Equipping Space Cadets
Primary Science Fiction for Young Children
A scholarly exploration of how children’s books embrace and wrestle with the science fiction genre
Winner of the 2023 Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA) Book Award
2022 Longlist Nominee for the Best Non-Fiction Award from the British Science Fiction Association
Equipping Space Cadets: Primary Science Fiction for Young Children argues for the benefits and potential of “primary science fiction,” or science fiction for children under twelve years old. Science fiction for children is often disregarded due to common misconceptions of childhood. When children are culturally portrayed as natural and simple, they seem like a poor audience for the complex scientific questions brought up by the best science fiction. The books and the children who read them tell another story.
Using three empirical studies and over 350 children’s books including If I Had a Robot Dog, Bugs in Space, and Commander Toad in Space, Equipping Space Cadets presents interdisciplinary evidence that science fiction and children are compatible after all. Primary science fiction literature includes many high-quality books that cleverly utilize the features of children’s literature formats in order to fit large science fiction questions into small packages. In the best of these books, authors make science fiction questions accessible and relevant to children of various reading levels and from diverse backgrounds and identities.
Equipping Space Cadets does not stop with literary analysis, but also presents the voices of real children and practitioners. The book features three studies: a survey of teachers and librarians, quantitative analysis of lending records from school libraries across the United States, and coded read-aloud sessions with elementary school students. The results reveal how children are interested in and capable of reading science fiction, but it is the adults, including the most well-intentioned librarians and teachers, who hinder children's engagement with the genre due to their own preconceptions about the genre and children.
"Equipping Space Cadets is a masterful exploration of the discussion of the field of children’s science fiction so far and a genuine intervention and challenge to untested hypotheses around children’s engagement with the genre. "- Farah Mendlesohn, author of Rhetorics of Fantasy and The Inter-Galactic Playground: A Critical Study of Children’s and Teens’ Science Fiction
"Starting from the history of both children's literature and science fiction, this title builds a compelling case for adult gatekeepers to reconsider any resistance they may have to the idea of science fiction for children. Midkiff emphasizes the speculative power of science fiction to support young readers as they develop their own reasoning skills, and she argues that children have the capacity to understand science and technology in their narratives and are eager to do so, despite the scarcity she identifies in genre titles geared at children. The work highlights over 350 children's books through three empirical studies. Even better, it presents the voices of real children and practitioners. Black-and-white images and over 21 charts break up the text. VERDICT A good choice for genre studies shelves."- School Library Journal