Imagination can take a child far, far away to new and brilliant—or dark—worlds. What better way to explore peculiar, new domains than through reading science fiction and fantasy (SFF), where the possibilities are boundless? SFF, terms that many believe are interchangeable, actually have distinct definitions. There are, however, several sub-genres that embody the elements of the two, such epic fantasy, paranormal, steampunk, and dystopian.
Traditionally, well-known SFF literature consists of books written by mostly white, male writers. The power the genres have to provoke thought and change is much needed in the black community, especially among children. That’s because science fiction has inspired quite a few inventions as they give readers the ability to look past the status quo, and fantasy allows children to explore their creativity, eschewing realism, rules, and restrictions. These genres can also serve as avenues to further ponder the black experience through fiction. In the article, “Why Black Children Need to Read & Write Science Fiction,” author, Balogun Ojetade opines that: “Realism has become a trap for black children…they tire of reading and writing stories that are about ‘problems’ and crave fantastic tales of derring-do with cool, young, Black heroes and heroines… Science fiction and fantasy black children an alternative way of dealing with legacy, tradition, and memory.”
Black fans of SFF are familiar with some the genre’s adult writers, Samuel R. Delaney, Octavia Butler, Tananarive Due, Valjeanne Jeffers, Milton J. Davis, and many others—including the author quoted in this piece, Balogun Ojetaade. These writers explore a wide variety of themes and richly constructed worlds that feature black characters. Virginia Hamilton, the venerable author of The People Could Fly and Zeely, was one of the first writers to write SFF specifically about Black children. Zetta Elliot, who is among the growing number of black writers of SFF for children and young adults, says: “I write predominantly about black children because I grew up believing I was invisible in the real world, and it hurt just as much to discover that I was also invisible in the realm of the imaginary.”
As the call for more diverse literature increases, there is still a ridiculously low number of children and young adult books published that feature black characters, especially in SFF. Some of the authors whose books are listed refuse to sit and wait while publishers decide if their stories matter, they publish their own stories. Hopefully all the chatter concerning diversity will spark significant changes, and black children will be able to embrace and celebrate more “cool, young, Black heroes and heroines,” like the ones featured in the books below.