So this isn’t so much about a specific element of science fiction or fantasy. Nor is it about a specific book, author or theme. It has more to do with how I became a reader and fan of these genres. I think it’s safe to say that these days I’ve a fair knowledge of the field and a strong love of both science fiction and fantasy. But that wasn’t always the case. There was a time I didn’t know what these genres were, let alone know I’d be a fan.
Back in those days, while I might have been exposed to a few fantasy texts, I wasn’t a particular reader of any genre. My mother read me Charlotte’s Web and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. My teacher assigned us textbook reading with snippets from fantasy stories. My father had a few dusty old science fiction novels that I scrounged from his shelves like Little Fuzzy. But what made me a life long fan and skyrocketed my reading besides . . . was the library.
I count myself as lucky. Growing up we had our library just ten minutes from the house (I could ride my bike there when I got older). My mother drove me to the library on a regular basis and allowed me to hang out and browse to my heart’s content. I would sit amid the fiction shelves and pick up one book after another, reading the inside flap and maybe a page or two, figuring out if I wanted to read more. The library staff must have been particularly patient with this little bookworm. I remember strategically moving through bookshelves so that I’d just “miss” my mother looking for me when it was time to go. I still love remembering that time . . . the muted sounds of voices and hum of the lights overhead . . . the smell of books.
A library card opens the door to so much. My mom might have tried to give me titles to read–but she wasn’t a fan of science fiction or fantasy. And while I appreciate her efforts to expose me to The Bridge to Terabithia, Little House on the Prairie and Island of the Blue Dolphins (all good books, mind you), it was my own discoveries that were ultimately to color so much of my reading enjoyment. I still love remembering those times sitting amid the stacks, a place where I could travel anywhere, anywhen and be anyone. Magic was at my fingertips, outer space and the future just a word away. Authors like Alfred Slote, Monica Hughes, H. M. Hoover, Pamela Service, Tamora Pierce, and Diana Wynne Jones fell into my lap and opened doors in my mind that have never closed. I’d stack my choices up (I was allowed ten at a time) and take them home.
Of course, I was lucky in another way too. The early 80s were the hey day of children’s science fiction, a sort of golden age where so much of the writing was full of optimism and visions of the future. The librarians who managed the collection for the children’s department bought a lovely range of materials, and I’m very grateful they did. I meshed with Science Fiction just when it was readily available and being written regularly. A few years later I discovered they had a whole wall of science fiction for adults and I thought I’d wandered into heaven. I never had to spend long periods of time without something new to read.
Part of becoming a fan of a genre is having some way of accessing it, immersing oneself in it and getting familiar with the varied content. It’s not easy for a kid to do this without something like a library (unless perhaps they have carte blanche with their parent’s credit card). And–this is key–sometimes browsing is essential to discovery. I read a lot of stuff that might never have been recommended to me on any list or by any adult. I read freely the obscure, the popular, the well written and the absolute clunkers–and was welcome to draw my own opinions and love what I enjoyed. To find something you love on your own is a triumph and a love you never forget.
I know there are fabulous recommendation sites out there, plenty of read-alikes and lots of options on Amazon.com and Goodreads.com for recommendations. And while those can help, there are always kids who would rather not have anyone tell them what to read. It’s like discovering something for yourself, a little treasure hunt of words. I’m firm in the belief that if we don’t let kids have the opportunity to choose their own reading, and experience reading pleasure, they’ll routinely see it only as an adult prescribed activity. And that limits them. Let’s open the doors wide to reading for our next generation! Let’s share with them what we love, but let’s also take them to the nearest public library, dust off that library card (or apply for one) and let them graze the books for themselves. It really is the best magic of all.
Before LOL cats, or Nyan cat . . .there were other cats out there. Cats of fiction who did amazing things like travel through space as adventurers. Cats named things like . . . Spacebread.
Chances are you probably haven’t heard of Spacebread. (And no it’s not a type of bread for outerspace!) Unless you happened to be a science fiction reading kid around the early 80′s, you probably haven’t seen these on the library shelves or even found them on the shelves of used bookstores. The two stories involving this swashbuckling cat adventuress from the stars have been out of print for quite a while and have almost fallen into complete obscurity. I encountered these in my hungry exploration of the library shelves for something new to read. Something fun, something with spaceships and adventure. These stories were perfect. And I’ve never forgotten them over the years.
Spacebread, notorious cat adventuress with a nose for trouble travels to the planet Ralph in search of her stolen belt buckle. But dark forces are at work on Ralph, enslaving the population–and it’s going to be up to Spacebread to save the day!
Spacebread has grown fond of her traveling companion, an alien figlet named Klimmet. But when her nose for trouble manages to seriously wound her friend, she’ll have to go on the adventure of a lifetime and seek out the mysterious planet of Osghan for a way to save her friend’s life.
Falling somewhere between Science Fiction and Fantasy, these stories could be considered Space Opera, or perhaps Science Fantasy. Like the Star Wars universe, everything happens far, far away from anything to do with Earth or Earthlings, so imaginative worlds and landscapes can run wild. If you prefer your science fiction logical and extrapolated from current tech, then anthropomorphic cats and swashbuckling fights set amid spaceships and planets may not exactly be your cup of tea. I’ve never minded the blend. Spacebread was a breath of fresh air in my reading adventures. While I found some strong heroines in sword and sorcery fantasy, I didn’t find too many kick-butt, take the lead types in my science fiction stories at the time. Spacebread is an unapologetic heroine that I could enjoy.
Oscar Steven Senn (Steve Senn on the original books) is an artist as well as a writer. He created the covers for both of these novels, and I tend to think they’re fairly good stuff. I’ve included images of the full cover spreads below–they’re a little blurry, but they are the best I’ve got. Senn wrote a few other science fiction and fantasy books for kids before turning to focus on his art and honing his talents in that direction. Most of the information I have on the author comes from blogger Book ‘em Bob.
The bad news these books have been out of print for a a long time–and they never came out in paperback editions. You can still find used copies out there–but they aren’t plentiful I have managed to gain copies, but they aren’t in particularly good shape. The good news is that in the process of writing this post I have discovered that all of Senn’s books for kids appear to be out now for the Kindle. I’m glad to see them, honestly, as I’d hate these books to fall into a black hole of forgotten fiction.
Of course not ever cat enjoys intergalactic space travel . . . .
What are your favorite out of print gems?
Wound up sick this week, so popping up a quick post tonight, figured I’d take a look at another favorite series of mine that has had plenty of different covers for it’s main title. Diane Duane’s So You Want To Be A Wizard was first published in 1983, I likely read it around that point and I’ve never stopped enjoying the series. But I also have a fondness for the first book in particular. This was my very first urban fantasy novel–probably one of the the first for kids that was published.
Quick plot synopsis: Nita is just a bookish girl trying to keep out of the way of bullies by hiding out in the library. But this time, while she’s there she finds a book called So You Want to Be a Wizard on the shelf. Opening that book opens a whole adventure for Nita, full of magic, danger and unusual allies. It’s a marvelous melding of wizardry and modern world tech (at least modern for 1983). I was hooked when I read it and it’s given me an interest in collecting all SF and fantasy books set in New York City.
Now, to take a look at some of the covers:
This is the first edition cover from Delacorte in 1983. I think it’s actually a pretty cool version. We’ve got the city, we’ve got monsters, we’ve got the main villain and I love the fact that Kit’s wand is shown here, clearly as a radio antenna. It’s dripping urban fantasy, but it is definitely a scary cover shot. I remember studying this one in detail.
This 1986 Dell paperback was probably the first one I owned. Can’t find many decent images of the cover, but I had problems with this one. While the kids are clearly from ’present day’ most of the cover looks straight out of dungeons and dragons. It’s hard to discern this one is urban fantasy. At least Kit has his antenna wand here. It’s a very dated image of the kids as well–they look way to 1980s specific in their clothing and haircuts.
This Magic Carpet edition from 1996 is just . . . what were they thinking? Kit looks like a pudgy 8 year old, Nita’s just a head, the collage effect with so many disparate images is jarring and confusing. It’s hard to tell what this book is about, but it doesn’t really say “magical”. It does intimate “urban” but the cluttered cover doesn’t really make me want to read the story.
This one was pubbed in 2001 by Magic Carpet Books. I think this is actually one of my favorite covers. It’s just . . . urban fantasy, pure and simple. It captures Kit and Nita in an actual scene from the book. The kids look decently modern, and the scene gives you just enough to whet the appetite–without throwing too many images together. If I hadn’t read it years before, this cover would have been one to catch my eye.
This 20th anniversary hardcover by Harcourt has a real glow to it. I love the use of color and the stylistic drawing of the characters. It’s immediately appealing to the eye–rich color, interesting composition. But it shares a slight problem with the Dell 1986 book– while the kids look contemporary, there’s very little to indicate this is urban fantasy rather than an other-worldly epic style fantasy. I can’t really dislike the cover, but I miss the inclusion of some of the stuff that makes this book so singular.
I’ve never really looked at e-book covers before this, but this is the one that came up for the Kindle version. It’s functional and definitely urban, but sort of bland overall. Still, not a bad cover for the electronic edition, and certainly better than being overly cluttered.
Now this is an interesting version. The New Millenium 2012 ebook edition. In some ways this is like an update of the original cover. Kit and Nita on the run from the wolf-like monsters in an alternate New York City. Very modern character depiction, almost anime style. I think it’s missing Kit’s signature antenna wand (I’m not sure what he’s holding there). It’s not a bad cover overall, and a good addition to the mix.
*These last three books particularly are crossover YA. While they’re often included with the rest of the middle-grade series, the content is a bit more teen, similar to the sixth and seventh Harry Potter books.
Find out what the author is up to next at her website: http://www.dianeduane.com/
Have you read the series? Which cover is your favorite?