Recently, we took a look at Science Fiction and Fantasy Books Kids Should be Reading in School. There were some great reads on that list, but by no means was it complete. In my informal poll to see what sf and fantasy books are being taught in schools today, there were a handful of other science fiction and fantasy titles that are just as worthwhile and just as effective at igniting the imaginations of young readers. And seasoned readers, too! With few exceptions, these are not typically books that are targeted at younger readers. How many of them have you read?

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

A casual browse of your local bookstore shelves (and the books on this list) will prove that dystopian fiction—that is, fiction that depicts a society befallen by poverty or oppression—is in style. Actually, it has never gone out of style. Back in 1985, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale quickly established itself as a literary work that everyone should read. It's set in a near future in which the United States government has been overthrown by a totalitarian Christian theocracy that subsequently took away women's rights. The book bravely explores themes of gender, sexuality, and religion and still remains as relevant as it ever was.

 

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Fahrenheit 451 and The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradury was one of science fiction's most well-known contributors since he wrote stories that appealed to everyone, not just fans of science fiction and fantasy. Two of his novels make this list. In Fahrenheit 451, books are outlawed and it's the job of firemen to burn them. Long analyzed as a book about censorship, Bradbury eventually revealed that the book was meant to explore the negative effects that television and mass media had on the reading of literature. The Illustrated Man is a collection of 18 short stories by Bradbury that depict human nature and showcase the range of his writing. The book links the unrelated stories together though the use of a man whose tattoos are animated, each one telling a different story.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

How do you now when a science fiction story has legs? Flowers for Algernon began life as a short story in 1958, was expanded into a novel in 1966, and filmed as the Academy Award-winning 1968 film Charly starring Cliff Robertson. I also happily found the short story included in my daughters' school text book. The story is still taught in schools because it connects with people emotionally in its depiction of Charlie Gordon, the mentally-disabled test subject of an experiment to increase intelligence. The novel is stylishly written as a series of progress reports written by Charlie, who looks after the mouse named Algernon, his predecessor in the experiments.The Giver

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Winner of the 1994 Newbery Medal, The Giver features a 12-year-old boy living in a dystopian society where harmony is supposedly achieved by suppressing individuality and knowledge. But to forget the lessons of the past means you are condemned to repeat those mistakes, so they have chosen a select few to remember history before the "Sameness." Young Jonas is on the brink of becoming a "Receiver of Memory" from the community's former Receiver, who would thus become the "Giver." When Jonas gains the power of knowledge, he must decide whether to live in a society content in their ignorance, or leave everything he knows to live a better life.

Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Like Bradbury, George Orwell rates two books in this list. First with Animal Farm, a satire of the Russian Revolution set on a farm where the animals (given voice in the narrative) revolt against the farmer and set up a democratic society. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, society is under the constant supervision and surveillance of Big Brother. The protagonist, an outlaw because his memory still functions, tries to avoid the Thought Police and joins a revolutionary group to overthrow those in power. Both novels do what science fiction does best: removeAnimal Farms the reader from a situation so it can be viewed from a fresh, outside perspective.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is an examination of what happens when man, through the use of science, tries to play God. Scientist Victor Frankenstein develops a secret technique to reanimate dead bodies and uses it to create a monster. Daring for it's time and universally tragic, Frankenstein is considered by some science fiction academics as the first true sf novel, published anonymously in 1818. And it's happily accepted by mainstream and horror readers as well.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

This is another classic book (this one from 1870) that has stood the test of time. French writer Jules Verne tells the adventurous story of Captain Nemo and his submarine Nautilus. It's told from the perspective of Professor Pierre Aronnax, a marine biologist invited to join an expedition to hunt a sea monster. That "monster" is Nemo's submarine. Nemo is a self-imposed exile and villain of a society that he deems too oppressive, and thus Aronnax becomes a prisoner on Nemo's vessel. What follows is an adventure story filled with scientific wonder.

John DeNardo is the editor of SF Signal, a Hugo Award-winning group science-fiction and fantasy blog featuring news, reviews and interviews. He also like bagels. You can follow him on Twitter as @sfsignal. Or not. See what he cares.