Whatever happened to the good old days when TV heroes lived on space stations, literary families found wrinkles in time and our children's imaginations soared? Today's heroes tend to be more Spandex than space and more drama than dramatic. Living in a reality TV world makes it difficult for our children to see past the everyday workings of the world and to see the problems that need solutions. The solution to this problem? Raising sci-fi kids!

You don't need to buy stock in aluminum foil or start building a jetpack in your basement to raise Sci-Fi kids, and you certainly needn't expect your children to solve all the world's problems. But, by introducing them to a literary genre in which writers have consistently sought out unique answers to seemingly unsolvable issues, you can open up their minds and teach them the power of innovation.

"In order to survive and even thrive in a science-fiction world we need to think science-fictionally," says James Gunn, professor at the University of Kansas, science fiction author and director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction. "Which means," he continues, "to consider the impact on the future of current actions and policies, to contemplate alternative possibilities, to prepare ourselves to learn in a changing world--not simply master contemporary skills--and to realize that the one true thing one can say about the present is that it will be different."

Why does Gunn think we live in a science-fiction world? He points out that, like in many Sci-Fi books and movies, we are living on a planet with a quickly-changing climate and which is running low on resources, including fuel, unpolluted air and agriculturally-usable land. Sure, it sounds grim, but Gunn also points out that thinking "science-fictionally" has more than once changed the scope of the world and encouraged scientists to create or explore solutions once thought impossible. Take for example, the helicopter and the first expedition to the South Pole. Both of these amazing feats were credited to ideas inspired by reading the science-fiction of Jules Verne.

Want to encourage your child to think science-fictionally? Here are some classic Sci-Fi books to inspire your budding scientific inventor:

Grades PreK- 3

  • One Day, Daddy by Frances Thomas (Hyperion:2001). Little Monster ponders how to be an explorer and see the world while leaving Mommy and Daddy behind
  • Jumanji & Zathura by Chris Van Allsburg (Houghton Mifflin:1981,2002). In these two books, two sets of siblings find a board game that creates an entire new world for them to negotiate. In Jumanji it's a jungle, while in Zathura it's a purple planet. Both books have been made into movies.>
  • Baloney (Henry P.) by Jon Scieszka (Viking:2001). Alien Henry P. Baloney has to come up with a creative adventure to explain his tardiness to szkola and why he doens't have his zz zimulis for writing.
  • June 29, 1999 by David Weisner (Clarion:1995). When Holly sets her seedlings aloft with weather balloons, she just wants to see what the strange climates would do to them. She never knew they'd become huge and talked about everywhere!

Grades 4, 5 and 6

  • Tria and the Great Star Rescue by Rebecca Kraft Rector (Delacorte:2002) Tria, whose best friend is a hologram, finds herself Outside, away from her safe "pod" home. She needs to find a way to save the changing world and get back home.
  • Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix (Simon & Schuster, 1998) In a future in which the government only allows families to have two children, Luke is a third child. Though he's in hiding he finds other "thirds" and they find a way to fight against the governmental rule.

Middle and High School:

  • The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979). The classic tale of Arthur Dent's travels across the universe and the mishaps that occur along the way.
  • The Time Quartet (A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet & Many Waters) by Madeline L'Engle (1962-1986). Award-winning stories of the Murry family's attempt to save the world from evil with the help of Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which.
  • The Giver Trilogy by Lois Lowry (1993-2004). These three novels, including The Giver, Gathering Blue and Messenger tell, through the eyes of adolescents, of a future society where history isn't shared and people must meet certain specifications. The adolescents must relearn their history and remake the society before it dies out completely.

With your help, your Sci-Fi kid can see the world through different eyes, asking not "What happened here?" but "What could happen here?", "What effect will it have?" and "What else could the characters do?" While reading science-fiction with your child doesn't ensure his ability to change the world, it can help change the way he thinks about the world, expand his dreams of the future and give him the inspiration to pursue those dreams, however far-fetched they may seem. After all, as Ray Bradbury once said, "Anything you dream is fiction, and anything you accomplish is science, the whole history of mankind is nothing but science fiction."