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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!

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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: A Science Fiction Pathway V (9-12 years old)

For those reading along, this is the 5th 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 9-12 year-olds.  (You can check out the 0-3 years list here , the 3-5 year-olds here, the 5-7 year-olds here, and the 7-9 year-olds here.)  By now kids are pretty much independent readers.  If they don’t already have some interest in science fiction, it can be a challenge to get them to try the genre, though not impossible by any stretch.  They are having regular school assignments in book reading, both fiction and nonfiction.  Some will be slower readers, still intimidated by page size or story complexity.  Some will be reading their way through YA and adult literature with no signs of slowing.  This is a great time though to discuss both classics and newer stories that have issues and adventures that can be chewed over and explored at length.  It’s still a great idea to be reading aloud to your child at this point, though the books you choose may be from the YA and teen realm, or older classics the kids won’t pick up on their own.

Aliens, dystopias, future worlds, space adventure, invention, time travel . . . there’s a whole world of possibilities here.

1.

The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore (Walker Childrens, 2013)

We’ll kick off with this book–a notable read from 2013 that combines mystery, history, and science fiction in a subtle and delightful way.  Ephraim’s ancestor was once fascinated by the idea of the fountain of youth, but he thought he might be able to create such a thing rather than simply discover it.  Ephraim is on a hunt to find out what his ancestor did discover, along with new friends from the town.  The science fiction in this one slips in and out, important to the plot but not overpowering, and not the traditional “sci fi” sort of setting.  It’s a perfect blend to bring in any reader who likes a good story and enjoys speculating on the truth of the matter.  Readers who enjoy this will probably like exploring stories of invention and near-future discoveries that still take place in a mostly recognizable setting and society.  This kind of story often leads to further discussion of science ethics and the responsibilities one has for their discoveries.

2.

The Giver by Lois Lowry (Dell Laurel-Leaf, c1993)

If there ever was a book that defined dystopia, it is this masterpiece by Lowry.  Complicated, controversial and creepy because it’s actually believable.  Jonas is growing up in a society that is a seeming utopia, without hunger, war or conflict.  But the longer readers are in this society, the more the utopia begins to look like a nightmarish dystopia.  As Jonas discovers the truth about his world and the reader does too, he’ll have profound choices to make.  Not an easy book, and it may not suit every child in this age range.  It raises many questions–as a good science fiction story should.   While the Hunger Games is the dramatic and chilling dystopian vision in everyone’s mind, this one is more subtle, but no less frightening in the end.

3.

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (Signet Classics, c1895)

It’s certainly a time to try kids on the classics of the SF world.  H.G. Wells is among the early writers of science fiction, and his unforgettable Time Machine remains in print to this day.  This may be a book to read aloud to your child unless they’re particularly precocious or enthusiastic about exploring the traditions of science fiction.  Time travel to the past is a pretty common thread in stories, both fantasy and SF.  But time-travel to the future tends to be less common.  Here our intrepid inventor and explorer does both.

4.

Mars Evacuees by Sophia MacDougall (HarperCollins, 2015)

If you like space adventure, humor,  and aliens I’ve got to encourage you to read this delightfully fun Martian story!  Alice Dare and other kids from Earth are being sent to the Mars colony to keep them safe while the adults back home continue to battle invading aliens.    Only, once they arrive at their new home, the adults go missing, and our intrepid young people soon find themselves travelling across the hostile Martian terrain in search of help.  With the help of an enemy alien and a giant floating robotic goldfish they just might save their worlds from destruction!  Fun, funny, adventurous and fast moving. If you enjoy this, be sure to check out the second book: Space Hostages.

5.

Jupiter Pirates: Hunt for the Hydra by Jason Fry (HarperCollins, 2013)

Want to go a little further in the future?  Jason Fry’s Jupiter Pirates series takes us out further into the solar system where Tycho and his family are privateers.  With their ship the Shadow Comet they track down trespassing ships, and of course, potential treasure.  With a marvelous sense of science fictional fun and a high adventure plot worthy of the old-time pirates, Jason Fry blends swashbuckling with sci-fi!  This series is rich in detail and plotting, so best for the reader who is looking for longer, more sophisticated reads.  There are currently three books out in this series.

6.

Space Dumplins by Craig Thompson (GRAPHIX, 2015)

Space Opera is great stuff, though there isn’t ever a great deal of it for the middle grade crowd.  This new graphic novel adventure takes us to an outer space future populated by sentient chickens, giant space whales and all sorts of aliens.  Our young heroine’s dad has gone missing after his day at work and rather  than simply wait to find out what’s become of him, she heads out with a group of misfits, steals a ship and goes in search of him.  Great fun in a full color illustrations!

7.

Ambassador by William Alexander (Margaret K. McElderry, 2014)

Ambassador is only half the story, and I do suggest anyone reading this first book have Nomad (2015) near to hand to complete this science fiction adventure.  Why do I have it on the list?  Several reasons.  One is that it is one of the rare science fiction stories to actually feature a Latino protagonist.  Two is that it’s a book that takes a different interpretation of the how intergalactic species communicate and cooperate with each other, rather than the traditional rocket ships central planet alliances.  The amazing details really come together in the second book–and I think this will appeal most to thinkers who enjoy being challenged by new concepts and new perceptions of things.

8.

The Ear, The Eye and the Arm by Nancy Farmer (Puffin, 1995)

Futuristic earth-bound science fiction set in Africa?  When it comes to middle grade books, this is the singular one that comes to mind, a story that ties science fictional and folkloric aspects together in a story about children who’ve disappeared and the legendary individuals out to find them.  This was a Newbery Honor for 1995, so it can usually be found in library collections despite being printed in the 1990s.

9.

The White Mountains by John Christopher (Simon Pulse, c1967)

Next to books like the Time Machine, this series by John Christopher may be the most reprinted science fiction series for kids.  The Tripods trilogy (plus a prequel) is a story of alien invasion and oppression, human escape and resistance, and ultimate victory against the vicious Tripods.  Still as vivid today as it was so many years ago.  It’s a critical work in the history of children’s science fiction and deserves to remain  in the canon of suggested reading for years to come.

10.

Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar (Delacorte Books, 2015)

It was hard limiting this to ten, there are so many divergent paths of SF at this point, and so many good books I want to recommend.  But I decided on Fuzzy Mud because it shows off the thriller/horror side of science fiction.  What happens when an experiment gets out of control, leading to dire and deadly circumstances?  What if a mysterious “fuzzy mud” in the woods by a chemical plant turned out to be a mutated experiment that begins to infect everyone who comes in contact with it?  The scary consequences of science gone wrong or out of control can be seen in everything from Shelley’s Frankenstein to stories like this one from 2015.  Great for conversation starters, or just for entertainment!

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)