Jim Minz is an editor at Baen Books.
I’ve had a fair amount of experience at polluting young minds with genre fiction, since I have more than a dozen nephews and nieces, not to mention children of my own–though my kids are still a bit young for some of my favorites. And the best part is how grateful my siblings are for turning their kids on to reading.
You want to know the secret? It’s actually pretty simple: if the books are fun and entertaining, the kids will come back for more.
For the youngest readers, I prefer humorous fare, preferably with genre elements. For kids too young for chapter books, there’s really no genre differentiation in fiction. Much of it has elements of the fantastical or sf, but it’s all pretty much a jumble. Of course, you start with Doctor Seuss. And then there’s a personal favorite of mine, sung to my kids at bedtime hundreds of times Hush Little Alien (a scifi twist on the classic lullabye). What matters most is sticking to what makes your child laugh.
But things get a lot more interesting once children get a bit older. I’m a big fan of sharing Golden Age SF, such as Van Vogt, Heinlein and anthologies that feature classics. But it usually begins with the Inklings, i.e. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Throw in Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time series and Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, and you have many great nights of reading ahead of you.
And I do mean “you.” You start by reading these books to your kids, and read above their level. I read The Chronicles of Narnia to both of my girls when they were only three years old. Were they understanding all of it? Of course not. But it fires their imagination, and makes them want to read more, to strive to read books that don’t just have pictures in them. My oldest has already re-read the series, and she’s about to start first grade.
Some very good teen fiction being written today, and I can’t wait until my girls are old enough to read it. From Scott Westerfeld to Holly Black, there’s a treasure trove of great teen books being published, handling themes that are a bit too old for my young’uns…for now. (I’m really looking forward to their reading The Lord of the Rings.)
A lot of this teen fiction is fantasy, much of it published due to the success of Harry Potter. In fact, when I walk through the teen section of bookstores, there’s too much fantasy (and this from someone who’s in genre publishing because of Tolkien). As much as I enjoy a good fantasy series, I’m wondering: where is the SF for the next generation?
Sure, there’s some dark, post-apocalyptic stuff being published—some of it pretty good. But where’s the YA SF with a sense of wonder and a sense of adventure? It was this very obvious question that led to Baen deciding to dip its toe into YA fiction. In October, we’re publishing A Beautiful Friendship by David Weber, a YA novel set in his bestselling Honor Harrington universe, though it happens about four hundred years before the main events of the adult novels. I fell in love with this project, but rather than gush on my own, I’ll let Booklist do that for me. In a starred review, they called it “A stellar introduction to a new YA science-fiction series.”
More Honorverse YA novels are in the works, and if they are as successful as we hope, a big announcement may be coming from Baen some time next year…stay tuned.