Science fiction books supercharged my imagination as a kid. Everything from Star Wars storybooks to Ray Bradbury radio adaptations to The Black Hole – Read Along Book and Record inspired my childhood attempts at telling stories.
I want my 4-year-old daughter to have the same kind of experience, so I turned to the brilliant Goodreads “Science Fiction Picture Books List” for inspiration. It was created by Amanda R. Von Der Lohe who studied children’s literature at Hollins University—writing a scholarly paper about science fiction picture books.
I caught up with Von Der Lohe recently, and she had a simple message for GalleyCat readers: “Authors, illustrators and publishers, please please please please please include more girls in science fiction picture books. Parents, read science fiction with your daughters.”
My daughter loved reading Cosmo and the Robot by Brian Pinkney, and we turned this science fiction picture book into a week-long reading and playing experience. I asked Von Der Lohe for advice about finding more science fiction for my daughter.
Von Der Lohe explained what she learned:
It broke my heart to read book after book in which girls were constantly left behind, relegated to background ornamentation, or left out of books entirely. Boys were more likely to go on a science fiction adventure with their dog than their sister.
Approximately 15% of the science fiction picture books I read featured female protagonists, and that’s if I’m being generous. If we want girls to have more interest in science, they need to see themselves reflected in that field. We can start empowering them at a young age. Girls in general are represented proportionally less in all forms of entertainment, which according to this article extends to picture books.
Start with the library! Some libraries have reading lists available. If they don’t have one specifically geared toward science fiction, then request one. Use the library’s catalogue to search typical science fiction terms like robot, alien, space travel, invention, etc. … But don’t just focus on science fiction. Read a variety of books with your kids and let them decide what interests them the most.
She also reminded parents to continue these stories in everyday play:
Engaging in imaginative play is also important. Just start sharing science and science fiction with kids. My two-year-old nephew already knows who Darth Vader, Yoda, and E.T. are thanks to his science fiction-loving aunt. Art is also important. Perhaps have kids design their own futuristic city with crayons or blocks. Make an alien costume. Create a robot or other invention. Instead of a backyard jungle adventure, be astronauts exploring a distant planet.
I used to teach middle school English (and theatre). One year, the science teachers and I collaborated on an activity in which the science teachers had their students create an alien ecosystem and my students created an illustrated story based on one of the aliens. Here’s a link outlining the assignment.
Jason Boog is the former editor of GalleyCat. Simon & Schuster’s Touchstone imprint just published his first book, Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age.