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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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: