November 17, 2017

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Great Science Fiction for Middle Graders | Focus On

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The genre of science fiction is built on questions and possibilities. What can we invent or discover? What can we do with it? Where will it take us? What will we become? Unlike the genre of fantasy, which plays with the world of the impossible, science fiction speculates on the world of the possible. It extrapolates ideas and situations from reality and imagines what comes next. It uses scientific fact, technology, and human history as a jumping-off point—and goes further. Frankenstein’s lumbering creation, Nemo’s fantastical submarine, Tom Swift’s electric rifle, and Tom Corbett’s galactic adventures all represent a rich history of science-fiction stories that have compelled and fueled readers’ imaginations for generations.

With the current push to interest kids in STEM projects and careers, there are many nonfiction titles and educational programs that introduce kids to the sciences. But it’s the genre of science fiction that often gives kids the why. In this world of so much anxiety and worry, young readers want to imagine they have a future worth dreaming about. No reader can grow up to be a wizard, but they can aspire to become the inventor of an intergalactic starship or a crew member who pilots it. They can use the narratives that speculate about the future to build their own personal stories of what they want their future to be. The world of tomorrow is a moving target—the discoveries and technologies of one generation necessarily must change for the next. While there is always room on the shelves for classic texts, the essence of science fiction must be constantly renewed. Here are some recent middle grade novels to get readers started.

1601_FocusOn-CVs-NearFutureThe Near Future

HAUTMAN, Pete. The Flinkwater Factor. S. & S. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481432511.
Gr 3-6–A quirky series of adventures nail the fun side of inventive science fiction. Flinkwater is a high-tech small town centered on a cutting-edge robotics corporation. Anything is possible, including computer-induced comas, talking dogs, and shadowy corporations. Whatever the challenge, Ginger and her friend, boy-genius Billy George, are there to stir up trouble and save the day.

HOLM, Jennifer L. The Fourteenth Goldfish. Random. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780375870644. pap. $7.99. ISBN 9780375871146.
Gr 3-6–Eleven-year-old Ellie misses the way things used to be—school, her best friend, even her goldfish. On top of that, her scientist grandfather has used his “fountain of youth” formula to turn himself into a cranky teenager! With humor and heart, Holm explores the excitement and pitfalls of scientific invention through the lives of a family. Audio version available from Listening Library.

KORMAN, Gordon. Masterminds. Harper­Collins/ Balzer + Bray. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062299963. pap. $7.99. ISBN 9780062299994.
Gr 4-8–Serenity, NM, is an idyllic small town where nothing bad ever happens, a perfect place to grow up…or is it? Eli and his friends figure out something fishy is going on and discover their “perfect” home hides dark secrets. Are they human guinea pigs trapped in a dubious scientific investigation? Audio version available from Blackstone Audio.

MESSNER, Kate. Eye of the Storm. Walker. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780802723130. pap. $7.99. ISBN 9780802734358.
Gr 4-8–In this near future, massive storms are a regular part of Jaden’s life, and her father’s research into weather safety is vital to helping communities survive. When Jaden faces the devastating truth about her father’s work, she’s forced to choose between family loyalty and confronting her father with what he’s done.

SACHAR, Louis. Fuzzy Mud. Delacorte. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780385743785. ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780385370219.
Gr 3-6–Science run amok is at the heart of this fast-paced thriller. When Tamaya and Marshall encounter a strange substance growing on top of the mud, they never imagine it could be dangerous—even deadly. A great starting point for discussions on scientific progress and how even the best of intentions can go wrong. Audio version available from Listening Library.

SCIESZKA, Jon. Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor. illus. by Brian Biggs. Abrams. 2014. Tr $13.95. ISBN 9781419712180.
Gr 2-4–Wacky inventions, artificial intelligence, and evil chimps abound in the world of Frank Einstein, a boy inventor determined to win the Midville Science Prize. Brimming with goofy laughs, this title also includes discussion of real scientific concepts, complete with easy-to-understand diagrams and visual examples. A hilarious series opener with nods to classic science fiction. Audio version available from Listening Library.

VAUGHAN, M.M. Six. S. & S./Margaret K. McElderry Bks. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481420693. pap. $7.99. ISBN 9781481420709.
Gr 4-8–With their father missing and sinister goons out to kidnap them, 12-year-old Parker and 10-year-old Emma are on the run. The siblings have one advantage—a special device that allows Parker to communicate with Emma, who’s deaf, through thoughts alone. But will that be enough to evade capture, find their dad, and uncover the truth?

1601_FocusOn-CVs-Far-FutureEarthFar-Future Earth

BEMIS, Jean Claude. The Prince Who Fell from the Sky. Random. 2012. pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780375865183.
Gr 4-8–In a far future where animals rule, humans are no more than myths and legends. That is until the old bear Casseomae discovers a crashed ship with one small human cub still alive. With a motley crew of other animals, Casseomae sets out on a postapocalyptic journey to reunite the boy with others of his kind.

EDDLEMAN, Peggy. Sky Jumpers. Random. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780307981271. pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780307981301.
Gr 3-6–In the post–World War III community of White Rock, survivors seek to recover lost technology through invention. Young Hope may not be very good at inventing, but when trouble strikes, it will be her special talents that save the day. An action-filled futuristic adventure that remains optimistic despite the challenges facing humanity. Audio version available from Listening Library.

HOLYOKE, Polly. The Neptune Project. Disney-Hyperion. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781423157564. pap. $7.99. ISBN 9781423159797.
Gr 5-8–Nere has been genetically altered to allow her to live beneath the water, far from the famines caused by global warming. But to realize an underwater future, Nere and others like her must swim hundreds of miles through the ocean facing dangers of all kinds, including a government that will stop at nothing to capture them.

KRUMWIEDE, Lana. Freakling. Candlewick. 2012. Tr $15.99 ISBN 9780763659370. pap. $7.99. ISBN 9780763669386.
Gr 5-9–Unlike his family and friends, Taemun cannot move objects with his mind, and his disability brands him an outcast. He’s exiled to the “dud farm,” a colony populated by those who have no “psi” powers. But in this far future dystopia, everyone is hiding secrets, and what Taemun discovers about himself and others could lead to disaster. Audio version available from Brilliance Audio.

LIEBERMAN, A.J. The Silver Six. illus. by Darren Rawlings. Scholastic/Graphix. 2013. Tr $22.99. ISBN 9780545370974.pap. $10.99 ISBN 9780545370981.
Gr 4-6–In a dark dystopian future, Phoebe and five other orphans find refuge on an uninhabited moon. But to keep this new paradise, they’ll have to take down the company that orchestrated their parents’ deaths. Images of oppressive cities and futuristic technology bring this graphic adventure to life with all the hallmarks of good science-fiction storytelling.

PERRY, Michael. The Scavengers. Harper­Collins. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978 0062026163. pap. $6.99. ISBN 978006 2026170.
Gr 4-8–Twelve-year-old Maggie’s family chooses to live a risky rural life on the fringes of civilization rather than in the corporate-controlled Bubble cities. When Maggie discovers her home ransacked and family missing, she must match wits with a greedy corporation that wants to control her scientist father and protect its secrets. Audio version available from Recorded Books.

REESE, Jenn. Above World. Candlewick. 2012. Tr $16.99 ISBN 9780763654177. pap. $7.99. ISBN 9780763662592.
Gr 5-8–Aluna is a Kampii, an altered human whose community uses tech and biology to survive in the ocean deeps. After centuries, their tech is failing, and Aluna goes in search of answers. Consider using this to introduce bioengineering and to promote speculation on how humans might adapt to a changing planet. Audio version available from Brilliance Audio.

1601_FocusOn-CVs-FuturesSpaceFutures In Space!

FRY, Jason. Hunt for the Hydra. HarperCollins. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062230201. pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780062230218.
Gr 5-9–In the world of Jupiter Pirates, privateering is a family affair. Tycho and his siblings study and compete alongside one another to see who will be the next captain of the Shadow Comet. This space opera romp is a satisfying adventure with a good dose of swashbuckling fun.

GIBBS, Stuart. Space Case. S. & S. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781442494862. pap. $7.99. ISBN 9781442494879.
Gr 3-6–The lunar base’s top scientist winds up dead, and Dashiell Gibson is convinced it was no accident. Pursuing his own investigation in the confines of the moon colony is going to stir up a lot of trouble—will it also find a killer? Mystery, humor, and sci-fi combine in this lunar whodunit. Audio version available from Simon & Schuster Audio.

KROKOS, Dan. The Planet Thieves. Tor/Starscape. 2013. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780765334282. pap. $9.99. ISBN 978 0765375384.
Gr 4-8–It was supposed to be a routine space mission. Now Cadet Mason Stark has no choice but to take charge and rescue his comrades from the alien enemy. Energetic military science fiction that uses some classic tropes of the genre while providing a fresh voice and story. Audio version available from Blackstone Audio.

MCDOUGALL, Sophia. Mars Evacuees. HarperCollins. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062293992. pap. $7.99. ISBN 978006 2294005.
Gr 4-8–Saving the solar system was not on Alice Dare’s to-do list, but when you’re shipped off to Mars to live and train in safety while the adults battle aliens back home, things can have a way of going a bit off track. Funny and fast-paced science fiction that invites readers to sit back and enjoy the adventure.

REEVE, Philip. Cakes in Space. illus. by Sarah McIntyre. Random. 2015. Tr $12.99. ISBN 978038538 7927. pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780385387934.
Gr 2-5–Young Astra expected to spend the entire trip to Nova Mundi in cold sleep. Instead things have gone wrong—very, very wrong. Her ship has been overtaken by bossy Bedbots, spoon-stealing aliens, and carnivorous confections! Comic storytelling and engaging illustrations combine with intelligent sci-fi tropes for a great reading experience.

SEARLES, Rachel. The Lost Planet. Feiwel & Friends. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781250038791. pap. $6.99. ISBN 9781250056887.
Gr 4-8–Chase Garrity wakes up with no memory other than his name and the sure knowledge that time is running out. He soon finds a host of strange new friends, as well as old enemies. This is a wild quest adventure set in the distant future, full of planet hopping, colorful characters, and edge-of-your-seat action.

SYLVESTER, Kevin. MiNRS. S. & S. /Margaret K. McElderry Bks. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481440394.
Gr 5-9–After an attack by raiders, Christopher Nichols and a handful of other kids are the only ones left alive, hiding out in the mining tunnels below the surface of their planetoid colony. It’s a race to survive until they can send for help. A tense space thriller that will leave readers breathless until the last page.

THOMPSON, Craig. Space Dumplins. Scholastic/Graphix. 2015. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9780545565417. pap. $14.99. ISBN 9780545565431.
Gr 3-5–Violet Morlocke and her misfit friends run away from home and set out on a wild mission across space to find her dad. A rollicking, brilliantly drawn space-adventure full of humor and charm that reminds readers that no matter how far-off or strange the future, family and friendship are the keys to the universe.

Stephanie Whelan is a senior children’s librarian at New York Public Library.

Digital picks

Websites

NASA. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. (Accessed 11/21/15).
All ages –With a wealth of educational resources on space, technology, and engineering, including well-written information, stunning images, videos, podcasts, educational games, and lesson plans, there’s something for everyone in this easy to navigate website.

The Space Place. spaceplace.nasa.gov. NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, International Technology and Engineering Education Association. (Accessed 11/21/15).
Gr 2 Up –Offered in English and Spanish, this nicely put together website offers children, parents, and educators solid information about space missions and related science and technology. User-friendly, with options for games, crafts, activities, and media, young space explorers can read, play, and discover.

Apps

The Robot Factory. Tinybop Inc. 2015. Version 1.1.1. iOS, requires 7.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. $3.99. (Accessed 11/21/15).
Gr 1-4 –Entertaining open-ended play allows kids to use their creativity to construct wildly different types of robots and run them through test landscapes to see how well they hold up. Vivid animations and a huge range of options will keep kids engaged.

NASA 3DV. NASA. 2015. Version 1.1. iOS, requires 7.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. www.nasa.gov/externalflash/3DV/index.html. Free. (Accessed 11/21/15).
Gr 4 Up –NASA’s free app allows viewers to check out the agency’s deep-space exploration projects with 3-D models of the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System. Also notable is the augmented reality function that lets users launch a virtual rocket from their device.

This article was published in School Library Journal's January 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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