Science fiction and fantasy is one of the most popular genres for young readers now. Take advantage of the popularity of this style to introduce your students to some new books.
Create a display of science fiction and fantasy books on your library table. Here are some of our favorites:
- Patricia Wrede’s The Enchanted Forest Chronicles are firmly in the fantasy category. Princess Cimorene, in the four novels, undertakes a variety of adventures with some very fun supporting characters. She meets Jack and the Beanstalk’s giant, Rumpelstiltskin, wizards, dragons, and of course a handsome prince. Readers who are familiar with traditional fairy tales will love the way they all get turned on their heads, and Wrede is a dab hand with dialogue.
- The Incredible Worlds of Wally McDoogle series (starting with My Life as a Smashed Burrito With Extra Hot Sauce ) from Bill Myers starts most books with “another of our lame field trips to another lame science laboratory courtesy of our lame science teacher,” as My Life as Invisible Intestines with Intense Indigestion puts it. Wally invariably gets mixed up with a mind magnifier, extraterrestrial being, invisibility ray, or some such. These are witty stories, with a hero who loves to write stories.
- Stephanie Spinner’s Aliens For Dinner, not to mention breakfast and lunch, which are the other books in the series, is fun introduction to the genre for early readers. These books bring up issues of concern in kids’ daily lives, in the context of science fiction stories.
- Laurence Yep has written a number of fine science fiction novels, including the Dragons series beginning with Dragon of the Lost Sea. His books are always exciting adventures with well-developed plots and characters, and we like the fact that this series is told from the point of view of the dragon.
- John O’Brien’s Poof! is a picture book about a wizard couple who have a clever way of sorting out household tasks. When the baby starts crying, the wizardess remarks that it is the wizard’s turn to change the baby, so he does. He changes the baby into a cat, and reminds his wife that it is her turn to feed the cat. The changes continue until the surprising end.
- The Giver by Lois Lowry is well-known and frequently read, but it’s still one of our favorite examples of how science fiction can be used to explore philosophical and ethical questions. Under The Cats Eye: A Tale Of Morph And Mystery by Gilliam Rubinstein is another book in this category.
- Terry Pratchett is a favorite author among kids and adults at my house. His Only You Can Save Mankind is an exciting trilogy for middle school, while Where’s My Cow? is a witty picture book.
- When the Tripods Came, by John Cristopher, is a fun read, classic science fiction with some serious points for discussion.
- My Teacher Is an Alien by Bruce Coville is a favorite for school. He has lots more, too, and many reluctant readers prefer a series to individual books.
- Ender’s Game series is another rich vein of reading ore for middle school and up.
- Christopher Paolini, Madeleine L’Engle, Bruce Coville, Gail Carson Levine, T.A. Barron, and C. S. Lewis are some more of our favorite authors of science fiction and fantasy for kids. Check our posts on Vampires and Dragons for more.
Consider reading some short stories aloud, or even a few pages of a longer book, to whet students’ appetites. Then have students choose books for DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) or Free Reading time and to take home.
Once you’ve read some science fiction, examine the science behind it.
- With the youngest students, use a Venn diagram to divide the things that happened in the story into things that could really happen and things that could not.
Older students can take this much further:
- The Science of Harry Potter: How Magic Really Works, by Roger Highfield, is not fiction at all. This book examines the various magical events in the Harry Potter books to determine what scientific background they might have. “Let’s get off to a flying start,” Highfield says, “and reveal what the somewhat magical-sounding fields of antigravity, wormholes, and quantum teleportation have to say about wizard transport, whether by broomstick, Floo powder, or that muddy old footwear that turns out to be a Portkey to another time or dimension.”Highfield goes on to explain conceivable scientific explanations for human (or wizard) flight, invisibility, and various magical creatures, bringing in physics, psychology, and game theory, among other things. All the math and science concepts are presented in a clear and amusing fashion that should make sense to middle and high school students. Read sections of this book aloud, discuss them, and then have students take the same approach to the science fiction and fantasy books they’ve read.
- Another book to consider using in the this way, and one relevant to the science fiction rather than the fantasy side of the spectrum, is Your Flying Car Awaits: Robot Butlers, Lunar Vacations, and Other Dead-Wrong Predictions of the Twentieth Century. This book looks at the wondrous tech predictions made in science fiction and as scientific speculation in the 20th century. In many cases, the technology exists to make these things a reality, and the book explains that, while also analyzing the reasons (often economic) that we don’t have that stuff in real life now.
- With or without examples, your students can examine the science behind the stories, or the lack of it. Ask students to focus on one gadget or phenomenon in their chosen book which differs from what is possible in our own world, and have them research the plausibility of the idea. Does it break basic laws of physics? Is the description of the thing internally consistent? Give students time to research the science that’s being used (or misused) to support the idea in the book.
- If you like more structured plans, check out ReadWriteThink’s Paired Readings plan.
Having gotten a firm grasp of the connection between science and science fiction, have students write their own stories. Science fiction writer Suzette Haden Elgin suggests that you begin with a “what if” question. What if one thing about the world were completely different? What if some new invention were available in the classroom? What if a current trend (such as global warming or increasing rates of obesity among children) continues?
As a class, develop a list of “what if” questions and post them on a board or chart paper. Brainstorm in small groups to develop some answers to those questions. Then have each student write his or her own story.
- The Scriptorium has a worksheet for planning an alien world. The sheet has lots of thought-provoking questions.
- The Fantasy Art Resource Project has a really impressive set of worksheets, including things like a food chain planner and a chart for creating your own solar system. The worksheets are very nice PDF files, and the site includes a lot of science information to help keep the fantasy world on track for scientific plausibility.
- Imaginative illustrations add a lot to science fiction. Encourage students to draw or sculpt their extraterrestrials, outlandish weapons, and spaceships. Google SketchUp is a terrific resource for this.
- ReadWriteThink has a PDF file with bookmarks to use in reading. The bookmarks are a form consisting of science fiction characteristics (containing details about future science or technology, set in the future or another world, making guesses about the future) with spaces for students to take notes while reading.
- Powells has a conference call discussion among three of our favorite kids’ science fiction authors: Tamora Pierce, Phillip Pullman, and Christopher Paolini.
- Science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer’s essay, “Show Don’t Tell” has useful lessons for writing science fiction, or any kind of writing.
- Here are some printable coloring sheets with science fiction theme.
- Amazing models to download, print, and build will not only provide great lessons on following directions, but will also look very cool in your classroom.