Ernest Cline, Mike Allred, Kelly Sue DeConnick and more on the books they read to their kids

You probably remember the first mind-expanding science fiction book you ever read. Maybe it was a pulpy paperback, or maybe it was one of the classics of the genre — Asimov, Philip K. Dick, Jules Verne. Whatever that novel was, it left an impression on you that lasted to this day.

You’d like to share that joy with the next generation. The question is, where to begin? After all, many children’s books have a fantastical or science fiction element to them. Surely some are better suited to be that first book kids fall in love with. So we asked some of the top creators in science fiction, fantasy and comic books — who also happen to be parents — what they read to their young kids to spark an interest in the genre. Here’s what they said:

Michael and Laura Allred — Madman, Silver Surfer
A Day With Wilbur Robinson by William Joyce

Wilbur Robinson, 13, and his best friend Lewis, 12, spend the day looking for Wilbur’s grandfather’s missing false teeth. Along the way, they meet Wilbur’s pet robot, his uncle who has a flying saucer, a cousin who has an antigravity device, and more wacky relatives. “Incredibly charming and simple story with classic sci fi elements that's perfect for a kid, with art by one of the all time best illustrators,” says Michael Allred.

Chuck Wendig — Star Wars: Aftermath - Life Debt
Robo-Sauce by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri

In Robo-Sauce, a boy wants to be a robot, and is instructed by the book’s narrator on how to make the recipe for “robo-sauce.”  After transforming himself and his whole family into robots, a clever design lets you transform the book itself into a “Robo Book.” When the boy is offered the chance to return to normal life, the boy goes the other way and destroys the antidote recipe with his laser eyes. “It’s awesome, and perfectly inhabits the journey into science-fiction, which for many of us is a glorious, one way journey from which we happily never return,” says Wendig.

Michael Moreci — Roche Limit
Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca

Follow Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins from launch, to the moon, and back to Earth in this lavishly illustrated account written in verse. Floca cleverly blends choice technical details about the mission with the emotions felt by the people who both watched and participated in the landing.“It tickles my son’s love of space, which leads to sci fi,” says Moreci.

Ernest Cline — Ready Player One, Armada
Double Trouble (Nintendo Adventure Book)

Tearing kids away from their screens and video games is a perennial struggle. So, maybe it’s not surprising the author of the MMO-focused novel Ready Player One has a daughter who was more interested in playing Nintendo than reading. His solution: These choose-your-own-adventure-style books, featuring Mario and Luigi. “She just went nuts for those, because it was learning to read, but just like playing a video game inside of a book,” says Cline. Unfortunately, this series is out of print, but you can find them used online.

Kelly Sue DeConnick — Pretty Deadly, Captain Marvel
Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick

DeConnick and husband Matt Fraction (Hawkeye, Sex Criminals) read this graphic novel aimed at elementary school-aged readers to their two children. In it, Hilo is a robot boy (think Pinocchio with superpowers) who falls from the sky and befriends two normal kids. They stumble into lighthearted adventures, fight alien robots, and save the world. “A robot boy is a pretty universally appealing sci-fi notion,” says DeConnick. She added that her kids also enjoyed the original Lee/Kirby run on the Silver Age Fantastic Four when they were still too young to read themselves, and have recently picked up the Showcase editions of the Legion of Superheroes.

Lev Grossman — The Magicians
Zita the Space Girl by Ben Hatke

In this graphic novel, Zita and her friend Joseph come across a mysterious red button. Do they press it? Of course they do. The button opens up an interdimensional portal to an alien world where Zita has to rescue Joseph from terrifying monsters. “Zita keeps the cold logic of science fiction, but pairs it with the warmth and coziness and curiosity of childhood,” Grossman says. “Kind of like a Baked Alaska, in book form.” Once kids have absorbed Zita, Grossman recommends the all-time classic The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

Justin Cronin — City of Mirrors (The Passage Book Three)
Have Spacesuit — Will Travel by Robert Heinlein

Cronin still has his battered copy of Have Spacesuit — Will Travel that he read as a kid. It’s not surprising why: Part of Heinlein’s 12-book “juveniles” series from the 1950s, the story is about a teenager in a near-future society who repairs a battered spacesuit, puts it on, and is immediately captured by aliens. Whisked away to their home planet, he is put on trial on behalf of the human race. “They were marketed to young male readers, they’re a little sexist and have Heinlein’s questionable politics, but all the great virtues are upheld: Loyalty, friendship, honesty, seriousness,” says Cronin. After all, reading a great book should always make us better people for the experience. 

Are you a parent hoping to instill a love of sci-fi in your children? What books hooked you on the genre as a child? Let us know in the comments!

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