Academic Minute Podcast
Emily Midkiff, University of North Dakota – Kids and Sci-Fi Books
If kids like science fiction, why aren’t there enough sci-fi books for them to read?
Emily Midkiff is an Assistant Professor at the University of North Dakota, where she teaches courses on children’s and adolescent literature and literacy. Before getting her PhD, she spent 9 years working in children’s theater, and now does research on science fiction and fantasy for children with attention to what children have to say for themselves. She is the author of Equipping Space Cadets: Primary Science Fiction for Young Children, an award-winning interdisciplinary case study of science fiction for children.
Kids and Sci-Fi Books
Science fiction is a great way to think about how science impacts people. However, guidebooks for teachers and librarians often suggest that the best time for kids to discover science fiction is around age 12, since that is when children will supposedly understand the science and logic behind the genre. Yet there is no research to support this age recommendation, so I decided to investigate.
When I surveyed elementary teachers and librarians, they told me that they often recommend science fiction to individual readers who like “weird,” “freaky,” and “funky” books, but they rarely choose it for group activities due to the genre’s complex plots and off-putting reputation. They also said that there simply were not enough science fiction books available for younger kids.
I counted the books in elementary school libraries from across the US, and found that there really was a shortage. Only 3% of the books in each library were science fiction, while similar genres like fantasy took up 25% of each library. I spoke with authors and publishers, and they told me that there is no demand for children’s science fiction and so it is not produced.
However, I also looked at how many times the science fiction books were checked out by the kids. It turns out that they were checked out more often per book than any of the other genres. Despite having so few to choose from, kids were finding and checking out these books. I also read some science fiction picturebooks with elementary school students and their responses showed me that they had no problems comprehending the genre and digging into its most compelling questions about science.
In the end, my results suggest that children are interested in and ready for science fiction from a young age, despite what many adults might believe.
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