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A Tuesday Ten: Science Fiction in Picture Books

Science fiction–it’s not just for chapter books!   They may only make up a sliver of picture book titles, but there are still a fair number of them.  A great way to share this genre with the younger audiences.  I’ve done lists of these before, but just for fun I want to revisit the topic.


Alistair’s Time Machine by Marilyn Sadler (Simon and Schuster, 1986)

Marilyn Sadler’s Alistair series is sadly out of print, but these wild stories of a very ordered “boy of science” are charming and remembered fondly by many readers.  Two of the stories were featured on Reading Rainbow episodes.   Alistair is a very intelligent and pragmatic sort of boy to send on adventures.  He’s also a rare protagonist in glasses!


June 29, 1999 by David Wiesner (Clarion 1992)

This author/illustrator is well known for the strange, the bizarre and the surreal.  But this particular story features a science project that may–or may not–have gone awry! Our young scientist has sent vegetable plants up in balloons to study the affect of higher atmosphere.  But are the giant plants that land back down on her town results of her experiment gone horribly wrong or something more extraterrestrial?


Company’s Coming by Arthur Yorinks  (Knopf, 1988)

An utterly charming read about a suburban couple expecting company . . . who wind up with some outer space visitors they didn’t anticipate.  But kindness and spaghetti will win the day.  A great story for kids whether or not they love science fiction!  Don’t miss the author’s other SF books: Tomatoes from Mars, and  Company’s Going .  


Robot Zot! by John Sciezka, illustrated by David Shannon  (Simon & Schuster, 2009)

Alien invades earth kitchen! There’s adventure, danger, romance–all the things Zot is looking for.  The illustrations magnify the hilarity of this over-the-top alien’s invasion.  A great read aloud for youngsters just beginning to learn about science fiction.


Mars Needs Moms by Berkeley Breathed (Philomel, 2007)

A funny picture book that inspired a not so great movie. Breathed’s vocabulary rich story about a boy who has to rescue his mom from aliens who have kidnapped her is pretty fantastical–but still qualifies as science fiction.  And it’s rare enough we feature moms in SF at all!


The Everything Machine by Matt Novak (Roaring Brook Press, 2009)

An apt fable of a planet where a  machine does everything for the people of the community . . . until the day it breaks down and people learn how to do for themselves.  Even when the repairman comes to fix the machine, the residents have learned a pointed lesson.  A great book to inspire discussion and debate.



Jack and the Night Visitors by Pat Schories (Front Street, 2006)

A wordless story of a young boy and his dog (Jack) and an alien encounter.   The boy tries to capture the aliens to keep them, but the aliens are not interested in staying.  Nicely told through images, and a genuinely charming little book.


Oh No! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World) by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Dan Santat (Hyperion, 2010)

Girl builds giant robot for science project.  Robot  promptly goes on a rampage!  This is a classic sort of science runs amok plot, with lots of action adventure styling for kids.  Great to see a girl scientist in this plot line.  There’s a second book featuring our science adventuress on another adventure: Oh No! Not Again! (Or How I Built a Time Machine To Save History) (Or at Least My History Grade).


Mr. Wuffles by David Wiesner (Clarion, 2013)

Yes, there are two Wiesner books on this list. I won’t apologize for that. This Newbery Honor is another wordless story by the author.  Aliens have come to earth–bug sized aliens.  And their spaceship has been damaged by a terrifying cat–the so titled Mr. Wuffles.  The aliens find friendship and forge alliances with the bugs of the household who help them repair their ship.  A charming case of close encounters that is classic Wiesner.


What Faust Saw by Matt Ottley (Dutton Juvenile, 1995)

There sure are a lot of pets encountering aliens!  This poor dog witnesses aliens landing and skulking about everywhere, but his barking only angers the family into being annoyed with their pet.  The aliens play an elaborate game of hide and seek with Faust causing the beleaguered hound no end of trouble!

I’ve two other Tuesday Ten lists of SF picture books you can find here:

More Picture Book Science Fiction

Even More Science Fiction Picture Books!

Comments welcome!



Flashback Fridays: Across the multiverse . . .

So you’re a girl who is on a quest with an invisible cat-like creature to gather chosen champions from across the multiverse to stop a growing evil.  The trick to defeating this evil in then end won’t rely on strength or guile or wisdom but on something very powerful indeed .  . .

Do you remember?

Charmed by Marilyn Singer (Atheneum, c1990)

Miranda has just turned twelve years old, and has been sent an odd woven basket for her birthday . . . not the sort of gift she was exactly expecting.  But that basket wind up to be a portal that will lead her on an incredible adventure.  It’s a journey that spans many different worlds as they work to assemble the “Correct Combination”–the five beings that can stand against the evil Charmer.  For the Charmer threatens all the worlds with his production of  highly addictive and numbing drugs as well as mind-control gadgets, and he is nearly invincible.    Apart, none of them have much hope of succeeding, but together, they may just save all the worlds.  And Amanda’s special talents hold the critical key.

Interestingly enough, I think Miranda is front and center on the cover, and she’s looking determined and slightly dour.  This is no pretty fantasy adventure or wonderland style world. The worlds that Amanda visits have been poisoned by evil, making them dangerous places for a young team of questers.  They escape danger several times before their final confrontation.

For a girl who loved Labyrinth and Tamora Pierce’s Alanna, here was another girl I could enjoy in the main role of the story.  I remember seeing this book come into the library and snatching it off the new book shelves and devouring it in a night.   Rather than a sidekick in the quest of a Chosen One, Miranda is that character.  And despite containing many of the traditional fantasy tropes of this story type, the fact that it’s a twelve year-old girl in the role made a huge impact on me. (For a while in my “I want to change my name” phase, I decided Miranda would be a good name)   There is something to the stories that start in a world like your own with a character a lot like you that just touches something hopeful inside all of us, I think.   But unlike other portal fantasies I had read, Miranda could have come from my own time and from a similar family, a similar lifestyle.  There’s a real excitement in reading something like that.

I’ve always enjoyed a good multiverse story.  This wasn’t my first introduction to the multiverse since Diana Wynne Jones took me there earlier on, but it was one of the few.  While multiverse stories seemed to be in abundance for adults,  there were not so many books for kids that dove into multiple worlds with different creatures and histories.  All five members of the team bring something different into play and all have their own personalities to charm readers with. (Bastable the cat is particularly fun)

Marilyn Singer may have written this obscure fantasy for middle grade readers back in 1990, but the author herself is far from obscure!  With over seventy books to her name for children and young adults, she seems to have a new title or two out every year.  And she doesn’t write just fantasy, she’s done realistic fiction, non fiction, picture books, mysteries and quite a bit of poetry.   You’ll find quite a lot of her work in any public library, but you probably won’t find this book quite as easily.   This book and one other fantasy by Marilyn Singer, The Horsemaster (1985) are the  two I really remember.  Both with central female protagonists in a time when this wasn’t as common a thing in fantasy novels.  They’re worth a look if you can find them, though I suspect Charmed may feel quite dated by the passage of decades.  Still a younger me still wishes we would have seen more of that multiverse . . .

Check out the first page of text for this book here on Marilyn Singer’s author site.

Comments welcome!

A Tuesday Ten: Foxes Fantastic

Cracks knuckles.  Puts on glasses.  Okay let’s do this.  I’m back!  It’s been a bit of a haul these last few months with everything but I’m back on with the blog!  Sorry to all my readers it took so long to get back in gear!

So this week’s Tuesday Ten is foxes in the fantastic.  From the first time I saw Disney’s Robin Hood and read Redwall, foxes have been part of my fantasy experience.  Here are some fantastical books that feature them.


Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl (Puffin, c1970)

Seriously who wouldn’t put this book at the top?  Roald Dahl’s tricky tale of a rather civilized fox who figures out how to get the best of a couple of fox-hating nasty farmers is a favorite among young readers.  Slightly subversive and hilarious as all of his books tend to be.  It’s a slightly different experience than the movie that was made based on the book a few years ago.



Foxcraft: The Taken by Inbali Iserles (Scholastic, 2015)

Isla, a young fox comes home to find her den burning, her family nowhere in sight and strange and vicious foxes hunting her.  Now she’s on the run in the city, running from those who pursue her–desperate to stay alive.  The answer to her survival, and destiny may lie in the ancient fox magic she’s only just beginning to learn–can she master her skills in time?  The second book in this new animal urban fantasy, The Elders is due out in September 2016.


The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith (Penguin, 2015)

A lonely fox befriends a star.  The star makes life bearable in the dark, dark forest, giving fox light to hunt by, run by and dance by.  But when the star’s light suddenly goes out, the fox must go on a search for his friend.  Now fox must journey from the world he knows to an unknown, wondrous world discovering much about himself and the world in the process.  A sweet fairy-tale like story with gorgeous illustrations.


Pax by Sarah Pennypacker, illustrated by Jon Klassen (Balzer & Bray, February 2016)

One of the talked about books this year is this newest from Sarah Pennypacker.  This makes the list on the fact that the story is told from Pax’s POV at times, so technically can be fantasy, though it really is in a grey area.  This is the story of Pax, a fox rescued and raised by a boy named Peter.  But when war comes and their family must flee, his father convinces Peter to abandon Pax.  Both boy and fox set out on a journey to reunite, and grow into their own in the process.


Mattimeo by Brian Jacques (Ace Books, c1990)

Foxes of course can also be the villains of a story. The Redwall chronicles routinely feature foxes, along with other predators, in the role of antagonists and villains.  I picked this one since it’s the first where the fox, Slagar  the Cruel is the main villain.  This crafty fox captures Mattimeo the son of the Redwall Abbey hero.  Now he’s being held as hostage so that his parents and the abbey will agree to Slagar’s demands.  But in Mattimeo beats the heart of a hero, and he’s about to prove it.


The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery (Harcourt, c1943)

If you want to talk about foxes and friendship, this might be the place to start.  I’ll just put this quote in from the fox speaking to the Little Prince : “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world….”


The Gathering Storm by H. K. Varian (Simon Spotlight, June 2016)

A new mystical fantasy series featuring four middle schoolers who discover they have the power to transform into mystical animals.  Mack, the cover character here can transform into a spirit fox I believe.  Since shape shifting so often involves wolves  it’s nice to have some variety in the animal types and cultural backgrounds from which they spring.  Part of an ongoing series for younger chapter book readers.


Love and Roast Chicken by Barbara Knutson (Carolrhoda Books , 2004)

If I get a chance at reading aloud to an older group, this picture book folktale that recounts some trickster stories from the Andes is one of my most usual picks.  Cuy the guinea pig is our resident trickster, always out for food.  His adversary is Tio Antonio, the fox who would like nothing better than to have Cuy for a meal.  Unfortunately, Tio Antonio only winds up falling for all guinea pig’s lies and tricks with hilarious results.


Cats of Tanglewood Forest by Charles DeLint, illustrated by Charles Vess (Little, Brown Books, 2013)

In this story, Lillian is a girl bitten by a snake.  In order to save her, the cats transform her into a kitten.  Unable to be content with her new kittenish existence, Lillian searches for a way back to being human.  Along the way she encounters many different animals including a friendly fox , T. H. Fox, who may, or may not be entirely trustworthy.



Fox’s Dream by  Keizaburo Teijima (Philomel, c1987)

I added this obscure picture book to the list, because I just feel it’s one of the more lovely books I’ve encountered.  Stunning woodcut art tells the story of a fox hunting a rabbit through a snow covered landscape.  When the rabbit escapes, the fox dreams of fantastical creatures romping, formed out of the snow covered trees.  He sees his own days of playing with his brothers.  Finally he wakes to find a vixen watching them, and the two head off together with the promise of Spring not far off.

So there you go! My first Tuesday list back in form.  I know I must be missing quite a few fox fantasy stories so please feel free to fill in more titles in the comments!