lab underneath a store selling genetically engineered pets. He decides that he likes himself and does not want to be engineered to perfection, so he figures out how to escape and free the other rejected experiments to all escape together. This book encourages critical thinking about the ethics of science and the benefits of collective action.

Mr. Wuffles by David Wiesner (Clarion Books, 2013)

Through wordless panels, this book narrates the story of a cat-toy sized alien spaceship that catches the eye of a cat. When the aliens attempt to find replacement parts for their ship and escape the cat, they find allies in the local insect civilization under the radiator. This story also encourages readers to recognize and depart from an anthropocentric view of the world, in which aliens would by default interact with humans first.

Cakes in Space by Philip Reeve, illustrated by Sarah McIntyre (Random House Children’s Books, 2016)

Before going into stasis for a 199-year-long trip to Nova Mundi with her family, Astra asks the ship’s food machine to make her the ultimate cake for a quick snack. When she wakes up 100 years early, she finds it has been working on developing the ultimate cake the whole time… culminating in deadly, human-eating cakes! This story is a humorous take on classic science fiction questions of automated space travel and the relationship between time and advances.

Secret Coders by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Mike Holmes (First Second, 2015)

This graphic novel, the first in a series, follows a diverse group of students at Stately Academy who unravel secrets about their school’s origins and mysterious goings-on, through learning the basics of computer coding. The book asks readers to solve logic puzzles along with the characters, while also explicitly teaching concepts like binary.

Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Raúl the Third (Chronicle Books, 2014)

In this graphic novel, a trio of anthropomorphic animal friends enter a lowrider competition in order to fund their own shop. They scavenge pieces for their car until it blasts off into space, where they collect the finishing touches. The surreal and the scientific coexist in this story, where fantastic events and mechanical, scientific details meet. The story celebrates Mexican American lowrider culture and is punctuated by Spanish throughout.

House of Robots by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein, illustrated by Juliana Neufeld (Jimmy Patterson, 2015)

Sammy Hayes-Rodriguez must deal with going to school while being tailed by an embarrassing robot in this funny, illustrated novel. His mother invents all sorts of robots that infest his house and complicate his life in humorous ways throughout the story, but the story ends on an emotional note about the potential of technology to expand accessibility and provide new ways to deal with illness.

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez (Rick Riordan Presents, 2019)

In this middle grade novel, Gabi Real discovers that fellow student Sal Vidon is no stage magician, but can pluck things from parallel universes. They embark on an uneasy partnership and explore the extent of Sal’s abilities until their meddling begins to cause tears in space-time. This story not only features Cuban culture, but explores a complex idea, parallel universes, in a package perfect for beginner and intermediary science fiction readers.

The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera (Levine Querido, 2021)

This middle grade novel starts with Petra Peña being loaded into a stasis pod on an exclusive ship headed for a new planet 380 years away, since Earth will soon be destroyed by a comet. The pods are supervised by caretakers who will pass down the role to their children. When Petra awakens, she finds that the caretakers have erased Earth’s history and all human difference. Thanks to a glitch, Petra retains her memories and knowledge of Mexican folklore, which she uses to launch a rebellion. This story engagingly explores the worth of human difference through a science fiction lens.

Dr. Emily Midkiff is the author of the nonfiction book Equipping Space Cadets: Primary Science Fiction for Young Children. She worked for an interactive children’s theater and puppetry company for 9 years before deciding to get an MA and PhD to study children’s stories professionally. She teaches children’s literature and literacy education at the University of North Dakota.