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So You Want To Read Middle Grade: Stephanie Whelan

Stepahnie Whelan is a children's librarian and blogs at

When it comes to science fiction, let’s face it: the genre tends to get lost in amid more prolific genres on the middle grade shelves.  Fantasy (which is often lumped together with science fiction) tends to overshadow the genre.  There’s still quite a bit out there if you know where to look and what kind of science fiction you’re looking for.

The last few years we’re beginning to see an upswing  in SF books for kids.  The first half of my list are all titles that have been published within the last year.

1. The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore (Walker Books, 2013)
This is near-future or contemporary science fiction.  One of the better books from last year, it is possible to imagine everything in the story has a fact-based explanation, but for the science fiction crowd, the possibilities also allow for other interpretations.  The focus on scientific pursuits and exploration are key themes I love to see for kids.  Nonfiction may give the what’s and where’s and how’s, but fiction gives kids the internal story, the why’s, so to speak.  Fiction provides the inspiration and the mechanism for thinking about the future in terms of a readers’ own narrative.

2. Sky Jumpers by Peggy Eddleman (Random House, 2013)
Last year also gave us this post apocalyptic futuristic tale.  Set in a world where much of civilization has been destroyed by war, surviving communities do their best to invent and improve upon their lives.  This isn’t a dystopian future exactly--the community is a positive and nurturing one--but it is one where survival is a lot more chancy and the environment is far from friendly.  This is a great stepping stone story for younger science fiction readers to get their feet wet in the genre.  Second book in the series will be out this year.

3. Jupiter Pirates: The Hunt for the Hydra by Jason Fry (HarperCollins, 2013)
Just out this past December, this is futuristic space adventure combined with piracy.  There’s no reason science fiction can’t be a whole heap of fun! A family of privateers winds up on a mission to track down missing ships in unknown space.  There’s battles, there’s treachery, there’s sibling rivalry!  Readers who like a good adventure story in an imaginative and fairly positive future setting will enjoy this one.

4. The Neptune Project by Polly Holyoke (Disney/Hyperion, 2013)
From outer space to under the sea.  In a dystopian future an oppressive government controls everyone on an increasingly infertile land.  The only escape is the ocean.  Our protagonists have been genetically altered so that they can survive and live under the water--but they’ll have to escape those hunting them first!  A more mature read for those interested in dystopian stories of the future--first in a series.

5. Star Wars: Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown (Scholastic, 2013)
Graphic novels also have their share of science fiction stories.  One of my two favorites from last year was this school story with a Star Wars setting.  Lots of little touches by the creator to bring in elements of the Star Wars universe, but the main characters are entirely new.  Fun, funny and inventive, this one’s a real pleasure to read.

6. The Silver Six by A. J. Lieberman, illustrated by Darren Rawlings (Graphix, 2013)
My other favorite in graphics from last year is this dystopian adventure featuring an oppressive corporation and six plucky orphans who are on a mission to bring it down.  Great humor woven into the dramatic plotline to make a nicely balanced story.  

I also wanted to bring up a handful of older stories--science fiction that was around when I was a grade-school student.  Despite the passage of years, these stories remain relevant and powerful.

7.Norby the MIxed-up Robot by Isaac Asimov and Janet Asimov (Walker Books, c1991)
Isaac Asimov is one of the authors who really brought science fiction to younger readers in the 70s and 80s.  One of his best series is that of Norby, an extraordinary robot who takes his owner on a series of adventures in space.

8. The White Mountains by John Christopher (Simon & Schuster, c1967)
This alien invasion trilogy has remained in print since it was first published, and it should be available on most library shelves.  Our characters are growing up in a world that has been overtaken by aliens and on the run to find the renegade communities still opposing the alien rule.   A great adventure and survival tale that captured my imagination when I first read it--I still love to drop it into the hands of a new reader.

9. Interstellar Pig by William Sleator (Puffin, c1984)
This unusual story has our protagonist meet a group of odd neighbors while he’s on summer vacation.  These strange adults aren’t at all what they seem--they’re actually aliens, and their engaged in a strange game called interstellar Pig.    Humor combined with bizarre aliens and a wild competition to win at all costs!

10.The Girl with the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts (Scholastic, c1980)
One of my favorite plots from the 1980s, Katie is a girl with remarkable silver eyes and startling psychic powers that allow her to move items without touching them. When Katie learns that her powers may be due to an experimental drug she begins to dig into the past to see if she can find other kids like her.  Psychic power stories are some of my favorites.  This one is still available, with an updated cover.

11. The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron (Little, Brown Books, c1954)
Two boys find a glowing green advertisement in a newspaper.  When they answer the ad, they wind up on a wild space adventure  to a mysterious planet.  Classic alien adventure story from the days before we’d sent humans into space.  Still lots of fun to read.

12. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, c1962)
One of my all-time favorites.  This 1963 Newbery winner tells the tale of a girl and her brother who go in search of her missing scientist father.  They have three strange beings who help them travel across the universe by “tessering”: Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which and Mrs. Whatsit.  Still one of the mainstays on library shelves everywhere.


  1. Great post. I find it hard to know when something is Science Fiction as opposed to Fantasy. I'm not really sure where the line is.


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