Science in Fiction and Nonfiction

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I have to admit that I was immediately hooked when I saw the Publisher’s Weekly headline, “Sci-Fi for Kids is a Missed Publishing Opportunity.” Not only am I writing a science fiction novel for middle graders but I like including science in my nonfiction books. Any young reader who picks up The Dakota Access Pipeline will know how fracking works and in The Ancient Maya I discuss C-14 and how scientists can tell based on carbon what crops were grown in a certain area.

But including science can be a battle. When Duchess Harris and I wrote Hidden Human Computers, I knew that we needed to include how the women made many of their calculations. That meant explaining how to use a slide rule. We were challenged on including this because young readers don’t like science.

That’s exactly the assumption that Emily Midkiff wrote about in the Publisher’s Weekly article. She was taking a class on fantasy literature in grad school and decided to visit a local school library to see how small or large their fantasy collection was. She found a solid number of fantasy titles but noticed that science fiction was missing. Over several years she examined many library collections and noted the same thing time and time again. Science fiction titles just weren’t there.

She wondered about circulation and found something surprising. Fantasy titles circulated more than realistic fiction. Each science fiction title circulated more than the fantasy. Midkiff surveyed teachers and librarian who told her that they avoid science fiction for story time or group reading. Why? Because science fiction isn’t always popular and can be difficult or polarizing. Although they sometimes recommend a science fiction title to a specific child, they don’t call it science fiction.

Personally, none of this surprised me. I had a hard time getting the okay to review science fiction when I wrote for the newspaper. Why? Because the editor didn’t believe that “normal” kids liked science fiction.

But Midkiff pointed out something else. Around 2000, researchers looked at what books were taught and what was available in the classroom. Fiction dominated nonfiction and science was especially underrepresented. Yet when they were asked what they wanted to read, children went for the nonfiction.

Young readers are curious. Science is one way to satisfy their curiosity if only the adults in their lives will give them access. Now back to work on my STEM proposal and my science fiction novel. There are curious kids out there in need of good books.