I’ve been saying how we need to see more characters in fiction who are role models and inspirations for the fields of invention and scientific exploration. Below I’ve pulled together ten books on the topic. A few are classic examples, but there are a number of very new titles that have got me hoping that we’re seeing an upward trend.
The Water Castle by Megan Fraser Blakemore (Walker Books, 2013)
A book that combines contemporary fiction, mystery, historical fiction and scientific pursuit with just a touch of science fiction. Young Ephraim lives in a huge old house where his science-minded ancestor was doing research and trying to discover the fountain of youth. The entire book looks at the value of exploration, research and investigation into the sciences as Ephraim and his friends follow clues to uncover an old secret.
Marveltown by Bruce McCall (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008)
One of several picture books on this list. This one features a super-city where all the kids are encouraged to compete with inventions. But when things go wrong in the city, it’s up to the kids’ ingenuity to rescue the adults and the city from danger.
Tom Swift and His Photo Telephone by Victor Appleton (Grosset & Dunlap, c1914)
Perhaps the original scientist/inventor series for kids; the first Tom Swift Series is well over a hundred years old. But what it envisioned in its time was amazing. Yes, this was a boy’s adventure serial where the writing was sometimes silly and the plots are severely dated, but the scientific adventures in these books predicted many of the inventions we take for granted today. One hundred years ago this particular title was published, in this day and age we take our cell phones for granted. Many of earlier generations of scientists were inspired by books like these as kids–which is why we need to see more like them.
Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Brian Biggs (Amulet, 2014)
One of my 2014 titles! Frank Einstein is determined to win this year’s science competition–and he just may do it when his attempts to achieve artificial intelligence meet with some success! Frank creates two delightfully hysterical robot assistants who may just help him win the competition with an antimatter motor. That is, if T. Edison and his chimp assistant (Frank’s nemesis) don’t manage to steal his ideas for themselves! Fun funny and the first in a series!
Hive Mind by Timothy J. Bradley (Argosy Press, 2013)
The Sci Hi series is based on the idea of science exploration and technological discovery. In this near-future world, certain kids are chosen to join Sci-Hi, a school devoted to science. Our protagonists wind up on science fictional adventures: in this book, they’re shrunk down to tiny size to explore the inside of a bee colony in order to study Colony Collapse Disorder. Each book in the series combines science fictional fun with real science fact and theory to give kids taste for further research.
Pirate, Viking & Scientist by Jared Chapman (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Expected Publication November 2014)
Another 2014 title, this one a picture book I couldn’t resist including. It’s not so much science fictional as fantasy, but I’d say it does it’s job in promoting a scientific approach to problem solving. Our young scientist has two friends: Pirate and Viking. Neither of these characters get along with each other, and that’s causing problems. So our scientist decides to start problem solving through investigation and diagrams to figure out how to get his friends to get along with each other. Problem solving and the “try, try again” message is well played–as is a good lesson on diplomacy in action!
Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint by Jay Williams and Raymond Abrashkin (Pocket Books, c1956)
Another older series of books with science adventures, the Danny Dunn series is about fifty years old at this point, but was still on the bookshelves when I was a kid. Danny may not know a lot about science himself, but his friend and role model Professor Bullfinch is a topnotch scientist inventing all kinds of strange stuff. Of course, curious Danny can’t help but investigate, and winds up in some precarious situations. Upbeat science adventure tales–these were the kind of books that excited me because it felt like these discoveries could be right around the corner.
Robots Rule: The Junkyard Bot by C.J. Richards (HMH books, Expected publication: October 2014)
And another 2014 title (do you see a pattern here?)! This lightweight futuristic adventure introduces us to math whiz George Gearing who is living in a town where most of the day-to-day stuff is done by robots. George lives with his grandfather by a junkyard, but he dreams of one day being able to use his programming skills for more than creating his own junkyard robot. A conspiracy in his home town leads him to uncover a dangerous plot involving robots at Tinkertech Enterprises, and only George can stop them! There’s a book trailer to be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tg8WwvnANzE
Oh No! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World) by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Dan Santat (Disney-Hyperion, 2010)
One of two wild picture books featuring our intrepid young scientist and science fair competitor. What does our “mad” scientist type build for her science project? A giant robot of course. Naturally, the giant robot winds up going on a rampage that could destroy everything and it’s up to our scientist protagonist to stop it! Fun and funny and while this tends towards the “mad” scientist trope, it’s one of the few books to feature a female protagonist, so I wanted to include it here!
The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm (Random House Books, August 2014)
My final 2014 title, and number ten on the list! Young Ellie thought she had enough trouble navigating her first year of middle school and dealing with the loss of her best friend. But now there’s a cranky teenager living in her house–a teen who is actually her grandfather, Melvin. He’s discovered a formula that reverses the aging process, and tested it upon himself! Now he’s thirteen and locked out of his own lab! Melvin decides to recruit Ellie into helping him break into his lab and rescue his research–and in the process he introduces her to the fascinating world of science and scientists. I loved reading this contemporary fic science fiction work and hope to review it soon!
So here are my ten. I still think we need more books like these–and especially more titles featuring female protagonists! If you’ve any titles to add, please comment below!