Want your kids to read more classic literature? Give them options that actually appeal to them! I’ve partnered with Dover Books to bring you 10 captivating science fiction and fantasy books for middle graders that actually make reading classic lit fun!
Let’s be honest: getting middle-grade kids to read classic literature isn’t exactly an easy task, especially during summer break! Can you blame them, though? All year long, they’re forced to read books picked out by a board of education made up of people who haven’t been kids since before the moon landing! It makes sense that they’d want to choose summer reading books that were actually written in this century. To them, classic lit is stuffy and boring. It’s up to us as parents to prove them wrong! That’s where these classic sci-fi and fantasy books from Dover come in!
10 Captivating Classic Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books for Tweens
The timeless nature of the sci-fi/fantasy genre make them the perfect starting point for introducing tweens to classic literature. Think about it: of all the genres, these two are completely unbound and unattached from time and space. Science fiction often takes place in the future or in other galaxies, while fantasy whisks tweens away to far-off imaginary lands populated by fantastic beasts and beings.
Both genres make it a lot easier for tweens to picture themselves in the story, something that’s not quite so easy when you’re talking about a tale that takes place 150+ years ago in a time before technology. If you aren’t sure where to start, these 10 books make a fabulous jumping off point! You’ll find all of these books (and more) on the Dover Summer Reading page.
Stinker From Space
Stinker from Space by Pamela F. Service was written in 1988. It’s weird to think of anything from the 80s as “classic lit,” but to our kids, that era is ancient history! The story revolves around Tsynq Yr, a space warrior forced to land on earth and change into the body of a skunk (hence the “stinker” part of the title)! He quickly realizes that Earth isn’t the best place for him…until he meets up with Karen and Jonathan. Together with his new friends and the local skunks, they come up with a crazy plan to get Tsyng back into space. At just 96 pages, the story is short enough that it doesn’t overwhelm reluctant readers, and filled with plenty of thrilling plot twists to keep them engaged.
Star Girl, by Henry Winterfeld (translated from its original by Kyrill Schabert), may have been written in the 50s, but I actually remember reading it as a kid in the 80s. The cult classic was definitely way ahead of its time. The story follows the adventures of Mo and the group of kids that find her after she falls from her dad’s spaceship. Mo tells the kids that her dad will be back to pick her up later that night, so the kids try to help her. The problem? None of the adults believe Mo’s story. So she and the other kids run away! Mo spends the day learning all about the strange ways of the people on Earth.
The Turning Place
Written in 1976, The Turning Place by Jean E. Karl came at a time when space exploration was still in its infancy and writers had grand imaginations about what was really out there. The book consists of nine short stories about the clash between the Chlordians and Earth’s inhabitants. When the Chlordians get worried about the potential impact of humankind’s space travels, they wipe our nearly all of our carbon-based life forms (including us). The nine tales give kids a glimpse into the survivors’ lives as they learn to live within the small areas that weren’t affected by the “Chlordian Sweep,” deal with a host of new powers, and eventually experience enlightenment that leads them towards a sort of utopia.
Blue Cat of Castle Town
A stunning introduction to fantasy, Blue Cat of Castle Town by Catherine Cate Coblentz (written in 1974) teaches kids about the magic and beauty of the simple joys in life. See, once in a blue moon, a blue kitten comes along that can hear the river’s ancient song of creation. When the river sings a tale of riches fading and handmade crafts enduring, the blue cat is sent by to bring back the days of Bright Enchantment. See, once upon a time, there was beauty and peace in the hearts of mortals of Castle Town. They knew contentment and cooperation, how to get along and help each other. Now, there is a dark spell looming, pushing people to become obsessed with money and possessions. The kitten must find a mortal that will both learn the song AND sing it for others.
The Ant Men
When it comes to The Ant Men by Eric North, I need you to remember that we’re talking about books our middle-grade kids would love. That’s important because, if you read reviews of The Ant Men, you’ll end up wondering why it’s on this list. The 1955 story is pure pulp-fiction sci-fi, with an over-the-top crazy plot and characters, including 6-foot-tall humanoid ants.
In the story, American geologist and his crew set out to explore prehistoric life in the Australian desert. They never expected to find ginormous ant people that could communicate telepathically. They certainly never expected to get into the middle of an age-old war between the ants and the praying mantises. When one of Professor Orcutt’s team is taken captive, he leads a gripping rescue mission to get him back. To 21st century adults, it’s definitely a strange and crazy story. To our tweens, though, it’s the perfect introduction to an age of pulp-fiction (the genre, not the movie!) that includes major literary talents like Robert E. Howard (creator of Conan), H.P. Lovecraft (wait until they’re older to introduce him!), and even Ray Bradbury.
A Long Trip to Teatime
While Anthony Burgess is best known for his darkly violent satire, A Clockwork Orange, he was actually more of a comic writer than anything. Among his great works you’ll find A Long Trip to Teatime, the story of a boy named Edgar who longs for an escape from his boring history lesson. When he’s suddenly plunged through a tiny hole in his desk, Edgar finds himself in another time…and another world populated by the strange and nonsensical beings. Now, he has to find his way to Edenborough and make it home in time for tea.
You wouldn’t be wrong if you likened Edgar to Carroll’s Alice. Their adventures do have a similar quality. However, while Alice is my all-time favorite book, I feel like A Long Trip to Teatime is a better way to introduce my tween son to the fantasy genre.
Tanglewood Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne isn’t just the perfect introduction to one of America’s greatest authors, it’s also an ideal way to introduce kids to classical mythology stories. From the Minotaur to friendly giants, from dragons to warriors, Hawthorne created a timeless collection of stories that make the most popular Greek and Roman myths more accessible to tweens. The amazing part is that he did this over 160 years ago and his stories are STILL engaging to all ages! Chances are pretty strong that your kids are going to have to read at least one Hawthorne book before they graduate, so start with Tanglewood Tales to get them interested in him as an author now.
The Marvellous Land of Snergs
The Marvellous Land of Snergs was written by E. A. Wyke Smith and George Morrow back in 1927, 10 years before Tolkien would pen his enduring classic fantasy, The Hobbit. In fact, Tolkien actually found his inspiration for his hobbits in Wyke Smith’s magical story. The Snergs are a race of short, thick, helpful people who rescue neglected children and whisk them off to a land that’s somewhere on Earth yet not easy to find. The story follows the enchanting adventures of human children Joe and Sylvia and their Snerg friend Gordo.
Puck of Pook’s Hill
If ever there was a time to introduce tweens to the enchanting worlds inside Rudyard Kipling’s imagination, it’s definitely right now! The live-action version of The Jungle Book brought Kipling’s most beloved classic back into the minds of tweens everywhere. Now keep that momentum going and foster a love for the classics with Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill. Kipling actually made up these stories for his own children, to teach them a bit of history while keeping them engaged with a hefty dose of whimsy. It’s broken up into easily digested stories, each one followed by a few of Kipling’s poems, making it a fab introduction not just to fantasy but also to poetry!
Code Crackers: Voyage to Victory
Okay, so Code Crackers: Voyage to Victory by Kieran Fanning isn’t exactly “classic lit,” since it was written this century. However, this Dover original time-travel tale will help catapult kids back through literary times with its incredible “choose your own adventure” style. Remember those books? Well, this one is definitely updated for the 21st century, but it does follow a similar concept. It’s also a fully immersive experience. Kids have to solve puzzles to figure out which page to turn to next. Once they’ve read through all of the Code Crackers, introduce them to the choose your own adventure stories of your youth!
The key to introducing tweens to classic literature is, of course, finding stories that either draw them in or that they can relate to (or both). These 10 classics from Dover do just that. After they’ve finished a few (or all!) of these books, dive into Dover’s website for more fantastic classic works.
DOVER BOOKS COUPON ALERT!
From now until 8/31/17, you can save 25% off these summer reading selections and more at Dover when you use coupon code WJAJ! Head over to their website and start shopping! With a coupon like that, it’s also a great time to start stocking up for Christmas!
Dover Middle Grade Giveaway!
Here’s your chance to expand your middle-grader’s library for free! Enter below for a chance to win 6 of the books above. The $51 giveaway package includes:
- Stinker from Space
- Star Girl
- The Turning Place
- Blue Cat of Castle Town
- The Ant Men
- A Long Trip to Teatime
Giveaway is open to US residents age 18+ and ends on August 2nd. Good luck!
What are some of your favorite classic sci-fi and fantasy books that you’d love to share with your kids?