What Books Would You Recommend for Pre-Teens?

I’ve seen this question a lot. I think the age range is right there where a young person can start to read solid genre fiction outside of the “kiddie” hold of children’s fiction. There are some children’s books that work for this, obviously, but in general the genre can be a bit too juvenile for a middle-school aged young person.

That isn’t to mock children’s books whatsoever. I have great respect for authors of all age groups, but in this particular age range I’ve found that young people don’t respond well to books with younger themes.

As far as speculative fiction goes, there’s a number of books that could be recommended comfortably to younger readers in order to stoke their imagination and encourage them to read more. So here’s a list I composed of books I’d recommend to middle-school aged young people. I’ll include my recommendation, the genre, and the reason for my recommendation.

Interstellar Pig by William Sleator. Science fiction. My first exposure to science fiction, as I previously mentioned. It’s the story of a young man who goes on vacation when he meets strange kids who share a board game with him. In the game, you have to keep a “Piggy”on your planet in order to prevent the world from being destroyed. The board game seems to simulate reality, and I think most young readers would love this one. It’s fun, imaginative, and has a few twists and turns to it to keep it interesting.

Have Space Suit—Will Travel by Robert Heinlein. Science fiction. One of the more adventurous stories by Heinlein and one of his “juveniles”, the stories he intended for young readers. I previously reviewed Heinlein’s Space Cadet, another of his juveniles, though I wouldn’t put it on this list. A young man named Kip is kidnapped by an alien. From there, the story takes off to become a bizarre exploration of humanity. It’s worth a read and young readers should love it.

House of Stairs by William Sleator. Science fiction. If you can’t tell by now I love Sleator. He wrote mainly for this age range, which is why his work continues to show up on this list. House of Stairs follows a group of kids who find themselves in a strange room with stairs. It’s seemingly calculated to test them in various ways, and there’s more to it then it seems.

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. Fantasy. Probably Tolkien’s most approachable book. It’s quirky in weird ways and definately dated, but it’s the forefather of a lot of fantasy stories. It’s worth picking up.

Singularity by William Sleator. Science fiction. A story about twin brothers who discover a small singularity in their uncle’s shed. There’s water and food, and apparently someone is able to stay in the shed while time slows outside the shed. This is widely considered Sleator’s best work.

The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. Fantasy. This should be obvious enough. Rowling is a great writer, and as the characters age up so do the subjects they deal with. It’s imaginative and younger readers will love it.

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Fantasy. This one is probably most suited for kids, but the witty wordplay is probably appreciated more by preteens. Alice follows a rabbit and ends up in a strange world. It’s mostly nonsense literature, but I think it’s probably still fantasy.

The Giver by Lois Lowry. Science fiction. I read this book at the appropriate age. I loved it. It’s a dystopian novel about a future society that engineers their citizens to conform to set standards. It’s a great way to introduce philosophy to young people.

Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice. Horror. Obviously this one contains blood and some disturbing elements. It’s a great vampire story. I recall my sister loving it when she was a young teen, and I suspect many other young readers will find Rice’s story compelling. If you want to wait to suggest it until high school, that would make sense in this case.

Conan the Conqueror by Robert E. Howard. Heroic fantasy. It will contain violence, but if you think your young person can handle it, this book is solid. It follows an older King Conan who leaves and journeys back to retake his kingdom.

Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert Heinlein. Science fiction. Another of Heinlein’s juveniles. A slave boy is bought by a beggar and given a job. It’s based in a space-faring society and clearly one of Heinlein’s best juveniles.

Jirel of Joiry by C. L Moore. Sword and sorcery. There is some violence in these stories. These stories are sometimes collected as “Black God’s Kiss”, the name of the most popular of the stories in the collection. Jirel is a french swordswoman who rules over a medieval state. She’s arrogant, brash, angry, and by far one of the most interesting characters on this list. Young readers should find her stories interesting, but I’m tempted to say that teenagers would appreciate the work more.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. Fantasy. I wrote a review of this one. I didn’t think it particularly showcased Gaiman’s skill, but it’s still some great work. If you can find videos of Gaiman reading it to an audience, I’d recommend looking those up. It’s appropriate for younger readers who’d like to know about this mythology. It does contain some violence, of course, but an early teen should be able to handle that.

Dracula by Bram Stoker. Horror. I hesitate to list this one since it’s a bit unwieldy for modern readers. However, I enjoyed it when I was young and I’m sure young people today would like it as well. It’s gloomy, dark, and mysterious. If you’ve never read it, the book is unique in how it tells its story.

Maybe you’ll like some of my posts on writing:

Where the First Draft Ends and Second Draft Begins

Going from Outline to Manuscript

Writing with Inspiration

Or maybe a couple of my reviews:

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Book Review: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

Book Review: Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon

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What is Science Fiction?

9262561366_05ea466cff_bMy family and I discussed some of the more recent Frankenstein movies, and the conversation drifted into the original novel by Mary Shelley. Inevitably, that brought out discussion of the original novel being the first science fiction novel. Apparently, this was a position Brian Aldiss held as well.

Now, I believe that science fiction, as a form of literature, is not so easily defined. As such, a distinct division between what was and was not science fiction is nearly impossible. However, I believe that there are various requirements that a story should meet to be considered science fiction:

1. It must have been written during or after the Enlightenment.

I would argue that science fiction didn’t exist until the Enlightenment. I would say that prior to this, any sort of fantastical or imaginative speculative fiction wouldn’t have had any concern for scientific ideas.

Now, the timing is intentional. Books like Gulliver’s Travels and Icosameron fit this element.

2. It must have been concerned with a scientific idea.

Even if that idea is as simple as “could we go to another planet?” or “what will life look like in 1,000 years?” Works that explore the possibilities of a hollow earth or people who live on the moon also fit this requirement, and if they were after the Enlightenment, fit the first as well.

I would also include some “soft” scientific ideas in here, such as psychology or politics. Thus, utopias or dystopias can be explored in detail in science fiction. I would exclude current politics or military science from this, if they were by themselves as scientific ideas.

3. It must have been concerned with speculation.

This means that a direct, realistic explanation of an even does not fit. Likewise, general fiction that doesn’t speculate anything isn’t a science fiction novel.

Now here’s the issue: space opera and military science fiction can speculate on the use of space faring technology or fighting aliens, but they don’t expound on those ideas. Nor do they need to!

I think these three elements must be included. Rod Serling once said, “Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science fiction is the improbable made possible”.

So was Frankenstein the first sci-fi novel? No, I don’t think so, though it may have been the first “hard” science fiction novel, but that’s a different story. Perhaps this is overthinking it, or maybe I’m missing some element that would define certain stories and not others.

What do you think?

You may like some of my other work on this site. Make sure to check me out on Twitter and Instagram.

Maybe some of my reviews:

Book Review: The Gray Prince by Jack Vance

Book Review: The Ship of Ishtar by A. Merritt

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Maybe some of my work on writing:

Writing Descriptions

Finding Your Writing Style

Maybe my poetry:

Poetry: “Cardinals in Spring Snow”

The First SciFi Book I Read

2029615When I was ten years old there was a book in my school library that caught my eye. I don’t remember the cover now, but the name will always stick out in my memory: Interstellar Pig by William Sleator.

The story involves a board game in which your goal is to hold on the the pig card by the end. By doing so, you can save your planet. However, it turns out to be more than just a board game and the characters themselves are caught up in it.

The book was fascinating to my young mind, with a fantastical story of aliens and an interstellar game played on a huge scale. The features of the game lent itself to interesting action sequences. The fact that it started as a board game, in the story, meant that the rules and motivations could be explained.

I may not be remembering certain elements correctly, but I still look back on that book with fondness.

Do We Have to Pick Between Fun and Art?


This is something I’ve been thinking about for some time. In science fiction, the “hard” sci-fi is considered the artistic works while the “soft” sci-fi is considered the “fun” works.

This dichotomy doesn’t help.

When you go to pick up a book, whether it’s Elizabeth Moon’s Trading in Danger or David Weber’s On Basilisk Station, there’s no shortage of creative ideas and interesting characters. However, these are considered “soft” due to their lack of literary merit. However, they contribute much to the story of science fiction, and writing them off because they’re not Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane is unfair.

When I studied philosophy I was mystified by the concept of “art”. Within philosophy the concepts of beauty and art are tackled in the realm of aesthetics, but I always just stayed at the basic concepts and tried to argue those.

I truly believe something is artistic when you enjoy it for its style. Because of this, it is completely subjective and the concept of “high art” doesn’t exist but in the cocktail lounges of the fanciest hotels. That is to say, a group of people with social status can get together and declare something “high art” that isn’t. See, that was the entire point of Andy Warhol’s pop art movement.

How To Find New Science Fiction Books

This has plagued me constantly over the last year. I noticed my collection of science fiction was beginning to be only Baen Books and Orbit (maybe a few Ace titles here and there). It made me wonder what I was missing.

A walk through the local book shop made me nervous to dive into something blind. I wasn’t sure what I’d like and what I wouldn’t. So, I explored my options and would like to share with you my conclusions!

There’s nothing wrong with liking the same authors and publishers, so I’ll begin with that.

1. Find Books Associated with Authors You Like

When I went through the book stores, I tried my best to find blurbs by authors I liked, or books written with them. I was introduced to Travis S. Taylor by his collaboration with John Ringo. I decided to pick up One Day On Mars as a result.

Other books by the same author are also a plus!

Likewise, you can always find new authors by associations with old ones. However, that will lead to (oftentimes) the same publisher being represented on your shelf. So there’s another option…

2. Try Authors From the Same Publisher

Doesn’t exactly solve the publisher problem, but you can’t go wrong with a publisher you like. I tend to like Baen and Orbit, so I have a lot of their books. They couldn’t be more different! But the books they publish tend to have quality associated, at least the qualities I’m looking for in books. With that in mind, you can also do something simplistic.

3. Judge the Book By It’s Cover

Sounds awful, right? But most publishers know what kinds of covers attract people who read specific kinds of books. There’s a reason why most spaceship/fleet types books have… surprise… spaceships on the cover.

Books about space marines tend to have space marines on the cover. It makes sense! You will find that the covers that attract you tend to have content that also interests you. At least, it has in my case.

4. Try Authors You’ve Heard About

I heard about Ann Leckie but never read Ancillary Justice. As a result I bought the book and read some of it. I liked it! It’s not bad, despite all the controversy surrounding it.

Try books from authors you’ve heard of but never read. Maybe new, maybe old, but always check out new books to you.

So that’s my advice. Try these measures, and if they don’t work, then try something else! Good reading!