July Dive | Genre Exploration! What Makes a Book Science Fiction?

octopusWe’re looking forward to spending time with you and some excellent science fiction this month! As you wrap your tentacles around our July selections you should ask yourself:

What makes a book science fiction? How do I know when a book fits this genre?

Fantasy has enjoyed recent space on the Middle Grade shelves and at times these two genres fit together hand-in-glove. Libraries fixed stickers on book spines that read “Sci Fi / Fantasy” (less common in area libraries of late). Earlier this year, Deep Blue Readers dove between the pages of Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quintet, which bear the traits of both: physics, biology, time and space travel, unicorns, mythology, and previously unknown (Aunt) Beasts.

Need a quick list of our July books? See the Dive Log. Continue below for descriptive info about each.

This month we’ve asked you to read Kate Messner’s Eye of the Storm plus choose at least one from the remaining list of titles found below. Bring us your opinions on Sunday, July 27 at Valley Bookseller — yes, about the books you’ve read, and also whether the extra title(s) you’ve chosen should accompany Eye of the Storm in the science fiction genre. There just may be a decoy among them!

Looking for criteria to help you decide? Explore these links that dive deeper into the characteristics of science fiction:

Our main July selection, Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner 

In the not-too-distant future, huge tornadoes and monster storms are a part of everyday life. Sent to spend the summer in the heart of storm country with her father in the special StormSafe community his company has developed, Jaden Meggs is excited to reconnect with her dad after he spent years researching storm technology in Russia. She’ll also be attending the exclusive summer science camp, Eye On Tomorrow, that her dad founded. There, Jaden meets Alex, a boy whose passion for science matches hers, and together they discover a horrible truth about her dad’s research that is putting countless lives at risk. As a massive tornado approaches, threatening to destroy everything in its path, Jaden is torn between loyalty to her dad and revealing his secret. 

  • School Library Journal reviews Eye of the Storm
  • VIDEO: Kate Messner delivers a TED talk on how to build a fictional world
  • Kate Messner discusses the tornado research she did when writing Eye of the Storm 

Your Choice #1: The Giver by Lois Lowry the giver

With a film adaptation arriving soon in theaters (August 2014), now is the time to read this 1994 Newbery Award winner before the movie intrudes on your impression of the book.

The first of Lowry’s Quartet, The Giver is recognized as a contemporary novel of deep literary significance, is among the most challenged books in the country, and appears on the NEA’s 2007 list of Teachers’  Top 100 Books for Children. Rather than offer any clues about the story, we are providing a rich assortment of links to conversation with the author herself.

Recent conversations with Lois Lowry in connection with the upcoming film:

  • Lowry describes the 19 year journey of bringing The Giver to the big screen – ReelLife with Jane
  • Lowry and producer / star Jeff Bridges appear at the President’s Program during ALA’s 2014 Annual Conference and Exhibition
  • Students asked Lowry questions about The Giver — book and film — at the Library of Congress

Your Choice #2: Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jonesjones-diana-wynne-dogsbody-2

Praised by Publishers Weekly as “among the most rewarding novels available for readers of all ages,”  Dogsbody weaves a tale of Sirius the Dog Star, sentenced to be reborn on Earth and undertake a difficult mission.

Though she never became the household name in the United States that J. K. Rowling did with the Harry Potter franchise, Ms. Jones’s work was especially relished by connoisseurs of the young-adult fantasy and science fiction genres. … Her protagonists were generally clever and curious children whose cleverness and curiosity became terrifically useful as they wended their way through convoluted adventures, mostly unaided by the adults in their lives, who routinely disappointed them.

– New York Times obituary for Diana Wynne Jones, 3/29/2011

  • “If I were not a writer, I would be a very miserable person.” – an interview with Diana Wynne Jones
  • Best selling authors offer remembrances of Diana Wynne Jones, who had profound impact on Maggie Stiefvater and personal friend Neil GaimanFrisbyUK

Your Choice #3: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien

School Library Journal names O’Brien’s 1972 Newbery Award winner Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH among the top 100 children’s novels. It appears on NPR’s list of ‘Must Reads For Kids 9-14’ and was adapted into an animated film by Don Bluth, which in turn won Best Animated Film from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films.

O’Brien was a pseudonym for Robert Conly, whose main career involved writing for National Geographic. The terms of his work arrangement meant he was prohibited from writing for other publishers; as a result, Robert C. O’Brien never appeared at book signings or conducted interviews about NIMH and Conly’s true identity only was revealed after his death in 1975.

  • Children’s Book Almanac provides a wonderful description of Robert C. O’Brien, nominating him as “patron saint of shy children’s book authors and illustrators “
  • The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction offers a brief author biography

Your Choice #4: I, Q: Independence Hall  by Roland Smithiq-independence-hall-jpg

Roland Smith is a former zookeeper and leading expert on red wolves as well as author of Journey of the Red Wolf; The Captain’s Dog: My Journey with the Lewis and Clark Tribe; and Thunder Cave, a 1996 Notable Children’s Trade Book in the field of Social Studies.

I, Q: Independence Hall is the first installment of this post 9/11 era series that reaches its conclusion in August 2014 with the release of I, Q: Alcatraz. Quest Munoz, known as Q, becomes stepbrother to Angela when their rockstar parents marry and immediately head on tour to promote an ascending-the-charts album. As their parents keep a whirlwind performance schedule, Q and Angela realize that someone sinister has tracked the family across the country, starting at the wedding. Mistaken identity, international intrigue, intelligence technology, and sleight-of-hand drive the roller-coaster action.

  • Character dossiers, magic tricks, conversation with the author, and the hit song by Match all are waiting at the I, Q website
  • See an official list of Roland Smith’s books to date

Still with us? Find other Middle Grade recs for the dedicated SciFi fan

  • NPR: Warp your kids’ minds with some great SciFi this holiday season (2013)
  • The Guardian: Readers answer the call to recommend science fiction for children (2012)
  • Online Colleges & Universities lists their 80 greatest science fiction books for kids
  • Scholastic provides online Story Starters for budding SciFi authors


  1. […] July Dive | Genre Exploration! What Makes a Book Science Fiction? […]

  2. […] in the meantime, curious divers can explore this School Library Journal review or see what July 2014 author Kate Messner has to […]