You’re a group of kittens that has been born–amazingly–with wings. But city life is no place for these four kitties, so they head to the country. But things may be no safer there! Do you remember:
Catwings by Ursula K. Le Guin, illustrated by S. D. Schindler (Orchard Books c1988)
When I say the name Ursula Le Guin to you, many of my readers who know Science Fiction and Fantasy will recognize this author for her esteemed adult and young adult works. And for good reason. She’s an astonishing writer with some powerful things to say, and a strong voice and advocate for stories and future writers. Check out her speech at the 2014 National Book Awards here. But I bet a lot fewer readers know that this author also penned a series of whimsical books for beginning readers. These early chapter book stories clock in at about 40 pages a piece, but I’ve loved them since the first time I encountered them as a child.
Mrs. Jane Tabby couldn’t tell you why her litter of kittens was born with wings, but she can tell you that winged kittens in the city are a hassle and half. So when the youngsters are old enough, they set off for the countryside and hopefully safer spaces. But the kits quickly find that the predators are many, and they don’t fit anywhere in the forest. Their very difference makes them suspect to so many animals who don’t accept them or are afraid of them. Even humans aren’t necessarily friendly towards these extraordinary furballs. But the kits do finally find their way to humans who don’t mind their differences and are happy to welcome them into their home.
These are simple stories, and fairly simplistic. No surprise since they are meant for early readers. The magic of cats with wings is the only magic within these otherwise real-world stories of creatures looking for acceptance and a home. The illustrations throughout help to make these friendly and accessible “small magic” stories. Readers who’ve been delving into Le Guins richer works for years may find these bare bones to their taste, but they’ve been perfect for helping my son launch himself into longer chapter books. And there’s just something so charming about cats with wings that these continue to be a fondly remembered series.
There are four books in all that are part of this series, Catwings Return (1989), Wonderful Alexander and the Catwings (1994), and Jane on her Own (1999). Great for the young cat lover or the older cat lover who’s charmed by these titles. I admit when I first saw them as a junior high school kid I was a little in disbelief that someone would create something so whimsical and place it in very matter-of-fact surroundings. It made you want to believe that cats with wings were possible.
It’s a marvelous little series, though it won’t keep the stronger reader busy for long! These bite sized books are best in helping those just encountering short chapter books to begin to piece together stories without too much detail or complication. I am still delighted to keep these stories tucked next to my Star Ka’ats books by Andre Norton. Now I just want to get some Space Cat tales to tuck next to them and I’ll feel I’ve got a proper set. ^_^
Any other fans of this catfantastic series?
For those reading along, this is the 6th part of this pathway, the introductory paragraph is pretty much the same for each of these entries.
So, there are always lists out there detailing these or those must-read Science fiction books. Often SF and Fantasy are thrown in together without differentiation. It’s inspired me to try a different kind of series of Tuesday Ten lists, one that takes readers on a trip from childhood to adult with Science Fiction stories recommended in each age bracket. A potential pathway so to speak. I’m going to limit each bracket to ten titles (which is a REAL challenge in some cases), and I’m going to try and put in a range of works, recent and past, that are still available for readers to find. After all, the point of this list is to give you ideas of titles share with your kids or read yourselves! There will be many more options in each age range, this is only the jumping off point after all! Let’s blast off!
This week’s Ten is focusing on the next group in my age bracket, the 12-15 year-olds. (You can check out the 0-3 years list here , the 3-5 year-olds here, the 5-7 year-olds here, the 7-9 year-olds here and the 9-12 year-olds here.) By now we have young teens who are probably interested fans looking for their next read. Though it isn’t impossible to coax a teen reader into trying something new–just might mean selling it to them the right way. Sometimes adult enthusiasm can particularly misfire with teens who are looking to go their own way and forge their own reading, but it never hurts to leave a pile of books around. Sometimes you can still do some reading aloud at this age, but another option is to “trade” books or read the same book together–this enables your teen reader to feel more of a partnership on what they’re reading than simply being told what to read. They will still be having regular school assignments in book reading, both fiction and nonfiction and that may include some science fiction. Teen readers will vary–some will find reading more challenging and want to stick to short stories and shorter books. Some will be jumping up into adult reading with no hesitation, completely at ease with the transition into the adult realm of stories. This is also a time when peer pressure can have a huge affect on a teen reader. What their friends are reading and watching and talking about may have more impact.
It becomes harder to pick out books in this age range for two reasons. The first is the sheer ephemeral nature of so much of YA literature. I’m less prone to recommend the newest books simply because they may go out of print so quickly. The second challenge is the that I’m considering this younger end of teen readers and trying to recommend books that do not have graphic sexual content that puts the book in the next age bracket.
A Science Fiction Pathway: 12-15 year-olds
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (Penguin, c1818)
We’re going to kick off this list with a classic that not only is one of the first science fiction books ever written, but a such a book written by a woman. Often Mary Shelley contribution to the SF genre overall goes wanting in favor of others, but I think this is an excellent title to include in this pathway. For exploring the idea of scientific progress combined with scientific consequence, this is an excellent choice. It also gives readers some great historical foundations in the science fiction genre as a whole. Just about any decent SF library should have a copy of this book.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (Tor, c1985)
Depsite the controversial nature of the author, this remains a classic of the genre that’s worth including on the list. Ender Wiggins is a child being trained through computer simulations to become Earth’s General against alien invaders. But Ender and his siblings, while remarkable, are only children. Yet their reach and influence in the networks is vast. This classic vision of warfare and of the lengths humankind can stretch it to is good food for thought.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (Del Rey Books, c1979)
Never underestimate the power of humor. Douglas Adams amazingly goofy and wry romp around the Galaxy with his flawed cast of characters remains a favorite. So many popular geek culture references originate in this work that it’s worth including here–especially in a list that threatens to get to heavily bound up in issue driven books. Science fiction can indeed be silly and fun!
The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson (Henry Holt & Co., 2008)
What does it mean to be human? What if you woke up to find you weren’t the same person you had been? that your body isn’t the one you know? This is Jenna’s story. After a horrific accident Jenna slowly comes to know the truth about what her father has done and what she now is. Can she come to terms with her identity and reality? This exploration of issues of the human mind and how we might progress in the future is a powerful SF plot. Similar stories are captured in Peter Dickinson’s Eva and Anne McCaffrey’s Brainships series, but I thought this title most appropriate for the list.
Door Into Summer by Robert A. Heinlein (Del Rey, c1957)
This is the age where I’d start recommending the bulk of Heinlein juveniles. All these classic SF stories certainly have grown dated in some aspects, but they contain the seeds of science fictional adventure and invention. They are some of the best anchor books for the “fun” that is so much a part of the genre. This particular title was where I started with Heinlein, but really there are quite a number of what could be termed Heinlein juveniles that would fit the bill. Here you have a time travel/invention story that’s also ultimately a tale of revenge. I must have read it about 20 times as a teen.
Cinder by Marissa Meyer (Feiwel & friends, 2012)
Imagine the story of Cinderella retold where our heroine is a cyborg set on an intergalactic stage. Cinder is a gifted mechanic who is key to the fate of her world, though she doesn’t know that. What she knows is that she is a second class citizen living with her stepmother and stepsister. Space opera has great opportunity for expanding the stories and reaches of science fiction. It often focuses more on the dramatic and sweeping story rather than the intricacies of future tech, but it is nevertheless an important part of the genre. This is book one in the ongoing and popular Lunar Chronicles.
The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury (Spectra, c1951)
Short story collections are an excellent idea at this age, and there are many out there. But very few could compete with any of the story collections by SF master Ray Bradbury. This collection contains both fantastic and futuristic tales, but the stories from it remain some of the most vivid in my mind. Any of the Bradbury collections is highly recommended. They open the mind while exposing the reader to incredibly powerful writing and language. It’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed. One of my personal chilling favorites is “The Veldt”.
Across the Universe by Beth Revis (Razorbill, 2011)
There are a number of books that take on the subject of interstellar travel and create stories about what might happen. I decided to feature this work, but I’m also giving a quick shout out for Earthseed by Pamela Sargent. In Across the Universe, seventeen-year old Amy wakes fifty years earlier than she should from cold sleep, and discovers a murder mystery aboard the ship that’s taking them to their new home. But what will the secrets she uncovers reveal? Romance in science fiction doesn’t negate its place in the genre, and it’s often an intrinsic element in teenage storytelling.
Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo (Dark Horse, c1984)
Graphic novels can be a huge draw in these years, and one of the classics is this manga. Set in 2019 Tokyo after WWIII, the story follows two teenagers and the monstrous power known as Akira. Many readers will know the anime inspired by the graphic novel, but I think it’s worth including in the list. There are many manga and graphic SF stories out there that can catch a younger audience’s attention.
Ms. Marvel, Volume 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona (Marvel, c2014)
My biggest struggle with this list was including diverse characters for the age range. Too many books just jump up to being very mature for this age group and I can’t guarantee they fit my parameters. But superheroes are one of those genre-crossing subjects that fall smack in the middle between SF and Fantasy. Marvel’s teenage Kamala Khan is a Muslim-American girl from Jersey who has just been granted superpowers. Ground breaking and lots of fun, this was definitely worth inclusion on the list, methinks.
Reminder, this pathway is neither a best of list or by far the only books to look at, these are merely jumping off points and ways to approach the genre, so if your favorite book isn’t listed, feel free to shout out for it in the comments!
My earlier pathways can be found here:
Freya and the Dragon Egg by K. W. Penndorf (Open Door Publications, expected publication May 2016)
Norse mythology certainly seems to be one of the more popular subjects this year for fantasy writing. Not that I’m complaining–Norse mythology has a wealth of stories and legends to tap, and plenty of opportunities ripe for interpretation of how that magic might link with characters from our contemporary world. Unlike a lot of other books that have picked up these stories, Freya and the Dragon’s Egg does not choose to use the most familiar forms of these myths.
Freya is the middle daughter of her family. She is used to being ignored by her mother and father in favor of her two sisters. She tends to get herself into all sorts of trouble, even when she means well. She also has been having some strange dreams, or perhaps some kind of visions . Trouble finds her again when her father, a respected Viking archeologist, gives Freya an artifact to hide and in a moment of panic, she swallows it! Now she’s on a wild adventure through time that will bring her face to face with the mythological Viking past and very real danger! An enemy to all nine realms is gaining power and unless he is stopped, all the worlds, including Freya’s own, could be at risk. What can one girl do? Quite a bit actually. With a little help from a magical forest, a young man who turns into a bear and some mysterious creatures called Norns she hatches a plan–she just hopes this time things won’t just get her into more trouble!
Confession time. Anyone who checks will see that I’ve done another review just recently on another title involving Norse mythology. I didn’t realize at the time I’d end up back-to-back on the subject! That said, the two titles depart radically from one another. Unlike the previous title I read which was a contemporary fantasy tackling of the mythic, K. W. Penndorf’s story is a fantastical time-travel adventure that take Freya back to a past that is fully populated with creatures and magic from lore. Freya’s adventure takes her on encounters far from her own time. Back to the time of Vikings . . . though this is a mythological past rather than a pure historical one. Unlike many Norse adventures where characters meet gods like Loki and Thor, this one takes a sharp turn into uncharted territory. We do encounter the world-tree, Yggdrasil, but we also meet fearsome Berserks and go in search of the fate-speaking Norns. There’s a wealth of legend woven into this story, and a fair share of new vocabulary. I checked with the author and she’s added a lot of invention to the Norse legends–though you’ll see many familiar bits to the framework.
Given the amount of invention, the author does fair work explaining the words and terms within the course of the narrative. This should appeal to those readers who enjoy rich world-building and can easily absorb a lot of new information. The world Freya finds herself in has forests that move, silver tapestry threads that only she can see, and frightening creatures that can steal a person’s spirit and bring another back to life. I find it a enjoyable to encounter new beasties and magic in stories–it can be too easy to fall into the familiar descriptions and traditions, so I’m happy to read something that doesn’t. Likewise it’s always a delight to discover fantasy adventure like this with a strong female protagonist taking center stage. Freya does a good job of making the key decisions that affect the story’s outcome and being the character with most of the agency. She’s less a “chosen one” than a sort of hapless hero who blunders into things, but she doesn’t reject her role. The fact that she makes errors and triumphs throughout keeps her from being too perfect, but gives us someone to cheer on.
There are a few points where the pacing occasionally breaks down–most of these are due to passages where a character is taking time to explain an aspect of the mythological or magical in detail. It’s often difficult to avoid these blocks of information when the world and legends are unfamiliar and both the characters and the readers need the explanations. It does slow down the story somewhat, and it’s why I stress that the readers that fit this kind of storytelling are the kind that enjoy rich world building. Those kinds of readers are necessarily more patient with long explanations and new concepts introduced–and can really relish them. My other small issue is the speech that Freya encounters when she time travels. The characters from the past speak with an archaic touch, the language full of “aye” and “Lo”. At times this broke up the reading a little, as I puzzled out a specific sentence. Having read Beowulf in the original and translation, I can feel a familiar sort of patter to the word play the past characters use, but I do think it may be challenging for younger readers. Still, it’s a small thing, and reading some of the sentences aloud can help.
It’s clear that while Freya thinks the story is done at the end, that things are not near resolved yet. There’s enough foreshadowing and loose threads left to guarantee readers will be anticipating a second book (even if the cover gives that element away). I look forward to seeing where Freya’s adventures will lead her in the future!
Note: An advanced copy was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Publisher:Open Door Publications
Publication Date:May 2016
Recommended for grades 4 and up.