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A Tuesday Ten: Speculating on Spectacles . . .

Here’s a tough one.  Protagonists in fantasy or SF with glasses.  They have to be wearing the glasses for real, not as a disguise that gets taken off at some point.  And they can’t be given a “Cinderella” transformation into somebody cooler without glasses later on in the story.  Why am I doing this list?  Mostly because I’m one of those kids who grew up wearing glasses.  And when the conversations go to talking about representation and how it matters, this is one of the ways it matters to me personally.

It’s hard to find glasses wearing characters taking center stage.  Too often they’re relegated to the side-kick or brainy helper mode.  The behind-the-scenes guy or gal.  In rare circumstances they do get to play the protagonist, but too often those roles are stereo-typed.  The protagonists are nerdy and clumsy or inept in some way.  Or simply brainy and bookish and not considered traditionally attractive.  It’s a tough message to break down.  I’ve at least tried to find some representations amid the halls of speculative children’s books, but my options for this ten list were fairly slim.

1.

The Girl With the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts (Scholastic, c1980)

My first book on this list is a science fictional title about a girl with telekinetic abilities and unusual silver eyes.  Katie also is clearly described as wearing horn-rimmed glasses in the book.  I’d always loved this book on so many levels, but I’m realizing now that in addition to everything else, there’s a significant excitement to the main character being a girl who wears glasses.

2.

The BFG by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake (Puffin, c1982)

The book that prompted this list.  See, I noticed the movie out and I realized I was trying very hard to determine if Sophie keeps her glasses through the whole movie.  It seemed important to me.  I know I loved the Quentin Blake illustration shown on the cover here, because there’s a blond girl in big glasses sitting fearlessly on the giant’s hand.  Seriously, the kid in glasses gets to have the fantastical adventure and be brave and fearless!

3.

A Wrinkle in the Time by Madeleine L’Engle (Yearling, c1962)

I had to go back and check for this one, but yup, Meg Murry wears glasses.  It’s not evident on most of the covers (one of the reasons I chose this one) nor in the TV movie version, but it is the part of her description.  Meg is the rather geeky girl that becomes the unlikely savior of her father and brother in an amazing trip across the universe via tesseract.  Obviously one of my favorite books if you consider the name of this blog!

4.

The Princess and the Frogs by Veronica Bartles, illustrated by Sara Palacios (Balzer & Bray, Expected Publication November 2016)

I love fractured fairy tales.  And this picture book coming out in the fall provides a hilarious take on an old favorite.  Our princess in this story wants a pet, not a prince.  But every frog she finds inevitably turns into a prince when she kisses them, much to her frustration!  On top of all that our princess wears glasses!  I grinned when I saw the cover of this book because I have a young patron at my library (she’s 4) who got glasses in the last year and is so unsure about them.  I can’t wait to tell her about this book!

5.

 

Now You See It . .. by Vivian Vande Velde (HMH, c2004)

Wendy’s old glasses get broken, leaving her more blind than a bat.  When she finds a pair of strange glasses  that seem to help, she’s happy to have something that she can use.  But these glasses see too well.  They see things . . . that normally aren’t seen in the real world.  These glasses have magic in them, and many creatures will do just about anything to gain possession of them!  I can’t remember what happens with Wendy’s glasses at the end of the book, but this story not only has a glasses wearing protagonist, but makes the glasses the actual subject of the story!

6.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling (Scholastic, c1997)

You might have noticed something about the previous five books on this list.  They’re all female characters.  It seems that while a protagonist with glasses is rare, a male protagonist with glasses is rarer still.  Perhaps that’s one of the things that has so many kids responding to Harry.  He’s an imperfect kid, with a scar and glasses–and yet he’s the hero of the whole story, the chosen one!

 

7.

Shatterglass by Tamora Pierce (Scholastic, c2003)

I nearly forgot Tris!  From the Circle of Magic Series, Tris is a main character in the first four books, and then in this title.  But I chose this particular book and cover because it really shows an image of Tris, glasses, braided hair and all.  Tris holds one of the more dangerous magics of her four friends, magic that works with the weather itself–wind, water, lightning.  In this title she is far from home, helping to investigate a string of mysterious murders that have taken place in the city.

8.

 

Oh No! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World) by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Dan Santat (Disney-Hyperion, c2010)

This first person POV SF picture book shows us what happens when an ambitious science fair project goes amok!   Our narrator has built a giant robot for the school science fair, but she fails to take into account that the giant robot might go on a rampage.  Our inventor runs home and creates a giant robotic toad to take out her robot.  But will that be the end of the trouble?  Our trouble-magnet inventor here is very clearly a girl with glasses!  Gotta love it!

9.

Alistair and the Alien Invasion by Marilyn Sadler, illustrated by Roger  Bollen (Simon & Schuster, c1994)

Alistair, boy genius, is the protagonist of several speculative picture books.   In this one, Alistair has to save the Earth from invading aliens, but can he do that and get his science project done in time?  Our glasses wearing protagonist is pretty unflappable even in the most outlandish of situations.  He’ll figure a way through!

Melvin Beederman Superhero: The Curse of the Bologna Sandwich by Greg Trin, art by Rhode Montijo (Square Fish, c2006)

Melvin Beederman is a rather inept fellow, but he still saves the day–as long as bologna isn’t involved that is!  This silly send up to traditional comic book heroes is a great transitional reader for youngsters looking for that superhero flair but not ready for most of the comic book stories just yet.    For my purposes, he’s wearing glasses!  Unlike superman who takes his glasses off when he’s in his superhero persona, Melvin keeps his frames on!

You’ll notice something else about this list.  There isn’t a whole lot of diversity apparent in these characters.  I couldn’t come up with a single book featuring a non-white protagonist with glasses that fit my parameters. (With the possible exception of Oh No! Since she might be–I haven’t found info saying one way or the other.).  So here’s where I need my readers to help.  Comment below with any additional titles!  (Remember, they’ve got to be the protagonists of the story!)  But I’d love to add to this list!

Update 6/6/16–I found one to add!

The Zero Degree Zombie Zone by Patrik Henry Bass (Scholastic, 2014)

Bakari Katari Johnson is a shy kid who just found a ring with magical powers that everybody wants!  Check it out–I found an African American protagonist in an MG fantasy story wearing glasses!

A Tuesday Ten: A Science Fiction Pathway VII (15-18 year-olds)

For those reading along, this is the 7th part of this pathway, the introductory paragraph is pretty much the same  for each of these entries.

I will note that these are taking me longer than the casual lists I usually do.  Each of these probably consumes about five hours of effort.  I want to make certain I’m providing a decent list, after all.

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 15-18 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, 9-12 year-olds here.  and the 12-15 year-olds here.)  By now we’re verging into adult territory.  Normally I don’t cover adult science fiction on this blog, but this pathway will be an exception, since I want to give a complete pathway.   Teens at the point will be reading (or not) what they want.  Having piles of books around, modeling reading for entertainment and being willing to discuss the type of books they’re reading without minimizing their interests, excitement and enthusiasms are probably some of the best ways to keep them reading.  These young adults want to be respected for their choices, and if you keep an open door to listen to what they enjoy without trying to derail it, they may continue to share that reading life with you.   They will still be  having regular school assignments in book reading, both fiction and nonfiction and that may include some science fiction.  What their friends are reading, what’s hot on social media . . . those books are likely to be paid attention to.  They may become passionate about certain authors or series.  And they may be trying a hand at writing their own.  This is a great time to  make sure they get a chance to meet authors they admire if the opportunity arises.

At this point, my list is going to be mostly adult science fiction.  I’ve tried to reflect a range of tones, publication dates, and a diversity of authors within the list, but at only ten books there is only so much I can represent.  Please make sure you take this as only a starting point for more wonderful reading, and certainly not as an exhaustive list of the best or most crucial reads.  In many cases I took off a book or author I love because I wanted to round out the list and because I have confidence that my readers will encounter them if they are exploring more in the genre.

A Science Fiction Pathway: 15-18 year-olds

1.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (Harper Perennial, c1932)

Out of the classic dystopian stories, this chilling view of the future embodies many ideas and warnings that are still incredibly relevant to readers.  Despite the changes and advances in technology, despite the fact that this was written in 1932,  the impact of this story remains powerful.  If your reader has encountered Feed or the Hunger Games, there are plenty of points here to compare and contrast and discuss. It’s not an easy read, and there’s plenty of sex and death in these pages which is why I wouldn’t recommend it for the younger teen crowd, but for social discussion this is timely.  This is a world where a rigid caste system has been established by test  tube eugenics, where the population is kept calm and happy by a drug called soma and where most books are forgotten relics of the past.

2.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (Bantam, c1992)

Hiro Protagonist delivers pizza while in the Metaverse he’s a warrior prince.  Before the World Wide Web and social media even really began to begin to crest in the wave that would follow, Stephenson had penned this futuristic cyberpunk novel that weaves in stories of viruses, assassins,  Sumerian mythology and living online lives very different from “real-life”.  I found this as a teen, and I still think it’s extremely brilliant.  Stephenson’s work continues to expand over the years so a reader who enjoys this may dive into some of his more experimental and complex stories.  For a reader who might have encountered Ready Player One, this is the predecessor.

3.

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis (Bantam Books, 1998)

For time travel with a science fictional basis, historical fiction and hilarity you can’t quite beat this novel by Connie Willis.  Willis has a love of British history and great fun plunging slightly future researchers into the past and then having things go wrong.  This is one of the most light-hearted of these books, and gives readers a good taste of this kind of meddling in the past.  Often what’s referred to as “soft” science fiction, these kinds of stories highlight characters and relationships and tend toward less technical forms of science fiction.  Check out the author’s many other books for more fantastic reads.

4.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com, 2015)

It’s still not easy to find a lot of diversity in science fiction, but authors such as Nnedi Okorafor are writing the books and being the voices to support more works by women and persons of color.  This novella about a 16-year old girl on a journey to a galactic University, the first one of her people to attend.  But before she can even contend with school itself she must survive the trip there!  Up for several awards this year, this is an ideal book to place in the hands of those looking for what’s new on the horizon, or those looking for characters who might look like them in a story.  Okorafor has some great books out already, and you get the feeling she’s only getting started.

5.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (Harper Voyager, July 2016)

I wanted something fairly new and upbeat to add to the list, despite the wonderful classics clamoring for my attention.  Thus I’m including something that’s currently available in electronic form, but won’t be available in physical paperback until July.  A group of travelers on a small interstellar ship all have their own stories and backgrounds  that we’ll learn about in this journey.  Science fiction is full of profound stuff, sometimes dark or gritty, sometimes worriesome or dismaying.  But there’s also  room  for fun and positive stories, where we aren’t dealing with dystopias or the fate of worlds.  I think it well worth including something of that nature on the list.

6.

Lilith’s Brood by Octavia E. Butler (Grand Central Publishing, c1987)

I would be terribly remiss if I left Octavia Butler off this list.  Often included in high school reading lists, she remains one of the most notable women of color who wrote science fiction in the twentieth century.  I would recommend reading any of this author’s works, but for this list I chose a book that encompasses the entire Xenogenesis series.  Lilith Ayapo dies in the war that destroys the Earth, but centuries later she is resurrected by aliens who seek to heal humanity by merging with it.    Octavia is a powerful writer and should be considered a part of the foundation of a well-read science fiction fan.

7.

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov (Spectra, c1950)

For the iconic image of robots in the future, you really can’t avoid Asimov and his Three Laws of Robotics.  Asimov helped created the science fiction landscape of the twentieth century, both in what he wrote and in the books he edited.  This may be his most iconic work, and one that will open the doors to new readers to this past master of the craft.    As one of the most prolific writers of all time, there’s plenty of material after this for readers to dive into.  If you’re looking to cement your science fictional foundations, he is a must-read.

8.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (Ace, c1969)

Ursula Le Guin was part of the New Wave of science fiction that began to explore and experiment with ideas of identity, philosophy and gender. In this book a lone human  emissary is sent to an alien planet where the inhabitants can choose and change their gender.  It’s a groundbreaking work that continues to be listed today among the classics.  If you’re exploring the shift in science fiction from the Golden Age to the New Wave, this is an excellent choice to begin to grasp the way the genre expanded to include new ways of thinking about the future. Thoughtful and profound, this is the kind of work that’s less about the adventure  than the new horizons being opened.

9.

The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu (Angry Robot, 2013)

One more contemporary novel for the list, this one a funny science fiction romp about a symbiotic alien life forms that need a human or animal host.  Tao, the alien being is currently in need of a new host to survive, and he picks the hapless and out of shape IT technician for his next host–and to transform into  the ultimate secret agent.  But even with Tao on the job, transforming Roen is going to take some work.  Fun and funny, this story combines alien invasion and warfare with an energy and hilarity that is also a part of the genre.  Science fiction does not have to be super-serious to be awesome, and part of reading it is to be entertained and to have fun with the genre.  I wanted to include contemporary titles despite not knowing their staying power because part of the science fiction genre is how fast tech and the future transform again.  What is relevant to this generation of young adults may be in many ways ephemeral, but it does not make it any less vital.

 

 

10.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (Simon & Schuster, c1953)

I’ll freely admit to bracketing this list with dystopian stories.  But they are two of the most significant books that set about to demonstrate dystopian visions and the nightmare of them.  Bradbury’s world in which a fireman is someone who burns books is particularly frightening.  The question over the control of knowledge and why such places as libraries are important becomes clear, as do the inherent dangers to the freedom of information in the real world around us.  I’ve commented a few times to friends that young adults are almost by dint of their age and status living in a dystopian world by their perception.  Not old enough to have real power in the world, but old enough to have opinions and different ideas and a sense of their own identity, young adults may well see the world as a place in need of change.

My earlier pathways can be found here:

A Science Fiction Pathway Part I ( 0-3 years)

A Science Fiction Pathway Part II (3-5 years)

A Science Fiction Pathway Part III (5-7 years)

A Science Fiction Pathway Part IV (7-9 years)

A Science Fiction Pathway Part V (9-12 years)

A Science Fiction Pathway Part VI (12-15 year)

 

A Tuesday Ten: Science Fiction Pathway VI (12-15 year olds)

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

1.

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.

2.

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.

3.

 

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!

4.

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.

 

5.

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.

6.

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.

7.

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”.

8.

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.

9.

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.

10.

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:

A Science Fiction Pathway Part I ( 0-3 years)

A Science Fiction Pathway Part II (3-5 years)

A Science Fiction Pathway Part III (5-7 years)

A Science Fiction Pathway Part IV (7-9 years)

A Science Fiction Pathway Part V (9-12 years)