I refused to read anything grown-ups told me to read–I was in my 40’s before I read Tale of Two Cities, for instance–but since the grown-ups thought sf was junk I devoured that. I remember Childhood’s End really tore me up.
As a grade schooler, I read deeply of the Heinlein juveniles, since my local library had them all, and they were more important in bringing me to science fiction (as opposed to fantasy) than any other sf I can think of. I loved them, and still find them affecting my work – my story “Long Enough And Just So Long” is a reply to Heinlein’s Podkayne of Mars and the short story “The Menace From Earth”, for example. While some have gender issues up the wazoo, I’d bet if I were sitting down to pull out some to give to my goddaughter when she finally starts reading on her own (at 2, not yet, alas), there’d still be plenty I’d be happy to give her.
Gary K. Wolfe
I remember talking with Charles Brown about the Heinlein juveniles, which meant a great deal more to him than they did to me, and we more or less came to the conclusion that his generation, which included a large number of significant SF writers, was exactly the right age for those novels to be important, largely because of the vagaries of publishing history. The first half-dozen titles or so appeared during the late 40s and early 50s, when they’d likely have been almost the only novel-length SF available in libraries (especially in the children’s sections), and just before paperback SF became ubiquitous and widely available. It’s interesting to note that even during the decade or so they were being published, the juveniles became more like mainstream SF: I think one of the early ones, maybe Farmer in the Sky, was serialized in a Boy Scout magazine, but the last ones were being serialized in Astounding or F&SF.
My own reading was somewhere between Charles’s experience and the one described by Karen and Cecelia. I read a few juveniles for a year or two, and the one thing I remember about the Heinleins was that they were a lot better than the ones by Asimov or Wollheim coming about about the same time. It may have been the first time I realized that some SF was a lot better than some other SF. But by then I was off into reading mainline SF paperbacks.
Paul Di Filippo
Maybe I had particularly wide tastes, but at age thirteen or so, I was reading Aldiss’s Barefoot in the Head simultaneous with RAH’s Tunnel in the Sky; Ballard’s Vermilion Sands back to back with Citizen of the Galaxy. I made no distinctions amongst the books, or, rather, loved each for what it was. So, theoretically, I don’t believe there is anything offputting or overly ancient about the RAH juveniles for a 21st-century teen reader–unless there also is about the Aldiss or Ballard, which might very well be the case!
I haven’t read any of the Heinlein juveniles. I’m generally woefully under-educated when it comes to middle grade and young adult books, though I’m starting to remedy that now — obviously reading it as an adult is different, though. My parents and grandmother were horror, fantasy, and science fiction readers, so I pretty much just pillaged the overstuffed-with-paperbacks shelves at one house or the other. I read Stephen King’s Carrie when I was eight, and never looked back — I kind of skipped the whole “being a kid and readings books for kids” thing, somewhat to my detriment, I would imagine.
What Tim said. I never even heard of the Heinlein juveniles until I was well into my twenties, by which time I’d already read a few Heinlein adult novels and decided I didn’t want to ever read anything of his again. My gateway “SF for kids” was Anne McCaffrey, Orson Scott Card, and Octavia Butler.