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Great Science-Fiction & Fantasy Works

  Science-fiction & fantasy literature: a critical list with discussions.

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Speculative-Fiction Works Suitable For Young Readers

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“And then we’d travel very far
To where the magic countries are
That you and I will never see,
And choose the loveliest gifts for you, from me.”

– The Phoenix and the Carpet (from the dedication)
E. Nesbit

Who Are “Younger” Readers?

“Younger” readers can include anyone from those so little they must be read to on up to those in late adolesence. Put another way, they are all readers whose passage through life has not yet fully equipped them with such experience as to allow them to rightly grasp the significances and perspectives in certain sorts of complex situations and relationships.

Readers from perhaps roughly puberty and up are, if they be wise and perceptive for their ages, probably capable of handling even the gravest and grimmest of “adult” fictions without harm, but the question arises as to how much of the real juice of the heavier works they can extract to their profit. Perhaps the worst thing that can happen between a young reader and a given book is a reading that stamps the book as mediocre in that young reader’s esteem because she or he has not that depth of experience needed to properly appreciate what the author is doing and conveying—such that that reader will not again return to that book for many a year, if ever, and so lose its adult potential. That is, I think, the chief reason we need to have some care about what books we offer to “young adult” readers, not some fear that their wee little minds (as too many condescendingly see it) might be polluted or corrupted by some solid understanding of the real world they are going to have to live in for a good many years to come.

Remember that these works are all culled from this site’s master list, all of which are books I think rewarding for sophisticated adults. None of these, in my opinion, is a book “just for children”.

I think the crux lies in the word charm. Today, that word has a variety of senses; as a the noun, the foremost (per the American Heritage Dictionary, 5th Edition) are The power or quality of pleasing or delighting; appeal and the closely related A quality that pleases or attracts; a delightful characteristic. The underlying roots are “Middle English charme, magic spell, from Old French, from Latin carmen, incantation”. As a verb, the senses are equally illuminating: To delight or fascinate; To induce by means of strong personal attractiveness; To cast or seem to cast a spell on; bewitch. Note that while in English it is not unusual to say something like “I’m charmed to meet you” or “How charming to meet you”, in French the normal polite form (often used by English speakers who want to seem soigné is enchanté, figuratively meaning “delighted” but literally meaning “enchanted”—that is, put under a spell.

The point of that digression is to emphasize that a good part of the appeal to adults of works nominally targeted at pre-adult readers is the charm the adult perceives in them. (When charm is “a good part” but not all of a pre-adult book’s appeal, the rest will almost always be some material therein expressly aimed at adults but which will fly right over the heads of its nominal readership: a sort of gentle “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” quality.)

Most if not all of the books listed here are, I reckon, suitable for pre-adults at one or another level. I have not tried to make fine distinctions in the manner of publishers, who have the stupifying gall to class books by exact and narrow age ranges. Nonetheless, there are distinctions: you can read The Water Babies to pretty much any child old enough to understand speech, whereas Pratchett’s “Johnny Maxwell” books would probably be lost on a pre-pubescent child. Moreover, the book-vs-age curve is not usually a straight line: something like, say, Edith Nesbit’s books may appeal to a young child (around the age of the protagonists), but seem “childish” and unappealing to a teen, then later, with adult insight, again become charming and pleasant to read. For any given book, use your common sense if you know the book, and look through it a bit if you don’t.

(A useful page I ran across is Recommended Children’s Books - Novels (an archived PDF file), by Todd Klein, that has a heavy focus on fantastical works; it includes many from these lists, but a lot more as well, not all of which I would recommend as top-flight, but none of which is dreadful; a nice, thoughtful resource.)

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Science-Fiction and Fantasy Books Suitable For “Younger” Readers

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