Last week I had a great discussion with my friend Thomas (and by discussion, I mean a series of thoughtful texts) about Science Fiction.
First a bit about Thomas. Thomas is a teacher - even though he currently doesn't have a classroom. Once upon a time, Thomas and I taught a few doors down from each other in Winston-Salem, NC. The yin to my yang, Thomas taught History and I taught English - each lesson punctuated by hours and hours of conversation, collaboration and coffee: all of which taught me so much about my content, my students and myself.
Fast forward ten years and while we now live over 1,000 miles apart, Thomas is still teaching me stuff. He is one of the many reasons I started this blog. I don't think he knows that. But, once, a long time ago, he told me that I had a gift with words and that I should trust in my own voice. I'm still learning to do that, but his nudging has certainly helped.
Anyway, Thomas is a great teacher and an even better friend. So, the other night when he texted to ask what I thought of the Twilight series, I knew I was in for a doozy of a conversation.
So... what do I think of Twilight books? Hmmm. That's complicated. I don't think they're very well written. I don't like that at least one of the central themes is that a girl isn't complete without a boy (even a vampire boy!) and (perhaps most damning) I didn't a like, or feel I could cheer for, a single one of the characters. HOWEVER, I love the way they attracted kids to books. In my library, the space on the shelf where the Twilight books belonged, was ALWAYS empty. (And we had 20+ copies of each book!) AND the holds for each volume were always in the double digits. I saw kids who had NEVER READ A BOOK read those 600pg + novels over and over and over again. Bottom line? I don't need to love them. But I do need to harness my students' passion for them and leverage that adoration into a love for other books and eventually for reading itself. And that's what I tried to do. Plus, who am I to judge? When I was in middle school, my favorite books were by VC Andrews and Stephen King. This glass house owner isn't casting any stones.
Turns out Thomas tried to read the Twilight Saga at the urging of his kids, but found them boring. More importantly, however, Thomas feared that Twilight had elevated the vampire/werewolf genre to become the "new Science Fiction." Now. It's important to note that I very rarely get to prove Thomas wrong, but I was super happy to do so in this situation.
Thing is, I LOVE Science Fiction. In fact, it's my favorite genre. And not because I love robots or time travel (although those things are cool!) but because Science Fiction books so often tackle big, big things. Injustice, the dangers of group think and the fierce defense of individuality and freedom are often the messages embedded in the best Science Fiction. The best Sci Fi offers a treasure trove of teaching opportunities and I love using the genre to talk to kids about author purpose and metaphor. These are meaty books.
What's more, (as I told Thomas) I believe we're in the midst of a Sci Fi (if not YA Lit) renaissance. To put it bluntly, I'm not worried about Twilight becoming the "new Science Fiction" because there's lots and lots of other "new Science Fiction" and it's AWESOME.
Of course, when I told Thomas all of this, he asked me for a list of recommendations. Books he could read and share with his kids. And to make this request even sweeter, he asked me to post this list on my blog - a request that sent a thrill up my spine as I am, still, always a little shocked and delighted when anyone confesses to reading my blog. Most of the time I'm absolutely convinced that I am the only one who comes here - which is totally fine. I write for me, not for an audience. But, still, it's nice when someone proves me wrong.
Anyway, what follows now is my list. Note: it's in no way comprehensive. It's just a list of Science Fiction books that a) were published recently and b) that I love OR c) that my students adored. Note: Many of these titles are part of a series. If so, I only included the first of the series in the list. Additionally, I decided to put the list on Good Reads - that way I could continue to add to it. I'm certain I'll think of other titles as time goes on.
Growing up, I moved around a lot. I went to lots of schools - some of which had school libraries, some of which didn't. From what I remember, those places were quiet rooms full of books that were mostly written for either little kids or for adults. I don't recall a plethora of books written for teens and preteens. Sure, there were the classics you'd think of - the Madeleine L'Engles, Judy Blumes and Elizabeth George Speares - but nothing like today. Today, young adult literature is a thriving, incredibly rich genre - a genre filled with, in my humble opinion, some of the BEST books (of any genre) being written today. It makes our job, as the folks who are charged with putting the right book in the right child's hand at just the right moment, much, much easier.
Plus, it makes for great conversations with students. And with old friends.