SFF for a 10 year old boy
January 4, 2018 3:57 AM   Subscribe

What Science Fiction or Fantasy books would you recommend for a 10 year old boy?

My son likes to read, he's finishing the Harry Potter series (kind of bogged down in book 6), has read the whole Mythomania and Captain Underpants books, etc.
I'd like to turn him on to SFF, but I don't know if I should just get him the canon books (Dune, Foundation, the Culture, Pern, etc.), or if I should ease him into it with some more juvenile books.
What are your thoughts, experience and recommendations?
posted by signal to Writing & Language (52 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
If he's bogged down in HP I would probably look at YA SF/F rather than classic.

Among Others by Jo Walton is really good, more age-appropriate, and also references a hell of a lot of classic SF books, so that might be a way in if he likes that and wants to find out more about the books the protagonist reads and talks about.

(I remember reading Pern at about 12/13 and while that was my gateway drug it also has quite a bit of sex in it if I recall correctly and I was maybe a bit young for that at the time. YMMV. I'd also probably have never read SF again if I'd been given a Culture novel at that age.)
posted by corvine at 4:32 AM on January 4, 2018

I'd skip the "canon" entirely--looked at in a modern light, a lot of those books are skin-crawlingly racist, homophobic, rapey, and misogynistic, and they're written in a way that's not immediately accessible to the modern reader. My kid, who's fifteen now, looked at some of them (of their own accord) when they'd finished the HP series, and they were very turned off.

On the other hand, they devoured things like The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, The Hunger Games, and Graceling. There's a lot of fantastic YA and juvenile SFF out there--including graphic novels!--and it's probably worth taking him to the library or bookstore and then getting whatever appeals to him.
posted by mishafletch at 4:32 AM on January 4, 2018 [13 favorites]

I was obsessed with Daniel Pinkwater at that age. Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars is still one of my all time favorites.

I also love William Sleator, especially this weird book called Interstellar Pig.
posted by something something at 4:35 AM on January 4, 2018 [5 favorites]

Another great Sleator one: The Boy Who Reversed Himself.
posted by something something at 4:38 AM on January 4, 2018

What did he like about HP and the other books? I think it would be worth him having a think - did he especially like the school setting, with all the rules and the logical progression of stages? Or the vocabulary for magic? Or the pranks? Or the magical creatures?

Also, where is he at emotionally? Is he the kind of kid who is ready for not-too-traumatic adult books, or is he more likely to find them boring or upsetting? Did the deaths in HP upset him or did he take them in stride?

It's not that a kid should be protected from potentially upsetting books, but I think it's best if a kid encounters more of the upsetting kind on his own, when he's ready for them, and some textually accessible SF can be pretty upsetting.

I read a lot of canon when I was a kid, but I came to it myself - either because I had nothing else to read or because I was curious. mishafletch makes a good point - a lot of it is, even if progressive at the time kinda racist and sexist by modern standards, and it's almost all written for adults anyway. If he gets into SF, he'll probably read some cannon just to read it.

I think it's important that boys read books with girl heroes, but also boys are going to want some books boy heroes, and that's reasonable - I did a little google of "YA for boys" and that popped up some good lists (that included HP). Here is a list on Goodreads that looks pretty plausible.

My main reading was with girl heroes - Who Fears Death might be of interest, or other books by Okorafor.

If he likes the quality of coziness in HP, he might like China Mieville's UnLunDun or even Railsea (I love Railsea, but the prose has some YA-experimental qualities that not everyone gets into).
posted by Frowner at 4:52 AM on January 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

You haven't mentioned the His Dark Materials books - I'd definitely start there.

2nding Daniel Pinkwater. I love all the books in this collection, and I adore The Neddiad.

The How To Train Your Dragon books are a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed most of the books in the City of Ember series

Speaking of canon, 10 is perfect for A Wrinkle In Time.
posted by Mchelly at 4:54 AM on January 4, 2018 [6 favorites]

I loved Ender’s Game (and at least a couple of the sequels) at that age.
posted by Betelgeuse at 4:55 AM on January 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

My gateway drugs at age 8 or 9 were Ursula Le Guin and Alan Garner - both recommended by a very kind teacher. Then I went to the library and came back with armloads of Michael Moorcock. From there I found Mervyn Peake. I dipped into the canon, and liked Isaac Asimov well enough, but I find a lot of it (incl. the Culture) completely impenetrable even now.

That was a great route for me in the late 70s. Today, in a post-HP world, then Hunger Games and Philip Pullman would have to feature.

My 12yo daughter loves Diana Wynne Jones and Joan Aiken.
posted by rd45 at 4:56 AM on January 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

A Wrinkle in Time is about to be a movie, and will give you guys a perfect opportunity to talk about the ways they changed the story, whether he liked the book or movie better, what he would have done differently if he were the director, etc.
posted by phunniemee at 4:57 AM on January 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

Keeping in mind that I have no idea if I was actually 10 when I read these, don't know if you would define as SF and in order from most confident to least confident it will be age appropriate: Dealing with Dragons, Girl With the Silver Eyes, White Mountains trilogy, Watership Down.
posted by sacchan at 5:17 AM on January 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

A lot of good suggestions. I would also add the Artemis Fowl books, and maybe the Pendragon books.
posted by papayaninja at 5:24 AM on January 4, 2018

I LOVE Foundation, but I think it is a bit early to get him into that. He'd miss so much of what makes that series amazing. Maybe try other Asimov, like the whole Lucky Star series. Caves of Steel could be good as well.

Other books:
- The Crysalids
- Ringworld
- Rendezvous with Rama
- 2001: A Space Odyssey
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 5:27 AM on January 4, 2018

I read Diana Wynne-Jones in the past few years as an adult and wished I’d found them when I was the target age, because they’re terrific. I'd start with the Chrestomanci books or the Howl’s Moving Castle trilogy.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 5:29 AM on January 4, 2018 [7 favorites]

I don't know how they've aged (although they still seem to be considered classics), but around that age I adored Lloyd Alexander's Prydain series (five books, starting with The Book of Three).
posted by dfan at 6:20 AM on January 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

Ooooooh, I just thought:

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (Alan Garner, as recommended upthread) has the scariest going-through-caves sequence - scary because of the physical challenges more than because of gore or enemies. I re-read it just recently and it's still scary.

Does he like books that will have a lot of past-ness about them? If you don't like books set in sixties Britain, you won't like the Garner books - there are no cell phones, lots of bicycles, rural ways now gone, etc. For some kids that's great, but I've heard from others that it's just baffling and boring.

The Kingdom books by Cynthia Voight have a sort of timeless weirdness about them - Wings of A Falcon is an intense, intense book that would probably prove very gripping for a smart ten-year-old. They're books with a fundamentally tragic outlook in a smart but child-appropriate way, and they have a certain amount of swashbuckling.

Also, if he likes past-ness, he might like the John Bellairs books, like The House With A Clock In Its Walls - they're all set in the fifties, IIRC, and even as an adult they spook me. (I re-read them last year to take my mind off the election.)

When I was ten, I thought John Bellairs's The Face In The Frost was the funniest thing ever, and it's held up pretty well to re-readings over time. It is both funny and really eerie in parts, and has some great magic. There are these two old-guy magicians, and this scary book in an unreadable language, and things that are scary illusions...or are they?...and they escape from the guy's house by way of the root cellar and an underground stream and there's a shrunken boat and a troll and a windowscreen and transforming a squash into a sort of Amish carriage and weird dreams and a really scary scene of necromancy and a lot of sort of childish humor. It's a tremendously under-rated book, extremely inventive and silly while also creating a very strong atmosphere of magic and strangeness.
posted by Frowner at 6:21 AM on January 4, 2018

more fantasy oriented:
I read and liked the first few Narnia books in 4th and 5th grade.
I have a memory of a good impression of the first few Black Cauldron books as well, but don't really remember much of the story now (on preview 2nding dfan).
posted by ArgentCorvid at 6:22 AM on January 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Definitely Pratchett's YA stuff. Heck, the Discworld books should be fine too. (OK, yeah, there are references he'll miss.)

Maybe Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?

IIRC, 10 is about the age that I discovered The Hobbit and LotR.

The author of the Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne Collins, also wrote a trilogy about a boy named Gregor; that series is aimed at slightly younger kids than the Hunger Games. I know my son read and enjoyed them around that age. The first one is called Gregor the Overlander.

These might skew too young, but -- Redwall? The Warriors books?
posted by Janta at 6:22 AM on January 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

Also, do you have a big bookstore near you? When I was ten-ish, my family would always give me a gift certificate to Kroch's and Brentano's, a wonderful bookstore now long gone, and we'd go downtown and all browse around for what seemed like hours but was probably, like, forty minutes, until I'd figured out what I wanted to buy.
posted by Frowner at 6:29 AM on January 4, 2018

I came in to recommend Sleator like many of the early responders, but the one I loved was Singularity.

Also, don’t forget that you can ask your librarian in person or the New York Public Library via Twitter.
posted by Night_owl at 6:40 AM on January 4, 2018

Interstellar Pig
posted by PMdixon at 6:51 AM on January 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

Tamora Pierce! The Emelan books are for a slightly younger reader, maybe start with the Circle of Magic series (also kids in a type of magic school). I love the Tortall series as well, the first few books are for slightly younger kids but the later books do become more mature - probably not anything that someone who read HP can't handle, though. Ursula LeGuin is awesome too. As someone who's been reading SFF since younger than 10, I definitely agree with the above comment that a lot of the cannon is pretty bad by today's standards (Pern is SO RAPEY and I loved those books as a teen, but re-read them a few years ago.....ugh.)
posted by john_snow at 6:53 AM on January 4, 2018

I wouldn't buy him any books until you know what he wants to read next. Take him to the library and let/help him find a few books that seem interesting. Most of those will be series or prolific authors, so if he does like the ones he checks out, then you can buy him the rest.
posted by soelo at 7:12 AM on January 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

My main reading was with girl heroes - Who Fears Death might be of interest, or other books by Okorafor.

I read this two years ago. It's a powerful book, but has what I consider a lot of vivid rape in it. (Unless I am remembering a different book.)
posted by puddledork at 7:21 AM on January 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'd also push for Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, which I remember very fondly from when I was about that age.

My gateway drug, as it were, to science fiction, was Anne McCaffrey's Pern novels. I haven't reread any of them since about 2004 (because the Suck Fairy had visited most of them after I started to read more widely), but the Dragonsong / Dragonsinger / Dragondrums set hold up fairly well.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 7:31 AM on January 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper begins on Will Stanton's 11th birthday. I got them for my 11th birthday, and they remain some of my favorite fantasy ever.
posted by hydropsyche at 7:37 AM on January 4, 2018 [7 favorites]

My 10 year old son loved The Ranger's Apprentice series as well as Harry Potter.
He was meh on Ender's Game.
A Wizard of Earthsea might be good. One of my favorites at 11.
I love Mrs. Frisbee and the Rats of NIMH at age 9.
Squirrel Meets World (Squirrel Girl Novel) by Shannon Hale is most excellent.
I remember loving the Mathew Looney books at that age, but they're well out of print.
posted by plinth at 7:51 AM on January 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm a good 30 years from being a 10 year old but read a lot of fantasy books around then. Can't remember where they sat but my favorites around that time were:

The Belgariad Series by David Eddings
Sword of Shannara Series by Terry Brooks

Plus the aforementioned Pern, Narnia, Earthsea, and Wrinkle in Time books
posted by bitdamaged at 7:59 AM on January 4, 2018

I would set him loose on the youth science fiction and fantasy section at the library and read over the back covers/descriptions with him before checking out or ask a librarian.

Lloyd Alexander and Jane Yolen were the best kid SF for me (not quite young adult yet but still had intrigue, minor theft and language etc not sex) but there's a lot if new and great authors.
posted by typecloud at 8:01 AM on January 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh and there's an official Minecraft book out if he likes that (I would pre-read that for content as I am unsure of age appropriateness.)
posted by typecloud at 8:03 AM on January 4, 2018

If he likes the Harry Potter series, he would really enjoy its spiritual predecessor, Diane Duane's Young Wizards series, whose earliest book predates Harry Potter by about 12 or so years. She is up to 10 books. The books are great – they are a good hybrid of science fiction and fantasy (magic exists, but so do aliens, and magic can easily use tech to make things easier). Imagine if an American Latino Harry didn't live with abusive parents and he and Hermione were magical partners going about in the real world, needing to keep things undercover while solving problems that were a little too large for us Muggles.
posted by WCityMike at 8:10 AM on January 4, 2018

Thanks for all the great answers!
The library / bookstore idea is a non-starter as we live in Chile, and he reads mostly in English, so this is more for Amazon / Book Depository purchases.

Thanks all!
posted by signal at 8:23 AM on January 4, 2018

Another vote for Gregor the Overlander, and the Ranger's Apprentice series. Chris Colfer's Land of Stories is more mature and interesting than the covers suggest. I personally don't love Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series-- the language grates on me, but a lot of HP fans like them. I'm also not a big fan of the Unwanteds series, because the central conceit is even more brutal than most teen dystopian books, and that is really saying something. But a lot of HP fans like them. You can tell what is going on with The Unwanteds by downloading a sample chapter.
posted by BibiRose at 8:35 AM on January 4, 2018

I'm going to nth Pullman's His Dark Materials, but mostly only because I really really wish I had read it at his age instead of in high school (where I still loved it).
posted by supercres at 8:59 AM on January 4, 2018

If you google "what to read after Harry Potter", you will find a lot of lists, such as this one and this one.

I want to second mishafletch's comment to stay away from the "canon" and focus on contemporary middle-grade fantasy and SFF, because there is so much good stuff coming out these days.

My kid is now 12, and these are some series she has enjoyed:

Magisterium (Black/Clare)
Warriors by Erin Hunter
Guardians of Ga'Hoole (Lasky)
Artemis Fowl (Colfer)
Percy Jackson, Kane Chronicles, Magnus Chase series (Riordan)
Children of the Lamp (Kerr)
Bartimaeus trilogy and the Lockwood & Co. books (Stroud - these were a very big hit with my kid)
Leviathan trilogy (Westerfeld)
posted by mogget at 9:09 AM on January 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

My kid is into Harry Potter and also SUPER into the Wings of Fire series by Tui Sutherland.
posted by freezer cake at 9:21 AM on January 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

My 10 year old (girl) is currently devouring the Keeper of the Lost Cities series and thinks it's the best thing ever. I've not been very successful at getting her interested in the "canon" sci-fi I grew up with.
posted by snarfois at 9:28 AM on January 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Consider Star Diaries and The Cyberiad, two surprising collections of short stories combining humor and fantasy with serious ideas. (By Stanislaw Lem, one of serious science fiction's true masters.)
posted by lathrop at 10:26 AM on January 4, 2018

James Davis Nicoll regularly posts lists of "twenty core [topic] books every SF fan should have," probably created at least partially in response to the constant "50 best works of SF" lists that are heavy with white male European authors, some of whose works were groundbreaking at one time but have not aged well. ("But they're classics!")

He has a list of Twenty Core Young Adult Works of Speculative Fiction. I've only read a few of them, but would happily recommend the ones I recognize (Earthsea, Witch World, Lud-in-the-Mist, Little Fuzzy, a few others), and that leads me to think they're all worth reading.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:53 AM on January 4, 2018

Kind of off the beaten track these days, but what about the Oz books? If he's not interested in reading The Wizard of Oz, some other starting points are The Land of Oz, in which an Oz boy escapes from the witch who raised him and, with some enchanted friends that he brings to life, makes his way to the Emerald City (and - spoiler - ultimately turns out to have been enchanted by said witch and really be the long-lost rightful princess of Oz...), or Ozma of Oz, which mostly takes place in kingdoms outside of Oz and features Dorothy, Ozma (the hero/ine of the last book), and some really memorable friends and villains. Also a chicken.

If you're interested in graphic novels, there's Gunnerkrigg Court (available in hardcover but also fully readable online), which like HP takes place in a school that is more than just a school. It's much less Good vs Evil than HP; to the extent that there are two sides, they're the pro-science Court and the magic forest that the Court has been dramatically separated from. There's also the extremely British Bad Machinery, about a group of schoolkids who solve mysteries that generally involve some form of magic, aliens, time travel, etc. (My impression is that it's not written specifically for kids and it's about slightly older kids than your son (who also age over time), but I think it's still okay for his age. That said, the author intersperses the online comic with strips of chapters from other comics he writes about related adult characters, which can be confusing - so it might be better to order the books than to read online.)

All of these, especially the Oz books, have some really beautiful illustration (and humor).
posted by trig at 11:57 AM on January 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

Dealing with dragons by Patricia Wrede. As far as books by Nnedi Okorafor go, Akata Witch is Ya.
posted by azalea_chant at 12:26 PM on January 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

Seconding A Wrinkle in Time as well as the other books L'Engle has written in that series. I don't believe I was much older than 10 when I got into them, and if he's managed to get up to book 6 in Harry Potter, I can't imagine him having difficulty with them.
posted by Aleyn at 1:11 PM on January 4, 2018

Sabriel by Garth Nix.
Summer in Orcus by T. Kingfisher (aka Ursula Vernon). You can read it for free on her website.

Nthing Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, Diane Duane's Young Wizards, Diana Wynne Jones' everything.

Nthing the disrecommendations for "canon". I read a lot of Asimov and Heinlein books as a kid, and although I really loved the Robot novels, these authors did a lot to reinforce the misogynistic attitudes I was internalizing from everywhere else.
posted by henuani at 1:11 PM on January 4, 2018

The Redwall series, by Brian Jacques, at least the first three or four, before he started repeating the same format over. And over. And over.... (animal protagonists, fight Big Bad Mouse/Weasel/Stoat/whatever bad guy)

The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm, by Nancy Farmer. (brothers, sister protagonists in futuristic Zimbabwe, get kidnapped and have all kinds of adventures, meanwhile their parents hire detectives with strange abilities to find them.)

So You Want to Be a Wizard, Diane Duane. (teenaged boy and girl protagnonists, though I believe later she writes from the point of view of animal wizards, as well. Fight evil, restore balance to the world, etc.)

The Witch Saga, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (two girls for heros, up against Little Old Lady Bad Witch.)
posted by Crystal Fox at 2:08 PM on January 4, 2018

Enchantress from the Stars by Sylvia Engdahl is great starter sci-fi.

Also Nancy Farmer wrote some great kids sci-fi: I have a special place in my heart for The Ear, The Eye and The Arm (which was a soft welcome to 12-year-old weasel into Afrofuturism), but The House of the Scorpion is similarly great (I wasn't as fond of her vikings/celtic series that starts with Sea of Trolls). I also loved The Girl With Silver Eyes at that time.

Garth Nix's Abhorsen books (Sabriel/Lirael/Abhorsen was a trilogy that has recently been added to) are really great starter fantasy, but whether I'd recommend them depends if Kid had trouble with HP Book 6 because of language or because of scary and emotional stuff. Our heroes are necromancers, after all. He's got a younger series, The Keys to the Kingdom, which I've also heard great things about.

Nnedi Okorafor is great, but Who Fears Death is NOT for ten year olds. Akata Witch and Akata Warrior are better. Peter Beagle's Tamsin is really an unheralded fantasy classic.
posted by theweasel at 2:54 PM on January 4, 2018

In addition to A Wrinkle In Time, I loved The Forgotten Door by Alexander Key. Also, perhaps some of the Heinlein juveniles. Also, The Hobbit is really a children’s book, and I was only a couple years older when I discovered it and The Lord Of The Rings.

I was also very, very much into the Horatio Hornblower series in those years...a love which has never left me.
posted by lhauser at 7:08 PM on January 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

The library / bookstore idea is a non-starter as we live in Chile, and he reads mostly in English, so this is more for Amazon / Book Depository purchases.

Do you know about the Open Library??? If you have not please check it out! It's a gamechanger. You make an account (free) and if a book is available you can check it out and read online through a browser or download with some ebook readers. It's not exclusively old stuff. I guarantee some of these books mentioned are available. For example all the ones I recommended are available to check out! (Or place a hold)

Dealing with Dragons
The Girl With the Silver Eyes
The White Mountains
Watership Down
posted by sacchan at 7:29 PM on January 4, 2018

At ten, I devoured the Heinlein juveniles, like "Have Spacesuit Will Travel."
Hitchhiker's Guide (though I really fell in love with that series when I was 12 or so).
The Once and Future King.
A Wrinkle in Time.
Alan Dean Foster is a very prolific SF author, who sort of specialized in "novelizations" of movies, but he also wrote a lot of stuff for a youth audience.
The Oz books.
posted by ethical_caligula at 7:35 PM on January 4, 2018

Mercedes Lackey wrote about 50 billion Valdemar books. Some of them have male heroes, some female. Some are definitely young adult books, some are more adult. They're more mature than Redwall but I know I enjoyed them.

Pratchett, especially the YA books and the first dozen or so Discworlds.

Chrestomanci by Diana Wynne Jones is a series many people say influenced Harry Potter.
posted by irisclara at 7:39 PM on January 4, 2018

More recommendations on the fantasy side: anything by Michael Ende, probably most famous for The Neverending Story and Momo (the latter might be an easier read, though it takes a few chapters for the plot proper to start); The Thirteen Clocks, which has the benefit of wonderful illustrations and a very lyrical and funny prose style (it's by James Thurber, in a gentle mode); and Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, which is just a beautiful book about some consequences of a source of immortality in a mortal world.

Tuck Everlasting and Momo probably count as fairy-tale style speculative fiction.
posted by trig at 8:07 PM on January 4, 2018

Great suggestions by people.

I came here to pitch Jules Verne.

He's one of the fathers of SF, conjured up amazing things like submarines and solar sails, his adventures are insane fun, and reading him introduces some 19th century literature to the SF mix.

Seems to be misunderstood within the Anglophone world with some translations apparently doing a disservice to the reader (and author) so that might be something to be mindful of.
posted by mkdirusername at 4:37 AM on January 5, 2018

I'd personally err a little on the juvenile side for a 10 year old boy who likes Harry Potter and Captain Underpants

Many of these have been recommended above, but some excellent series:
- the Chrestomanci and Howl's Moving Castle series by Diana Wynne Jones
- Keys to the Kingdom, by Garth Nix
- Charlie Bone series, by Jenny Nimmo
- Dealing with Dragons and sequels by Patricia C. Wrede
- Circle of Magic series by Tamora Pierce
- The Prydain Chronicles, by Lloyd Alexander
- Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony Snicket
- the Bartimaeus trilogy and Lockwood & Co. series by Jonathan Stroud
- I've not personally read them but a lot of 5th grade boys seem to like the Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan

And some standalones:
- The Ear, The Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer
- The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman
- When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead
- Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine
- pretty much anything by Vivian Vande Velde
posted by staraling at 7:32 PM on January 5, 2018

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