Science fiction! As a genre of literature, this one pulls neck and neck with fantasy but provides something just different and plausible enough to create a sense of wonder and fascination. I didn’t grow up with a lot of science fiction reading myself, but even then there are some incredible standouts that have firmly cemented themselves as favorites and front runners in my reading world.
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle
For someone who personally does not read a lot of science fiction, the book is one of my all-time favorites across all genres. Unapologetically bold, A Wrinkle in Time trusts the innate intelligence of young readers and charges forward into a fantastic world of wit, cleverness, and danger.
The story centers around Meg Murry, a gangly, awkward, self-loathing girl who is in a perpetual state of worry over her missing father, her lonely mother, and her gifted baby brother Charles Wallace. When three strange beings arrive with news that her father is in danger and needs help, Meg, her classmate, and Charles Wallace are whisked across the universe on the adventure of a lifetime
Perhaps the greatest strength of the book is the almost painful relatability of the main character Meg. There isn’t a kid out there who can't relate to Meg's discomfort with herself and inability to see just how strong she really is. While the story may be a fantastic science fiction romp through the universe, it is at its core a story of self-discovery, love, and overcoming all the odds. This book is a great read for anyone who's ever thought they were too small or insignificant to make a difference.
The Giver, Lois Lowry
The Giver is one of those staple books that not only builds a firm foundation of science fiction for children but also brings out huge themes for kids to reflect on. Lois Lowry writes with complete confidence and authority that challenges readers of any age.
The story focuses on Jonas, a young boy living in a dystopian community that has made the choice to be completely devoid of feelings and desires. The community supposedly thrives on a society that is seemingly clinical in its existence. Couples are assigned to each other. Children are assigned to families, and at twelve children are assigned a career that they will perform for the rest of their lives. Urges are tightly controlled by the elders of the community and there is little room or forgiveness for deviance from the strict rules. But when Jonas receives a shocking work assignment his entire understanding of the community is shaken.
Lowry has a fantastic ability to trust young readers to wrestle with big and weighty topics. And why not? Such huge topics are coming for children one way or another. There are few better ways to show kids how to overcome then by having brave characters as Jonas face down the same struggles and questions they might be facing themselves.
Fortunately, the Milk
If you want an author who can do it all, you needn't look any further than Neil Gaiman. No one, and I mean no one balances writing in multiple genres like Mr. Gaiman. Wander a bookstore or library and you can find his work in just about any section. He's every bit the testimony that a writer is under no obligation to limit themselves to a single genre.
So it's no surprise that his children's book Fortunately, the Milk reads with the same quality and lively flavor that he is known for in his other works and yet pops off the page in a distinct style that's sweet, humorous, and perfect for young readers. The story is a short, humorous tale of a father who steps out to buy his children some milk for their cereal and comes back instead with an outlandish tale that all hinges on his desire to bring home milk for his children.
One of Gaiman's greatest strengths is his confidence to tell a story the way he wants to without worrying if he's fitting inside narrow rules of fiction. Talking ponies? Perfect! Gooey aliens who don't understand that an average dad can't formally surrender the earth to them? Sounds good! Time-traveling dinosaur in a hot air balloon? Why not! Gaiman's confidence in his storytelling carries the outlandish concepts and makes for a fun romp through an outrageous tale.
A Wind in the Door
Madeleine L’Engle makes the list a second time with her sequel to A Wrinkle in Time. In the second installment of her series, L’Engle takes us back to the world of the Murry’s and Calvin O’Keefe. This book has a very different adventure than the first one, with new peril and obstacles.
After recovering from the events of A Wrinkle in Time, Meg Murry finds herself once more fighting for those she loves when her beloved brother Charles Wallace is suddenly placed in danger. In a much more fast-paced story, Meg, her friend Calvin, and a host of new characters find themselves in a race against the clock to hold back frighteningly powerful and dark forces of evil.
Much like the first book, Meg is the same awkward, relatable teen. What makes the second installment a fresh and exciting read are her new approaches to her problems. She knows herself better now, but still doubts her abilities. Insecurities from the past threaten her confidence and place her mission in jeopardy as she desperately tries to reconcile all the things changing in her world and the constants she can’t seem to shake.
It’s a great book for adventure, but a great read to also remind young readers to give themselves a little grace and forgiveness in life. No one has everything figured out on the first try, but try and try again we must.
Son, Lois Lowry
Lois Lowry also makes the list a second time with her conclusion to a series that opened with The Giver. In the series conclusion, Lowry brings her epic and mysterious tale to a close with fiery intensity. In many ways, the story comes full circle, taking the reader back to the beginning of the whole adventure. But instead of following Jonas, we’re introduced to young Claire who will prove pivotal in the rapidly changing world of the community and the world that lies just outside of the suffocating rules. A simple decision plunges Claire down a dangerous and momentous path that will test her every step of the way.
If I’m being one hundred percent honest. I was not emotionally ready for this book. Maybe it was because of Claire’s unending and unbending desire to atone for her losses. Maybe it was because I couldn’t stop picturing myself in her shoes. Or maybe it was because this book had one of the single greatest villains I have ever seen in a book. Either way, I stayed up until about three in the morning because I couldn’t put it down. It was a pretty long night.
This book is a fantastic reminder of what makes us human to our core and what we mean to each other no matter the cost. Love is everything in the pages of Lowry’s book. While many authors may stay away from such a simple theme, Lowry embraces the power of love along with the simplicity. In her hands, it is not some ex machina that magics away the characters' problems. It is the driving force behind every page and the courage it wrenches from that is something every young reader needs in their life to look up to.