While researching children’s science fiction for my doctoral degree, I discovered that teachers, librarians, and parents have few resources for identifying high quality children’s science fiction that represents the best qualities of the genre like speculation and extrapolation about technology and science. Therefore this page features my top recommendations for high quality, illustrated children’s science fiction for children under 12 years old. The entries go from youngest to oldest recommended starting age. Of course, adjust as necessary for the level of your young readers!
I also note girl characters and diverse identities for each book below. I feel this is an important consideration when welcoming everyone into the wonderful genre of science fiction and representing our diverse world to young readers (hence it is important for readers with mainstream identities too!). You can find my entire list of 350+ books and how they each measured up on this page, along with more information about the project.
This page is in progress and will be added to over time. Last update 3/30/2018.
Oh No! Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World
This picturebook by power team Mac Barnett and Dan Santat follows an unnamed girl as she considers what she should have done differently to prevent her science project from taking over the city, and how she is going to solve the problem!
Girl Power: The protagonist is a girl with awesome science skills. Her narration throughout the story both points out and pokes fun at doing science for the fun of it (without always thinking through the consequences).
Diversity: The illustrations portray an appropriately diverse world, though the protagonist herself is not given any clear markers of difference. Dan Santat is Thai American.
Beegu is lost and cannot find her mother. She tries to befriend several earthlings, and finds young humans to be the most sympathetic. Written and illustrated by Alexis Deacon.
Girl Power: Beegu is a gender-neutral-looking alien, but receives female pronouns rather than the “default” male pronouns.
Diversity: The illustrations show an appropriately diverse world.
Cosmo is heartbroken when the robot Rex, his only friend on Mars, breaks down. His parents offer him a Super Solar System Utility Belt as consolation, but perhaps Cosmo can use it to help his robot friend and even save his annoying big sister, Jewel.
Girl Power: Unfortunately, Cosmo’s sister is an antagonist and not a great representation of girls in science here. However, it is pleasant to see that Cosmo’s mother is a scientist.
Diversity: While unimportant and unmentioned in the plot, Cosmo and his whole family have dark skin and natural hair. As they appear to be the only family on Mars, this indicates that Cosmo’s parents are very important scientists! Given the history of NASA’s erasure of African American contributions, this is an important case of visual diversity. Brian Pinkney is African American.
In this early reader, Maddy invites her friend Victor to her house. When Victor turns out to be an alien, Maddy’s parents struggle to act normally. The plot introduces the classic science fiction metaphor of fearing aliens simply because they are alien.
Girl Power: Maddy is depicted as female, while her alien friend Victor is depicted as male. She comfortably wields advanced gadgets that look possibly homemade, seemingly with no help from her parents. Written by Sarah Albee.
Diversity: Aside from an impressive head of brilliant red hair, Maddy appears to represent a mainstream identity. Victor’s blue-ness doesn’t offer any identifiable diversity to speak of, either.
What happens when a cat-toy sized spaceship catches the attention of a bored cat? This mostly-wordless picturebook by David Wiesner offers a fun twist on alien visitation, and plenty of opportunities for inventing dialogue and filling in story.
Girl Power: For better or worse, with androgynous aliens and insects at the fore, gender is not a factor in this book.
Diversity: None to speak of, though not a major lack. The only human character is never fully shown, but appears to be white.
Now that summer vacation has arrived, Wesley needs a project. Why not build a whole new civilization, starting with a staple crop? The details in this book are great fun, and begging to be made into your reader’s own summer projects. Written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes.
Girl Power: Sure, there are girls in the background sometimes, but that doesn’t add anything in the way of girl power.
Diversity: For a book referencing early civilizations, it is awfully white. No non-mainstream background characters.
This mostly-wordless tale by Ben Hatke follows an unnamed little girl as she discovers and repairs a hapless robot in a local dump. After they figure out how to be friends, she must help him evade capture!
Girl Power: This little girl is handy with a wrench and carries her own fully-equipped tool belt. Not only that, but she knows how to use it!
Diversity: The pictures portray a little girl with dark skin and natural hair. The narrative also offers hints about her social status: she lives in a trailer park, wears the same white nightshirt every day, and appears to feel judged by neighbors who have houses and swing sets. These identity markers are not overtly mentioned, but influence her character and choices.
Zoe tries to teach Robot how to pretend but finds that ROBOTS DO NOT KNOW HOW TO PRETEND. In this hybrid early reader/picturebook, beginner readers can read the easy speech balloons and practice their best robot voice.
Girl Power: Unlike many boy-and-robot pal books, Zoe’s role here is active. She utilizes basic engineering and problem-solving to try to overcome Robot’s programming and teach him imagination. Also, Zoe’s sense of style is pleasantly quirky.
Diversity: Zoe is racially ambiguous, offering no real diversity.
This series by Marvel comics features Lunella Lafayette, age 9, discovering the abilities she will use as the superhero Moon Girl. This volume introduces Moon Girl as she meets and partners up with Devil Dinosaur, a short-lived Jack Kirby character who first appeared in 1978.
Girl Power: At the 2016 San Diego Comicon, Marvel announced that Moon Girl was now the smartest character in the entire Marvel Universe. In this volume, she faces off with The Hulk and refuses to be dismissed just because she is a little girl. Co-written by Amy Reeder, with art by Natacha Bustos.
Diversity: Not only is she a super smart girl, but Moon Girl appears dark-skinned with natural hair, as do her parents. This aspect of her identity is not discussed overtly within the context of this volume, but is visually apparent. Lead artist, Natacha Bustos, identifies as Chilean and Afro-Brazilian.
Join 12-year-olds Hopper, Eni, and Josh as they solve mysteries and learn to program at Stately Academy in the first volume of this series. The puzzles and clues beg for you to solve them at home, alongside the characters.
Girl Power: Hopper, named for programmer Grace Hopper, is a basketball-loving girl who excels at programming and solving puzzles alongside her male co-stars. Hopper stands off against stereotypes from her male classmates.
Diversity: This series offers several markers of diversity, all within the context of intelligence and programming skills. Hopper is biracial and struggles with learning Mandarin from her mother, while Eni has dark skin. Author Gene Luen Yang is Chinese and Taiwanese American.
Violet Marlocke (vaguely pre-teen aged) sets out to find her father after he is lost in an galactic environmental energy crisis: a bout of giant space whale diarrhea! Violet forges a band of alien heroes to help her traverse this junk-yard like version of space, brilliantly developed and illustrated by Craig Thompson.
Girl Power: Violet, with appropriately violet hair, is squarely in the forefront of this adventure. In a twist on old dynamics, she is the one setting out to rescue her burly, lumberjack-styled father.
Diversity: Nothing to speak of here. Unfortunately little diversity in a real, mirroring sense–just aliens.
House of Robots
Sammy Hayes-Rodriguez, 5th-grader, lives in a house full of both useful and seemingly useless robots designed by his genius mother. His middle school life becomes exponentially awkward when his mom sends a new robot to follow him around school, for reasons she won’t explain. A good science fiction story for readers who enjoy the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and the funny middle school situations that author James Patterson is known for.
Girl Power: Sammy’s mom is a renowned robot inventor, and assisted by one male and one female grad student. Sammy’s sister Maddy is not antagonistic, like the sister figure in many science fiction stories, but refreshingly treated as his best friend in a glowing and emotional sibling relationship.
Diversity: Sammy’s second-best-friend Trip (his sister Maddy is his first best friend) is a non-stereotypical person of color. In a second and less common representation of diversity, Maddy has severe combined immunodeficiency. The robots are often utilized as tools to help Maddy access experiences and social situations than she cannot otherwise safely enter due to her disability.
Lupe Impala, Flapjack Octopus, and Elirio Malaria decide to make the lowest and slowest car in the world for the universal car competition. In this first volume, their mechanical and design innovations blast them right into space!
Girl Power: Lupe is the mechanical genius behind the space-worthy car. She is also the leader of the team. This series is written by Cathy Camper.
Diversity: The story is set in an alternative Southern California populated by humanoid animals. The text is peppered with Spanish words and phrases. The plot foregrounds the cultural tradition of lowrider cars and is influenced by the Latin@futurist tradition of playing with boundaries between science/engineering and surreal fantasy. Author Cathy Camper identifies as Arab American and illustrator Raúl III identifies as Latino.
The True Meaning of Smekday
Recently made into a (very different) animated film, this lightly cartoon-illustrated novel follows 12-year-old Gratuity Tucci as she sets out with an alien named J.Lo to find her mother and maybe even save the whole planet from two invasions at once.
Girl Power: Gratuity is in charge. She holds her own against both silly and intimidating aliens, and comes up with very clever solutions to old and new problems–the heart of engineering! She also faces off against some boys that, despite an apocalyptic setting, have the audacity to set up a boys-only survivor’s club.
Diversity: Gratuity’s biracial identity comes up several times throughout the book, including some prejudice and assumptions. The book also explicitly brings up how alien invasion stories often parallel colonial invasions, with a Dine (Navajo) character and conversations about Native Americans today. (See Dr. Debbie Reese’s blog for a very detailed analysis of where this book succeeds and falls short on that front)
Atomic Robo and The Fightin’ Scientists of Tesladyne
The first volume of a series of comic books, this time-traveling and adventurous story packs a lot of snarky humor and history. Over the course of the series, Atomic Robo (invented by Nikola Tesla) travels between 1884 to 2015, punching out bad guys and generally forcing the world to question their definitions of humanity, citizenship, etc. (Teachers should watch out for some mild swearing and vague sexual references in some issues).
Girl Power: The creators of this comic book have said that they made a specific effort to avoid the comic book industry’s sometimes ridiculous standards for how women look and are framed suggestively in comic book art. Women appear in many different roles from scientists to soldiers. Atomic Robo works alongside competent and smart women, such as Ada.
Diversity: With the main character as a robot with no semblance of race, the diversity in the supporting characters and in the background becomes more important. The illustrations reveal an appropriately diverse world. Characters of color work with Atomic Robo as scientists/soldiers in his unit, such as Vik.