Children and teenagers are often discouraged from reading science fiction (SF) stories because parents assume that they will not understand the complicated themes discussed in SF literature. Parents also feel that science fiction is not suitable for young people because the stories may be too serious or dark.
But that is not necessarily the truth. According to SF enthusiasts and writers, this kind of literature opens children’s minds to new things, increases their curiosity, makes them imaginative and teaches them to ask questions. They also develop problem-solving skills through this genre.
Here we give you useful tips on how children can be encouraged to read science fiction. Dr M H Srinarahari, General Secretary, Indian Association for Science Fiction Studies and a science fiction writer himself, gives us insights on what SF literature is all about and why children should read it.
“Parents often say that they want their children to be creative. SF is one of the most interesting ways of boosting children’s creativity. It also prepares them for future ‘shocks’ and gives them a sense of the positive side of what lies ahead,” he says.
What is Science Fiction?
According to Dr Srinarahari, historical novels deal with the past, contemporary novels and fiction deal with the present. Science fiction deals with the future. The time range in which these books are set may extend from a few years from now to many centuries. SF stories are based on certain concepts and theories in science and technology, usually in an era which has not happened yet. These stories may deal with Darwin’s theory of Evolution or about an intelligent humanoid robot. Th themes are unlimited. “Science fiction in simple terms is the study of impact of science and technology on the society. It is based on the premise that change is the only permanent thing. And this change may be good or bad,” he adds.
Here is what you can do to get their interest:
- Encourage them to read news about scientific discoveries, intelligent machines, astronauts, biological engineering, clones, natural and chemical disasters, telepathy, flying objects and so on. Newspapers and online science websites are a good source for such information.
- Have discussions at home about meanings of certain concepts such as genetic engineering, cyborgs, holocaust, journey into space and civilizations that have vanished. You can also encourage them to talk about recent events in science such as the Mars mission, landing on the moon, robots and so on. Simplify these concepts for them after reading up yourself and explain what these mean.
- Most children like to watch sci-fi movies. Just make sure they watch age appropriate flicks that will give them enough information about sci-fi themes in a simplified and entertaining way. Some of the movies to watch out for are Jurassic Park, Interstellar, Martian, I,Robot, Metropolis, I Frankenstein, Gravity and so on.
- Explain to them that not all SF books have dark and complicated themes that are difficult to understand. You can stress on the fun element and happy ending that many stories based in the future, portray. “To cite an example, in Isaac Asimov’s Naked Sun (1956) the protagonist Elijah Bailey wants to get up from his chair. He asks the humanoid robot Daneel Olivaw to ‘Give me a hand’. The robot takes out its arm from its body and gives it to him. This makes for a funny situation. Moreover, most SF books have a suspense or mystery angle, which makes them interesting just like thrillers,” explains Dr Srinarahari.
- One of the best ways to get interested in SF is to start writing stories in this genre. Nowadays, SF enthusiasts conduct workshops in schools and even for adults on SF writing. Children can start with simple themes. At home, encourage them to write small stories on various themes that they are fascinated about. “The story should have a definite beginning, middle and end. Think of a theme and decide your plot - this is important. Then create a central character. Certain themes such as scientist travelling with his time machine, robots that have been transplanted with a human brain and discovering a new planet with inhabitants are some of the themes that children can explore.
Once your child is ready, these are some of the authors she can read --
Arthur C Clarke, Arun Manday, Arvind Mishra, H G Wells, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Jules Verne, James Tiptree Junior, Mary Shelley, Ursula Le Guin and many others.
Some science fiction books for children:
- The Time Machine by H G Wells
- The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron
- The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
- I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
- Whales on Stilts. by M T Anderson