31 Days, 31 Lists: 2023 Science Fiction Books for Kids
I’m not supposed to have favorites. All these lists are my babies. Each and every one of them a shining star, that I lovingly craft throughout the year. But truth? I’ve a penchant for the underdog. When I produce the Fantasy list of 2023 tomorrow, you’ll see for yourself how large and bloated it is. Folks love a little magic, but when it comes to science fiction they’ll often eschew it. Part of this is because of a longstanding belief in the American publishing industry that science fiction for kids and teens simply doesn’t sell. Pfui, sez I. By that definition Hunger Games was an odd fluke. Even so, we see so little science fiction in a given year that I just feel an overwhelming urge to sing its praises. And today I’m getting ready to belt one out.
You’ll see that I’m splitting the categories into Picture Books and Middle Grade Fiction once more. Now this year, as with most years, graphic novels dominate our inclusions in the middle grade category. But that may be more due to the fact that I read more comics than fiction in a year, so I wouldn’t read too much into it.
Have a suggestion of a title and it didn’t make the list? Please tell me! Please!
You can find a full PDF of this list here.
Want to read other science fiction lists that ALSO deserve love? Then check these out:
2023 Science Fiction Books for Kids
The Book From Far Away by Bruce Handy, ill. Julie Benbassat
Oo! A twofer! Not only will you find that this is a book without words, but it has a nice little science fiction component as well. I’m a huge fan of science fiction picture books and glom onto them the moment I see them. This book? Infinitely glommable. It’s always a nice plus when the book is beautiful and good in addition to being an interesting idea. The concept behind this story is that an alien family has landed on our planet to have a picnic. A human boy spies them and finds that after they’ve left they’ve forgotten a strangely elaborate circular disc. Brass and blue and filled with symbols and heavenly bodies, some experimentation reveals that it appears to turn some kind of translucent pages. The boy is enamored but all too soon the alien boy reappears and the two manage, in spite of the language gap, to communicate. The human boy shares one of his own picture books with the alien child (100 points if you can identify that book) and then he’s gone. But what’s this? Peek in the boy’s backpack and you can see the original alien book is still in there. These two will grow up to be linguists, no doubt (the whole thing felt very Arrival to me). There were so many small things about this book that I liked, in addition to the smooth illustrations. I really was quite partial to how mournful the alien mama looked at all times. Not sad, exactly, but pensive. I loved the twist and the amount of work that went into the alien’s “book” (it reminded me of the Golden Compass from the Philip Pullman book of the same name). All told, one of the most inventive little books of the year. Previously Seen On: The Wordless List
The Tree and the River by Aaron Becker
Boy, what is it about science fiction and wordless picture books, eh? A single tree sits on the small peninsula as civilizations rise and fall around it. A beautiful detail-rich wordless story of human hubris and hope. Oh yes! Becker’s back! Some of you may recall his Journey series from a couple years ago. It was an epic three-part wordless fantasy series in picture book form. Then Becker made A Stone for Sascha which felt more like a prelude to this book than anything else. Now he’s returned with another epic wordless story, and this one feels like more like a Mitsumasa Anno boo, of which I thoroughly approve! There is just so much for kids to pick apart in this wordless storyline. Who won the war? How have the two cultures seen in the book integrated? How is this a book about what might happen to us in the future? In spite of the fact that the world clearly floods due to a global warming of some sort, the book ends on a pretty hopeful note. No small task for something completely wordless. One of the most accomplished picture books of the year. Also, because I am just that petty, I would like to point out that my review called out that Planet of the Apes moment at the beginning of the book long before anyone else’s. *grabs all her toys and runs away* Previously Seen On: The Wordless List
Adventure Game Comics: The Beyond by Jason Shiga
Okay, so my son and I need some help. We figured out a LOT of this book, but we got kind of stumped on the ending. As a result, I am abusing my 31 Days, 31 Lists format to get help in the most public way possible. If you’re unfamiliar with the Adventure Game Comics then boy howdy are you in luck. They look, at the outset, like your everyday pick-a-path/Choose Your Own Adventure types of stories. However, they read like video games and they worm their way into your brain like the most cleverly subversive children’s books being sold to kids today. I am serious about this. From these books you literally have to break the rules to make the books do what they’re supposed to do. Now I’ve loved Shiga’s books for kids ever since I first saw his little masterpiece Meanwhile back in 2010. Then I Ioved his sicko Demon comic series (NOT for kids). And now he’s created this incredible series that no one is paying proper attention to. I understand. It looks basic. That’s why it’s been flying under the radar so well, but trust me when I tell you that this book will rearrange young minds like nothing else. You ever read that short story All Mimsy Were the Borogroves? Yeah. Like that. In any case, my son and I read this together and we got pretty far. We even figured out a trick involving a number on this actual book’s spine (trust me, it makes sense). But even then we never quite figured out how to pull a Being John Malcovich and inhabit the body of another character the way we wanted to. Bummer, right? So, tips are welcome but, even more importantly, check out this series. I can’t be the only one out there beating my head against a wall trying to figure it out.
Alebrijes by Donna Barba Higuera, ill. David Álvarez
What if your punishment for a crime wasn’t death but instead to have your mind placed in a tiny mechanical hummingbird? Enter a world of robot animals, giant sandworms, post-apocalyptic visions, and a tiny hero with incredible inner strength. A co-worker of mine was dead right when she said that this was The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Giver. And yes, the action really doesn’t kick in until someone gets their brain mashed into a robot bird. Still, talk about a slam bang of an ending! I had a little bit of difficulty believing that if you discovered you could control a giant mechanical sandworm, you wouldn’t just immediately use that talent to free your people, but I can see why Huguera held back on that one. Like her previous book The Last Cuentista, Higuera’s brain goes in places you’d never ever expect. Plus there’s a rather delightful ending that hat tips to The Last Cuentista at the end, which I very much enjoyed.
The Bawk-Ness Monster (Cryptid Kids) by Sara Goetter and Natalie Riess
A slam bang start to a silly new series. First off, I want to give Goetter and Riess credit for coming up with the idea of creating new cryptids. Oh sure, they could have made this book about your standard mothman, Jersey devil, bigfoot, etc. Instead, they went weird and they went weird HARD. Right from the start, instead of Nessie you have Bessie, the Bawk-Ness monster. Storywise, Goetter and Riess aren’t afraid to just push young readers into the deep end of the plot. Penny is moving to a new town with her mom and before she goes she has just one wish. You see, when Penny was little she was saved from drowning by Bessie, the aforementioned half-chicken/half-sea monster. Now she wants to return to the lake where it all happened and say thank you alongside her two good friends Luc and K. K is a budding cryptozoologist and Luc is a former mean kid who is grappling a little with identity. No sooner do they arrive then they’re face to face with goons, an evil villain, and a whole host of amusing cryptids. Just gotta tell you right now that Bigtaur is my favorite and I want to have Bigtaur t-shirts that I can wear in the future. The only way that’s gonna happen, though, is if you folks discover this series. Aside from the fun plotting, it’s also seriously funny. We’re talking Looney Tunes-worthy sight gags, dramatic pauses, and a nice use of some mild manga elements as well. Hard to pick a funniest moment but if I had to I’d say that the moment the kids dress up as adult inspectors inside a trenchcoat was the moment I officially fell in love with the book. Hope we see more! Previously Seen On: The Older Funny Books List
Grace Needs Space! by Benjamin A. Wilgus, ill. Rii Abrego
Grace cannot wait to space travel to Titan where her mom works hard on a ship, but things don’t go as planned once there. No excitement! Just mom working! So Grace decides to choose her own adventure…with dangerous results. Aww. I feel bad that I waited so long to read this one. But better late than never! Since I’ve a penchant for science fiction-related books, and space book specifically, this title certainly scratches that itch. But what really makes it work is the nature of the relationships going on. Interestingly I was a little confused by Evelyn and Kendra’s relationship. Are they divorced? They sure don’t show a lot of physical affection to one another after their time apart. Still, I found it so incredibly satisfying to see the “boring” mom saving the day. This book feels so real that you’d be convinced that we’d already colonized Titan years ago. Two thumbs way way up!
Lo and Behold by Wendy Mass, ill. Gabi Mendez
I don’t think I’d ever considered what would happen if you combined grief (of a sort) alongside virtual reality AND then worked in the moon seeds (seeds of trees that circled the moon and then were planted on Earth later) as well. And yet, it works! Ostensibly the story is about Addie, who lives with her dad. With her mom gone, Addie’s been drifting, so her dad takes her along to his summer job on virtual reality. There, she begins to come out of her shell, making friends (almost against her will) with a kid named Mateo and discovering for herself how useful VR is for taking you out of your own life. What makes the comic work (aside from the two twists near the end, one I called and one I didn’t) is how it cleverly ties in Addie’s own discovery of VR and what it can do to help other kids in the hospital. I found the writing particularly tight, and the emotional ups and downs believable. Is Mateo just a little bit too good to be true? Maybe, but he’s not really a manic pixie dream boy. He has his own story and his own tragedy to deal with, and that helps keep him a bit more three-dimensional. The VR is just a bit too advanced for our world today, hence it’s inclusion on the Science Fiction list. All told, a smartly written bit of comic.
Lost Time by Tas Mukanik
I hosted a guest post from Tas Mukanik earlier this year, and I’m so glad that I did. In preparation, I decided to read her graphic novel debut Lost Time (because there is not a lot of time to read all the comics coming out in a given year anymore!). Had I not read this book, it would have been a lesser year, I can tell you that. Tas brings to her book a true, unbridled love of pterosaurs (though, ironically, the pterosaur in this book is, in fact, bridled). Our hero is Evie. Through a terrible accident she’s been sent back in time 65 million years. It takes a long time to find out how this happened (my 9-year-old son was definitely yelling at the book at periodic moments, “WHAT HAPPENED?!?”) and in the meantime Evie has to figure out how to survive in a prehistoric wilderness. She finds an egg early on that hatches into a baby pterosaur that she names Ada. Now she and Ada need to find a way to send a message to Evie’s present or she’ll be stuck in the past for all time. In a very real way this is a survival story in the vein of Hatchet and books like that (suggestion: Someone rewrite Hatchet so that he’s sent 65 million years into the past). You grow quite fond of both Evie and Ada (particularly if you notice how close their names are to Eve and Adam). But best of all? Pterosaurs, baby! They are so freakin’ weird and this book leans into that weirdness with all that it has. Great for your dino fans (even though pterosaurs were not actually dinos), survival tale lovers, and graphic novel fans in general. More like this, please!
The Mighty Bite by Nathan Hale
Let’s get away from picture books and board books for a moment for the king of strange and his newest graphic novel concoction. The man has range. And by “the man” I mean Nathan Hale. And by “range” I mean he isn’t just a fount of Hazardous Tales from history. Read enough Hale and after a while you’d come to inescapable conclusion that there are times when the man just wants to let his freak flag fly. Periodically he’ll show off his skills, whether it’s with post-apocalyptic metal eating alien monstrosities (as in One-Trick Pony) or going all in on horror with his truly terrifying Apocalypse Taco. I’m still having nightmares after that one (shudder). With The Mighty Bite, though, he’s toned down the weirdness a bit. I mean, it’s still the strangest thing you’ll read this year (no question) but this is a younger, more 8-year-old friendly GN than we’ve seen him indulge in before. The plot involves a trilobite, an ambulocetus, a tiny spinosaurus, and a human newscaster who are attempting to win a journalism video-making competition. Sorta. Along the way there are numerous references (including what has to be the greatest Dog-Man visual gag I’ve seen in a comic to date) laughs, and chaos. I’m talking complete, utter madcap chaos, my friends. My son, I will admit, found the ending a bit of a downer (he didn’t like the bad guys getting millions of dollars) but I think it’s cheery enough to serve. Hand it to the kid who wants a comic that looks a little different from the pack. Previously Seen On: The Unconventional List
The Probability of Everything by Sarah Everett
Okay, okay, okay. I know for a fact that there are some folks out there who read this book and are now peeved at me for putting it on a Science Fiction list. Folks, I get it, but here’s my justification. Without giving anything away, I just want to say that this book would be a great way to lure science fiction fans into reading outside their comfort levels. In this story an asteroid is headed to Earth and it has an 84.7% chance of hitting in four days. Kemi is determined to bury a time capsule remembering her family, but is everything quite what it seems? I was lured into this one by a blog post from the PW blog ShelfTalker. They were talking about “when the hook is the spoiler” in relation to this title, so I knew it would at least be interesting. I didn’t know what to expect and I wasn’t disappointed. First off, I’m always happy when a kid is into math and Kemi’s penchant for probability is fantastic (which makes me think I missed something when I didn’t include it on the Math list this year). Then there’s the premise, and who doesn’t love a good asteroid? I have NO idea how you children’s librarians are going to booktalk this thing, but I look forward to seeing you try. And you should try. It’ll make you cry, I guarantee that much, but in a good way.
The Stupendous Switcheroo: New Powers Every 24 Hours by Mary Winn Heider, ill. Chad Sell
Team Trash: A Time Traveler’s Guide to Sustainability by Kate Wheeler and Trent Huntington
If you’d like a large dose of science with your science fiction then this time traveling adventure is your cup of tea. When Charlie and Oliver get paired up on a recycling project together, they accidentally find themselves traveling through time, discovering the different ways people have handled their own trash in the past. Delightful! I’ve literally never seen any book for kids take a systematic look at how sustainability isn’t just a 21st century idea. This does a great job of looking through a simultaneous worldwide and historical lens at the whole “reduce, reuse, recycle” concept as it’s applied to materials in the past. I also particularly enjoyed the discussion of what plastics can and cannot be recycled.
Hope you enjoyed these! Here are the lists you can expect for the rest of this month:
December 1 – Great Board Books
December 2 – Picture Book Readaloud
December 3 – Simple Picture Book Texts
December 4 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Funny Picture Books
December 7 – CaldeNotts
December 8 – Picture Book Reprints
December 9 – Math Books for Kids
December 10 – Gross Books
December 11 – Books with a Message
December 12 – Fabulous Photography
December 13 – Translated Picture Books
December 14 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales
December 15 – Wordless Picture Books
December 16 – Poetry Books
December 17 – Unconventional Children’s Books
December 18 – Easy Books & Early Chapter Books
December 19 – Older Funny Books
December 20 – Science Fiction Books
December 21 – Fantasy Books
December 22 – Comics & Graphic Novels
December 23 – Informational Fiction
December 24 – American History
December 25 – Science & Nature Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Books for Older Readers
December 29 – Audiobooks for Kids
December 30 – Middle Grade Novels
December 31 – Picture Books
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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