Kids Science Fiction

WHALES ON STILTS by M.T. Anderson

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Lily has always considered herself to be boring.  Compared to her friends Katie (the star of the Horror Hollow adventure book series) and Jasper (the famous boy inventor), Lily is boring.  She never has any adventures of her own.  But when she stumbles upon the plot of an evil half-human half-whale criminal mastermind who is determined to conquer the world with an army of whales on stilts . . . well, her life is about to get a whole lot more interesting. 

This silly sci-fi novel reads like a superhero cartoon, complete with a snarky omniscient narrator, larger-than-life characters, and absurd action sequences.  It is very, very silly, so don’t expect much substance.  But it is a fun read for elementary age kids (grades 3-4) who like books like Captain Underpants, Magic Pickle, or the Lunch Lady series.

If you liked Whales on Stilts, you may also like Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat by Lynne Jonell or Who Could That Be At This Hour?” by Lemony Snicket.

CHITTY-CHITTY BANG BANG by Ian Fleming

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At first, Jeremy and Jemima are disappointed to see the beat-up old car that their brilliant inventor father, Caractacus Potts, wants to refurbish.  But they have no idea of the adventures that are in store for them.  Not only does the car begin to run smoothly again, it seems to come to life with a brilliant mind of its own.  When danger is near, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (as they come to name the car) can soar up into the sky and fly away or turn into a boat and float out to sea.  But it isn’t long before Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s amazing abilities lead the Potts family into trouble.  After stumbling upon a band of gangsters’ cache of explosives, it will take all of the Potts family’s–and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s–cleverness and skill to escape from the crooks and bring them to justice.

The book Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is vastly different from the film adaptation of the same name.  The book is shorter, simpler, and (in my opinion) significantly less scary, due to the absence of the child-catcher.  Personally, I like the movie better, probably because I like complicated scary musicals.  But the book is certainly enjoyable in its own right, particularly if you do not compare it to the film.  If you like fun, light fantasy adventure stories, give this classic a try!

LUNCH LADY AND THE CYBORG SUBSTITUTE by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

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The Breakfast Bunch have always wondered what their Lunch Lady’s life was like outside of school.  But they never suspected that she was secretly a crime-fighting vigilante who uses her incredible strength and a slew of interesting gadgets to keep the school safe from all evil.  So when a suspicious substitute teacher shows up, the Lunch Lady is immediately on his tail, with the unsuspecting Breakfast Bunch trailing along behind them.

This popular graphic novel series is both action-packed and hilariously funny.  Captain Underpants lovers will be delighted to discover this new comical school-themed superhero series.  It will appeal most to upper-elementary age readers.

If you like the Lunch Lady series, you might like N.E.R.D.S. by Michael Buckley.

MAGIC PICKLE by Scott Morse

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In a secret underground lab, a scientist’s experimentation with kitchen vegetables resulted in the birth of a highly skilled, superhuman government agent known as “Weapon Kosher.”  And yes, he is actually a pickle.   For years, Weapon Kosher has been dormant in Dr. Jekyll Formaldahyde’s laboratory–which happens to be underneath Jo Jo’s bedroom.  Now the Brotherhood of Evil Vegetables is causing havoc in the outside world and only Weapon Kosher (or “Magic Pickle,” as Jo Jo likes to call him) can stand in their way.

While not a stunning literary achievement, the Magic Pickle series has its funny moments.  It will likely appeal most to readers in grades 2-4 who like silly science fiction stories.  Read-alikes include the Dragonbreath series, Zombiekins by Kevin Bolger, Whales on Stilts, the Lunch Lady series, and Captain Underpants.  Readers who enjoyed the Magic Pickle books and are ready to move up to thicker, more challenging novels may like Michael Buckley’s N.E.R.D.S. series.

A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L’Engle

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Meg tends to get into trouble at school.  She’s very stubborn and quick-tempered, and although she’s brilliant at math, she can’t seem to complete the work the way her teachers want her to.  Most of the fights she gets into with her peers revolve around defending her little brother Charles Wallace from accusations of being stupid or different–and around defending her firm belief that her father is coming back.  Although he’s been gone for years on a secret mission for the government and they’ve had no contact, Meg, her brilliant scientist mother, and Charles Wallace (who is, in fact, the most brilliant of them all) are convinced that he is coming back.  But what Meg does not expect is that one stormy night, three mysterious old women will whisk her, Charles Wallace, and their neighbor Calvin off the face of the Earth, to some distant planet where their father has been fighting an evil darkness that threatens to engulf the universe.  Now, her father is imprisoned, and it is up to the three children to rescue him before the darkness overwhelms his soul.

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of this classic children’s book’s release.  A Wrinkle in Time is not just a great sci-fi novel.  It explores themes of love and family, the balance between independence and relying on a parent, and the coexistence of courage and fear.  This is a great coming-of-age novel that starts a fantastic sci-fi series.  I highly recommend it to children and to teens!

If you like the eccentric characters, check out Saffy’s Angel and The Westing Game.

N.E.R.D.S. by Michael Buckley

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Jackson didn’t used to be observant; he didn’t need to be.  He was a star football player, and the most popular kid in school.  He split his time mostly between sports and torturing the “nerd herd,” the allergic, asthmatic, geeky weirdos at the bottom rung of the social ladder.  But then came the diagnosis that would doom his social life: Jackson needed braces.  Not just braces.  The most convoluted, horrific, uncool metal headgear imaginable.  At first he hoped that his friends wouldn’t judge him based on the new braces, but alas, Jackson plummeted down to the bottom of the ladder almost immediately.  That is when he became observant.  No one talks to him, so he begins to notice things about people.  And when he notices that the nerd herd has a strange habit of sneezing all at the same time and then disappearing from class, Jackson decides to figure out what they’re up to.  His spying lands him in a secret laboratory where a strange computer takes him hostage and upgrades his braces with nanotechnology to turn them into some sort of robotic fighting machine and a secret agent named Brand invites him to join a super-secret espionage team.  It turns out that this team is made up of none other than the nerd herd who are not particularly delighted to have their former tormentor on board.  Still, they might need all the help they can get if they want to have any hope of stopping the evil Dr. Jigsaw from achieving world domination.

N.E.R.D.S. is a very silly, quirky, sci-fi adventure with a healthy blend of action, slapstick comedy, bathroom humor, and parodies of comic book cliches.  It will likely appeal very much to upper elementary and middle grade readers.  A sequel follows: NERDS 2: M is for Mama’s Boy.

If you like the N.E.R.D.S. series, you might like the Lunch Lady books by Jarrett Krosoczka.

ARTEMIS FOWL by Eoin Colfer

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Artemis Fowl, Jr., is not your average twelve-year-old.  For one thing, he is the son of an incredibly wealthy crime lord and has grown up surrounded by advanced technology and bodyguards.  For another, since his father’s disappearance and the onset of his mother’s mental illness, Artemis has virtually no adult supervision, managing his own life and the family’s assets.  And most importantly, Artemis is a genius.  It is precisely his unique position on the boundary of childhood and very mature adulthood that allows him to perpetrate his latest scheme–because when he learned of the existence of fairies, he was just innocent enough to believe in them, and plenty brilliant enough to concoct a foolproof plan to extort their gold.

After stealing the Book of the People from an alcoholic sprite in Vietnam, Artemis returns to his home in Ireland to crack the fairy language and learn all of their secrets.  He then proceeds to Phase Two of the plan: kidnap a fairy and hold him for ransom, threatening to reveal their secret, underground world to the humans if the Lower Elements Police (LEP) do not comply with his financial demands.  Unfortunately for Artemis, he kidnapped Captain Holly Short, an officer in the LEP Recon division, and she just may be his match.  While Artemis uses his brilliant mind to stay one step ahead of Commander Root and the LEP technology, and his formidable bodyguard Butler keeps the perimeter secure, Holly tries to find a way to escape and take down the super-genius “mud-man.”

This book is a great blend of science fiction and fantasy, popular among upper elementary and middle grade readers (and certain nerdy librarians . . . ).  The characters are fantastic, there is a decent amount of action, and humor is blended in quite nicely.  I highly recommend this series to both eager and reluctant readers.  There are eight books in the series.

THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY by Adam Rex

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What is the true meaning of Smekday–the day formerly known as Christmas, the day that the Boovish aliens arrived to colonize Earth, and the day the Boov left one year later?  This is the essay question that Gratuity “Tip” Tucci must answer.  The winning essay will be put in a time capsule that will be opened in 100 years. In her three attempts at writing the essay, Tip gradually reveals the story of the Boov’s arrival and the events that followed.

While trying to reach the human reservation in Florida by car, Tip and her cat, Pig, met up with a Boov criminal, who has taken as his Earth name J.Lo. (a name that he believes is a popular Earth name due to its frequent appearance in media publications).  Together they travel across the country searching for Tip’s mom, who was abducted toward the beginning of the invasion. Then Tip, J.Lo, and Pig join forces with a gang of boys who have been hiding in a secret tunnel system under Disney World, and together, they drive the Gorg (another set of invading aliens–much more evil than the Boov) out of Earth.  Throughout her story, Tip includes illustrations and pages of comics drawn by J.Lo who can’t write in English.

This book is both hilarious and poignant, a nice blend of hard- and soft-science fiction, approaching issues of race and prejudice through the blunt, sarcastic, witty voice of 11 yr. old Tip.  The book is written for an upper elementary/middle school reading level.  It is one of my all-time favorites.

THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY by Trenton Lee Stewart

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Reynie Muldoon is incredibly gifted at solving puzzles and logic games. Kate Weatherall is incredibly resourceful with the items she carries around in her beloved bucket; she can create almost anything. Sticky Washington can read at lightning speed and remembers everything he has ever read, heard, or seen. And Constance Contraire. . .well, Constance is stubborn. And for reasons that will not become clear until the very end of the book, Mr. Benedict insists that she is far more brilliant than the other children realize.

Mr. Benedict gathers this group of brilliant children together to form a team of secret agents who will infiltrate an institution for gifted children that is really a front for a madman’s secret plans for world domination. Although the implications of the madman’s plot are quite dark, the brain teasers and vibrant characters keep the tone of the book light.  The book is intended for a 4th-6th grade audience, but anyone who loves puzzles and codes and a bit of science fiction and mystery will enjoy it.  The Mysterious Benedict Society is the first in a trilogy, followed by The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey and The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma.