Friday, October 7, 2011

Guest Post by Greg R. Fishbone, author of Galaxy Games: There's a Hole in My Bookshelf

Long time readers of my blog know that I am a fan of science fiction and have complained about the dearth of science fiction on middle grade shelves (and not just because I wrote one).

Over the next week, I'll be spotlighting several MG SF authors and their books (both traditionally published and self-published), because I would love for there to be more of these books available for young readers!

Kicking off this SF Fest is a guest post from Greg R. Fishbone, as part of his tour to launch GALAXY GAMES: THE CHALLENGERS, his new MG SF novel. Galaxy Games is published by the Tu Books imprint of Lee & Low Books. Here's the blurb:
"In this hilarious middle-grade romp through space, eleven-year-old Tyler Sato leads a team of kids representing all of Earth in a sports tournament against alien kids from across the galaxy."
If you're here as part of the blog tour, here's your puzzle piece ( #7 of 31, how fun!).
There's a Hole in My Bookshelf
by Greg R. Fishbone

There's a gap on the shelves where more middle grade science fiction should be. I've heard this from other people, so I know it's not just a matter of my own perception. One librarian even told me, "Middle grade science fiction is really just you and Bruce Coville," which I know is an exaggeration, but I'll certainly take any sentence that lumps me together with Bruce as a huge compliment.

Some quality MG-SF books published recently show the range of this genre: Adam Rex's alien invasion road-trip, THETRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY; Mark Peter Hughes's environmental dystopia, A CRACK INTHE SKY; the steampunk-style LARKLIGHT by Philip Reeve; and the cyberpunk/fantasy crossover ARTEMIS FOWL books by Eoin Colfer. There are other books as well but their numbers are dwarfed by the volume of fantasy novels for this age group, and by science fiction for slightly older readers.

I think there are three traditional perceptions working against middle grade science fiction: 1. Science fiction is just for boys; 2. Boys don't read; and 3. Science fiction readers are too brainy for middle grade books and will "read up" to YA or adult books. Successful middle grade SF will have to prove all three of these presumptions wrong.

First, science fiction is certainly not just for boys, any more than science is just for boys. This trope has already fallen in the young adult field but still clings stubbornly at the middle grade level. There's plenty of MG-SF that include strong girl characters, and lots of books that will appeal to boys and girls alike, but it's telling that the publishing industry is lacking girl-focused MG-SF books the way they have girl-focused midgrade fantasy or girl-focused YA science fiction. As a result, there is a gap on the bookshelf where girl-focused MG-SF should be.

Second, reluctant readers are a concerning problem for authors, educators, and parents alike. Reluctant readers are disproportionately male and, given the perception that sci-fi is for boys, traditional wisdom pushes science fiction books as reluctant reader bait. Many MG-SF books tend to mimic science fiction movies and video games so they don't feel like books anymore, instead of taking full advantage of the literary media or trying to appeal to the readers who do enjoy reading. As a result, there is a gap on the bookshelf where literary MG-SF should be.

Finally, there is a perception that prolific science fiction readers prefer older-aged books, but I think they migrate to YA and adult out of necessity, because the midgrade-interest SF books don't exist in a high enough quantity to hold their interest. That certainly was my experience, looking for reading material when I was growing up. Adult science fiction was interesting and accessible, but it was hard for me to relate with characters who were in their twenties and thirties when I was only twelve. And yet, because high readers in this age group are already reading young adult or adult books, the publishers have no incentive to provide them with midgrade-themed stories. Much as I believe that advanced readers still need books with age-appropriate themes, there is a gap on the bookshelf where midgrade-themed MG-SF should be.

The good news is that gaps can be filled, and when the right book finds this niche, it will do well enough to encourage a flood of imitators. Five or ten years from now, we might be talking about a glut of MG-SF and a gap that exists somewhere else.

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Thank you, Greg, for stating so eloquently some of the resistance there is to MG SF. And I especially love the point about successful MG SF stories having to prove those presumptions wrong! Best of luck with GALAXY GAMES and your future books, and thank you for guest posting!

You can buy GALAXY GAMES at Amazon, Tu Imprint's website, iTunes, or Google's ebookstore, or visit the GALAXY GAMES website.

22 comments:

  1. I'm guessing Mr. Bransford would like this one...

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  2. Bryan- Jacob Wonderbar crossed my mind too.

    I think the breakdown starts earlier than MG. Kids need to be hooked into the love of reading in Kindergarten / 1st grade. Chapter books and early readers help build the foundation for MG and then YA.

    Anything that can break the shell of reluctance and get kids to read is positive momentum.

    Galaxy Games sounds like one that might get my older son's attention (10 years old). He prefers non-fiction, primarily sports related books. The athletic tie-in may be enticing for him.

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  3. @Bryan and Rick WONDERBAR is in my queue (and on my Nook!).

    And Rick - your son might also like Kris Yankee's hockey themed fantasy Saving Redwind. :)

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  4. Amen to this.

    I don't personally read a lot of MG, but I'd like to see more Sci-Fi everywhere. There's not a whole lot in YA either.

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  5. There is definitely a need for more Sci-Fi for boys. They love it and need it. Hopefully, this is the start of a new trend in genre demand.

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  6. Oh boy, how we need more sci-fi in the world!

    I honestly feel terrible for any kid who grows up without reading sci-fi.

    Comics have become cool. Maybe sci-fi will have a turn-around.

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  7. My daughter loved Penguins of Doom. It kept making her laugh out loud. I hope Greg does really well with this series.

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  8. I've found many sci-fi fans are of the female persuasion. There aren't a lot of books targeted at boys, which I think is a problem. So yea for filling in that hole, Rick. All success to you.

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  9. I know my 9yo would LOVE this! Hmmm...I think I hear Santa. :-)

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  10. @Catherine I completely agree! Hopefully this week I'll be able to give some SF books a boost! :)

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  11. Thanks for your insignt, Greg. This is very interesting. I agree that SF isn't only for boys. I've always loved SF.
    So glad you had Greg guest post on your blog, Sue.

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  12. I've always loved sci-fi and it is sometimes hard to find enough MG stuff for my classroom. I do have Galaxy Games in my room - but haven't read it yet. The kids haven't given me a chance :)

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  13. I think kids naturally have a fascination with knowing what is beyond or world. I would love to see a big series come along and do for Sci-fi MG what Harry Potter did for Fantasy MG. :)

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

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  14. Sci Fi leads the way to the future and kids love that . . . Heck, I love that! Look forward to Galaxy Games. Thanks Greg. Thanks Susan.

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  15. I loved sci-fi as a kid, but I ended up reading adult sci-fi books.

    You're right on about the dearth of sci-fi for the MG crowd. I don't come across too much of it, and I believe that age group can appreciate it.

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  16. My fifth grader LOVE sci fi. Thanks for the shelf filling suggestions. I also love the Pals in Peril series by MT Anderson. WHALES ON STILTS is the first. They are hilarious.

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  17. @Leslie WHALES ON STILTS sounds awesome! Thanks for the rec! And stop by next week as I'll be highlighting several more cool MG SF titles!

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  18. Great post! I've heard agents mention the need for mg sci-fi and fantasy several times in the last few months. :)

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  19. Greg and I had a chat about the lack of MG SF on my blog too (I'm hosting his Galaxy Games blog tour as well.)

    I only discovered what a hole there was when I started shopping my novel around. At first I thought 'great, should be an easy sale' and then, on reflection, I realised I was facing a real battle.

    There are two possible reasons for this lack of MG SF. One is that nobody is writing it, which is hard to believe, and the other is that nobody is publishing it. The latter is much more likely.

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  20. I LOVED The True Meaning of Smekday, and of course, Artemis Fowl. I've got Galaxy Games on my Kindle, on my to-read list, along with Jacob Wonderbar. My first novel is MG science fiction, so I'm glad to hear there's a place for it. Thanks so much for posting this series Susan.

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  21. *There's plenty of MG-SF that include strong girl characters*

    Susan, can either you or Greg name any? I'm having trouble finding comps (I know True Meaning of Smekday, and of course, A Wrinkle in Time) -- can anybody think of others?

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