The World of Science Fiction

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.

The People Could Fly: The Picture Book – Virginia Hamilton

The People Could Fly: The Picture Book – Virginia Hamilton
A fantasy tale of the slaves who possessed the ancient magic words that enabled them to literally fly away to freedom.

Spike and Ali Enson – Malaika Rose Stanley

Spike and Ali Enson – Malaika Rose Stanley
Everyone loves Spike’s baby brother, Ali. He’s so cute even the school bullies want to babysit him. But Spike isn’t so sure. Ali’s poos are bright green and his soft, brown skin looks a little scaly. Yes, there’s definitely something strange about Ali. And when Spike discovers a way to learn the truth, he begins to realize just how different his family really is.

The Zero Degree Zombie Zone – Patrik Henry Bass

The Zero Degree Zombie Zone – Patrik Henry Bass
Shy fourth-grader Bakari Katari Johnson is having a bad day. He's always coming up against Tariq Thomas, the most popular kid in their class, and today is no different. On top of that, Bakari has found a strange ring that appears to have magical powers--and the people from the ring's fantastical other world want it back!

The Clone Codes – Patricia & Fredrick McKissack

The Clone Codes – Patricia & Fredrick McKissack
In the year 2170 an underground abolitionist movement fights for the freedom of cyborgs and clones, who are treated no better than slaves…Thirteen-year-old Leanna's entire life is thrown into chaos when The World Federation of Nations discovers her mom is part of the radical Liberty Bell Movement.

The Adventures of De'Ante Johnson: The Obsidian Knight – Mr. Jeff Jones & Nick Chiles

The Adventures of De'Ante Johnson: The Obsidian Knight – Mr. Jeff Jones & Nick Chiles
De’Ante Johnson, a quiet 16 year old with a well-hidden double life, is suddenly shanghaied from his ‘hood to Illumina, an earth-like world, to battle a shape-shifting monstrous tyrant intent on destroying a millennia-old culture.

The Lost Tribes - Christine Taylor-Butler

The Lost Tribes - Christine Taylor-Butler
Five friends are in a race against time in this action-adventure story involving ancient tribal artifacts that hold the fate of the universe in the balance. None of these trailblazers imagined their ordinary parents as scientists on a secret mission. But when their parents go missing, they are forced into unfathomable circumstances and learn of a history that is best left unknown, for they are catalysts in an ancient score that must be settled.

Asleep – Wendy Raven McNair

Asleep – Wendy Raven McNair
Adisa Summers doesn't know her boyfriend, Micah Alexander, can fly. Micah's odd emotionless behavior, rigid posture, and vacant eyes are a mystery sending mixed messages to Adisa. When a flash of lightning sends a tree crashing down on her, Adisa is shocked to see Micah actually flying to her rescue!

The Legend of Tarik – Walter Dean Myers

The Legend of Tarik – Walter Dean Myers
After witnessing the annihilation of his people by El Muerte's legions, young Tarik undergoes the training which will enable him to destroy this fierce leader.

The Deep – Zetta Elliot

The Deep – Zetta Elliot
The Deep plunges readers into a dangerous, underground world policed by members of The League, a secret group of women and men who use their intuitive abilities to detect energy surges far below the earth’s surface. In the deep, ancient sources of malevolent energy are bubbling up through the bedrock, and only members of The League know how to detect and seal the leaks that allow evil to enter the world.

The Sisterhood: Book One of The Sisterhood Series – Alison Clarke

The Sisterhood: Book One of The Sisterhood Series – Alison Clarke
When Oppie and Aurie are faced with a terrible battle between good and evil, they discover that friendship and sisterhood are the most precious things in the world. In a realm where magic and legend still exist, it's easy to think that when you're just an ordinary girl, you'll never get the chance to be written into the history books.

The Chaos - Nalo Hopkinson

The Chaos - Nalo Hopkinson
Sixteen-year-old Scotch struggles to fit in—at home she’s the perfect daughter, at school she’s provocatively sassy, and thanks to her mixed heritage, she doesn’t feel she belongs with the Caribbeans, whites, or blacks. And even more troubling, lately her skin is becoming covered in a sticky black substance that can’t be removed. While trying to cope with this creepiness, she goes out with her brother—and he disappears. A mysterious bubble of light just swallows him up, and Scotch has no idea how to find him.

The Summer Prince - Alaya Dawn Johnson

 The Summer Prince - Alaya Dawn Johnson
A heart-stopping story of love, death, technology, and art set amid the tropics of a futuristic Brazil.

Shadowshaper - Daniel José Older

Shadowshaper - Daniel José Older
Sierra Santiago planned an easy summer of making art and hanging out with her friends. But then a corpse crashes the first party of the season. Her stroke-ridden grandfather starts apologizing over and over. And when the murals in her neighborhood begin to weep real tears... Well, something more sinister than the usual Brooklyn ruckus is going on.

Breaking Free – Alicia L McCalla

Breaking Free – Alicia L McCalla
What if your mom was abducted? What if the people who held her hostage wanted to erase her mind? Seventeen year old XJ Patterson is genetically enhanced. So is her revolutionary mother, Dorothy. CAGE, the Coalition to Assimilate Genetically Enhanced Persons, abducts Dorothy because she crossed the wrong person. XJ wants to rescue her mother, but she won't join the revolution to do it. If she becomes a revolutionary, she can't live a normal life. And all she wants is to be normal.

The Shadow Speaker – Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

The Shadow Speaker – Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu
Driven by vengeance. Destined for peace. Niger, West Africa, 2070: After fifteen-year old Ejii witnesses her father's beheading, her world shatters. In an era of mind-blowing technology and seductive magic, Ejii embarks on a mystical journey to track down her father's killer. With a newfound friend by her side, Ejii comes face to face with an earth turned inside out--and with her own magical powers. But Ejii soon discovers that her travels across the sands of the Sahara have a greater purpose.

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