I envy today's students. Modern teachers are more open to the idea of including science fiction and fantasy books as part of their assigned reading. I was fortunate enough in my grade school education to be exposed to some of these books, but there are many more sf/f books being read in schools than when I was a lad.
This is a good thing. Why? Kids and teens usually respond very positively to genre fiction as it ignites the imagination. Ask any avid reader today to cite the books that got them started down the road to reading and see how many name science fiction and fantasy books that they read in their youth. Igniting a love of reading in kids leads to a lifelong journey down the road of literature, one filled with many rewards.
I took an informal poll to see what sf and fantasy books are being taught in schools today. All of the ones that were named are worthy reads. How many of these are on your kids' reading list? How many were ones you read in school?
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hobbit is one of the classic fantasy novels of our time. This was one of the books I read in grade school and one that I partly attribute to my love of reading. (It helped that the English teacher who assigned it to us read the occasional chapter in class while acting out the parts using a variety of unique voices. Hooray for teachers!) While there are many quest tales in fantasy, the one about the underdog hobbit named Bilbo Baggins, who travels afar to slay a dragon and make away with his treasure, is one of the best. Additional incentive for kids to read this magical tale (and some of the other books on this list) comes from the recently released film.
FOLLOW-UP READING: Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings
A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle
In 2012, this classic novel saw both its 50th anniversary printing and a wonderful graphic novel adaptation. In it, Meg Murray sets out to find her father, a scientist who has mysteriously disappeared. Along with her younger brother and a classmate, they travel in time to rescue him from the evil being known as The Black Thing. Along the way, readers get to see characters overcome obstacles, wrestle with moral dilemmas, and learn the meaning of responsibility.
FOLLOW-UP READING: L'Engle's A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, and An Acceptable Time.
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
A perennial favorite amongst school English classes, this science fiction novel follows young Ender Wiggin, a student in a program meant to train soldiers to fight alien enemies called Buggers. This is one of those novels that you can't help but to consume quickly. Readers will easily relate to the trials of growing up and can't help but love the mock battles in zero gravity. This is another book that will be an easy sell to kids, especially when the film (starring Harrison Ford) is released later this year.
FOLLOW-UP READING: Sequels Speaker for the Dead and Xenocide (both very different in tone and featuring adult characters).
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
If there's one common theme of young adult fiction, it's that of a young protagonist earning his place in adulthood through a rite of passage. That's wonderfully depicted in Ship Breaker, set in a post-oil wasteland where a boy must decide whether to claim a wrecked ship as salvage and live like a king among the poor, or save the rich girl survivor and perhaps find a way to a better life. This is a book that features wonderful world building, culturally diverse characters, and a fast-moving plot that makes it hard to put down.
FOLLOW-UP READING: Bacigalupi's The Drowned Cities.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
This book is the reason post-apocalyptic settings are so popular today. The world of The Hunger Games is one in which the affluent hand out food to the underclass based on the outcome of deadly, last-man-standing games. Nobody is calling this one great literature, however, this is a book that inspired my daughter to seek out the sequels and read them on her own time and the book that an adult friend of mine unfamiliar with science fiction found to be very entertaining and worthy of recommendation to anyone who would listen.
FOLLOW-UP READING: Sequels Catching Fire and Mockingjay.
For even more reading suggestions for young readers, check out the Golden Duck Reading List.
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 likes bagels.