Gateway Sci-Fi/Fantasy for Children and Young Teenagers

I know many of my fellow bloggers and readers have been thrown a curve ball in recent days, and face weeks if not months wrangling young kids that were supposed to be at school.  I’ve been encouraged by the number of posts of parents who made last minute pit stops at the library before quarantine went into effect; it seems like the best making lemonade out of lemons to use the downtime for reading with the kids!  In the spirit of that, I thought I’d throw together some of my fondest gateway drugs for sci-fi fantasy; reading levels will vary, but if you’ve got 8 to 14-year-olds, you’d be hard-pressed to go wrong with the following.

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Rick Riordan Presents
I could take the easy road out and recommend Percy Jackson, but why stop there?  Author Rick Riordan has commendably taken his fame from the middle-grade series of Greek gods and monsters and spun it into an imprint for #ownvoices authors to tell stories based on mythology from their own heritage.  That means you have Rebecca Roanhorse with Native American RACE TO THE SUN, Yoon Ha Lee fusing sci-fi with Korean folktales in DRAGON PEARL, and Roshani Chokshi with Indian-inspired ARU SHAH AND THE END OF TIME.  As a child who was obsessed with mythology, I know I would have eaten these books up!

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REDWALL by Brian Jacques
The reading level’s a little higher, but the adventures are for all ages.  Mice, hares, squirrels, badgers, foxes, weasels and more do battle and go questing in epic tales that pose woodland creatures with the same solemnity as knights of old.  If your young one gets hooked on the first book, there’s more than a dozen in the series.  Do they get mildly repetitive after a while?  Yes.  Did I eagerly scour the shelves for my next installment of dueling hares and courageous mice?  Absolutely.


ARTEMIS FOWL by Eoin Coifer
Back to the more middle-grade writing level, we have a series that pits a hyper-intelligent, calculating eleven-year-old against a hidden fae world.  Artemis Fowl is smart resourceful, and a tiny bit of a megalomaniac.  But he’s the kind of kid who uses brains over brawn and I love him for it.  This   Also, the very first book had a coded message written on the bottom of the pages, and I will tell you I was very proud of myself that I managed to crack the language all on my own.

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Tamora Pierce
For young girls about to become young women, it’s hard to go wrong with Tamora Pierce.  Your mileage will vary on when is age appropriate – the female leads experience their first periods and, as they grow up, have circumspect discussions about sex and contraceptives (nothing graphic happens on the page).  BUT these are also empowering tales of women taking charge and being leaders.  From Alanna, who goes to knight school dressed as a man (because women aren’t allowed to be knights), to Daine, a young woman with rare “wild magic” that she doesn’t fully understand, to Beka Cooper, a rookie “beat cop” in a fantasy city who can speak to ghosts, every series features a young woman going through awkward coming-of-age while fighting monsters and gods and would-be kings.


ANIMORPHS by K.A. Applegate
These are a little harder to find, but I will always recommend them because they were so dang influential to my own love of sci-fi.  Here, you’ve got five teenage kids battling alien parasites with the only weapon they have available: the ability to transform for two hours at a time into any animal they touch.  I loved this series because it was a rare instance of a middle-grade/young adult series that showed actual serialized storytelling, where there were story arcs and long-lasting ramifications.  ANIMORPHS also featured every single sci-fi storytelling trope known to man; if it happened on STAR TREK, it probably happened at some point in ANIMORPHS.

And those are my recommendations for your kids stuck at home.  What about the rest of you?  What books do your kids like or do you have fond memories of reading when you were younger?


13 thoughts on “Gateway Sci-Fi/Fantasy for Children and Young Teenagers

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  1. I love these recommendations, Caitlin! With 2 girls (6 and 11) in the house all day, they are much needed. Wondering if you have read Katie Zhaos’ Dragon Warrior. If so, what did you think and what age range would was it? Thank you.

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      1. I still have my originals as well (the ones I bought anyway)! Check the public libraries for used copies. Someone donated their copies to my local library for sale, but I had most of them already!

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  2. Great post! I think a lot of gateway books for me were the Narnia books and Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles! I also read a lot of paranormal stuff like Christopher Pike, Lois Duncan, and L.J. Smith…those were my jams back in the day haha. Not traditional fantasy but definitely a way in. After that it was David Eddings and then I moved on to the adult stuff. 🙂

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      1. They are older books that were very much in the vein of completely normal children get into an unusual magical situation. Like the kids who find a talisman that they quickly discover only grants them half of what they wish for. Or the kids who wake up and discover that they have somehow shrunk down into their castle playset and all the toys believe that they are engaged in a real war and go on real quests. Perfect for the 8-10 year old. 🙂

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