After teaching a few years, I noticed that every story in our reading program was eerily similar: a realistic fiction story about a nervous adolescent dealing with a new situation. Completely missing was anything from the science-fiction or fantasy genres. After bemoaning this state, several readers recommended their favorite sci-fi and fantasy stories.
Of course, preview anything before bringing it into your class. I haven’t read all of these, and everyone’s interpretation of what’s appropriate for whom is different. On the other hand, remember that your gifted kids are often hungry for something beyond their grade-level reading level.
Feel free to send in your own recommendations. I plan to update this as I get more ideas from y’all.
Short stories are the best! They offer a great alternative to sometimes-unwieldy novel studies. And boy is the sci-fi genre is packed with delightful short stories from masters like Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Arthur Clarke, Kurt Vonnegut, and Phillip Dick. It’s especially interesting how many of these were written in the late 40s to early 60s, but remain shockingly relevant.
Short stories are fantastic because they can set up a fun twist without having the baggage of a 300-page plot. And creating a short story is well within the reach of young writers.
Here are some possibilities:
A reader, Claire, offered a trio of Ray Bradbury stories:
- All Summer In A Day – A tragic tale about the consequences of bullying at a school on Venus. Also recommended by Raquel.
- Sound of Thunder – A time travel story exploring how one change leads to bigger and bigger effects.
- The Veldt – A warning about the dangers of technology. Also one of my favorites, read it every year with my 6th graders.
These are all available in this 1980 Bradbury collection.
Isaac Asimov and AI
Also check out Isaac Asimov’s short stories, especially his Robot series (recommended by Rebecca). These fun stories are based around Asimov’s three laws that robots must follow. Naturally, unexpected situations arise in which these laws become a problem. Great intro to discussing artificial intelligence.
Rain, Rain, Go Away is an Asimov story I still remember from middle school about a mysterious family next door. It’s part of Asimov’s Buy Jupiter and Other Stories collection.
And Rebecca also recommends the novel The Humanoids by Jack Williamson as an exploration of AI.
Kurt Vonnegut’s short story Harrison Bergeron is especially interesting for gifted kids, as it tells of a world where everyone is forced to be equal. You can read it here or buy it as part of this Vonnegut collection.
And I always like to drop a recommendation for internet pal Allis Wade’s sci-fi novel specifically written for gifted kids: Orientation. You can read my review here.
I personally adore Ender’s Game for an amazing upper elementary/middle school read, and Rebecca recommends Alvin Maker – a fantasy story from the same author.
If your kids like Ender’s Game, I’d have them read Ender’s Shadow before any of the other sequels – it tells the same tale from a minor character’s point of view. Love it.
Several readers mentioned the fantasy Eragon series – famous for being written by Christopher Paolini when he was just 16 years old.
Another reader, Lark, recommends Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and I’d also put Gaiman’s Coraline on the list as a dark, but child-friendly, fantasy book.
Updates: Heather points out a new “classroom-friendly” version of Andy Weir’s The Martian (sans-swear words I presume). Mike sent a recommendation for Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories
Leslie, on Twitter, recommends two series from author Margaret Haddix:
The Missing, a series about time travel. Love this blurb: “A plane arrives at an airline gate unnoticed by radar and most personnel. There are no flight attendants, no pilot, in fact, no adults at all, but there are 36 passengers—each seat is inhabited by an infant.”
And The Shadow Children, a series about a dystopian future: “In a future where the Population Police enforce the law limiting a family to only two children, Luke, an illegal third child, has lived all his twelve years in isolation and fear on his family’s farm.”
My pal Beniy wrote in with two fantasy recommendations:
- The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende, which is notably different from the film.
- Smith of Wootton Major, a short story from JRR Tolkien.
He cites both as great examples of the Ring story structure, in which the major event of a story happens in the middle and the beginning and end parallel each other.
Some of My Favorites
For the sake of completion, I’ll also include the books I recommended from my first article on the topic:
- The White Mountains series. I still remember reading this one as a kid while waiting for my mom to get her nails done.
- The Giver OMG. A child in the future must learn to take on a powerful burden for his people.
- A Wrinkle In Time A classic, and an especially great dive into giftedness, including a wonderful gifted female protagonist
- For the younger crowd (and a favorite of 5th grade Ian), Matilda is a light fantasy that also features a gifted girl.
- You can also read about my experience guiding 6th graders through The Time Machine – a book that was way too hard but we still had a blast with.
Shoot me your favorite recommendations for students from the sci-fi and fantasy genres! I’m @IanAByrd on Twitter or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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