I often hear parents lamenting their kids' reading habits, or more accurately, their lack of reading habits. The foremost way to get your kids to read is to teach by example. Ask avid readers, and most will tell you they grew up watching their parents read. But sometimes teaching by example isn't enough and more direct measures are required. Some parents have to proactively recommend books to their kids.

Read the last SF Signal at Kirkus on Space Elevators.

What better way to hook someone on reading, an activity that exercises the imagination, than suggesting science fiction, a genre that pushes the limits of imagination? Simply put, science fiction is a great gateway to reading. For children, it opens a whole new world of experiences and adventures. There's a reason people say that the golden age of science fiction is 12. It's because that's around about the age many have discovered its wonders.

So what books should you recommend? Well if you're going to recommend a science fiction book, why not aim for books that put young protagonists in outer space?

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Here are some helpful recommendations to pass along to younger readers. Just don't tell them that these books are also immensely enjoyable by adults, too.

The Granddaddy of Young Adult Space Novelists

While he wasn't the first author to write science fiction novels featuring young characters in space, Robert A. Heinlein is probably the most well-known author who's written the most books of this type. As early as the 1940s. Heinlein was writing what later came to be known as "The Heinlein Juveniles"—books featuring younger characters that were marketed to younger readers. Some of these classics are still in print today and feature a common theme—a young protagonist's rite of passage into adulthood.

space cadet In Rocket Ship Galileo, a trio of three teenagers are enlisted to help put the first rocket on the moon. In Space Cadet, teenager Matt Dodson goes through the rigors of Space Patrol training before embarking of a series of space adventures. Mars is the location of a boarding school in Red Planet, a book that features honest-to-goodness Martians. Between Planets, meanwhile, puts its young protagonist in the middle of rebellion from colonist on Venus. 

A common setup in Heinlein's books is someone who wants to leave Earth. In The Rolling Stones, a family buys a used rolling stones spaceship to go sightseeing to other planets in our solar system. Farmer in the Sky has Bill Lermer and his widower father emigrating to one of Jupiter's moons, away from an overcrowded Earth. Starman Jones is also about an orphan who dreams of (and becomes) a space traveler. In Tunnel in the Sky, a high school student, wanting to eventually become a space colonist, must pass a test of survival on another planet. 

Time for the Stars uses an interesting premise (that twins have inherent telepathic abilities) to send its teenage protagonist in space. Citizen of the Galaxy, originally published at the height of the Civil Rights movement, features a boy who is enslaved by space pirates, rescued by a mysterious beggar who educates him, and goes on to become one of the Free Traders of the galaxy. In Have Space Suit—Will Travel, Kip Russell's dreams of going to the moon are sidetracked by a kidnapping, aliens and having to stand trial for humanity's crimes. Not usually considered one of Heinlein's juvenile novels, but nonetheless one that features young protagonists, is Podkayne of Mars, in which a teenage girl and her younger brother encounter trouble on the way from Mars to Earth.

This is a good start for book recommendations, but there are lots more. Come back next week for a look at books from the newer generations.

John DeNardo is the editor of SF Signal, a group science-fiction and fantasy blog featuring news, reviews and interviews.