Fiction with facts: how to use science to get kids into reading

Published on: 17 April 2018 Author: Christopher Edge

Let author Christopher Edge and others take your child on an adventure into science and fire up their imagination, too – all through the power of fiction. 

Did you know that your heart is the size of a clenched fist, or that the rhinoceros beetle can lift 850 times its body weight? Or how about the fact that everything in our universe is made of elementary particles, and that you yourself are just a collection of electrons and quarks stuck together with the help of gluons and photons?

All these amazing facts can be found in the pages of books, but these books aren’t necessarily found in the non-fiction section. I’ve taken these facts from the pages of children’s and Young Adult fiction: specifically Out of Heart by Irfan Master, Beetle Boy by M G Leonard, and my latest novel, The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day.

Golden age for children's books

I think the border between fact and fiction can be a porous one. Speaking at literary festivals about my novels The Many Worlds of Albie Bright and The Jamie Drake Equation, I’ve seen oceans of young eyes widen in wonder as I explain how many atoms are contained in a single full stop, and how a single photon of light will travel endlessly across the universe until the moment it is reflected or absorbed. And walking through a school library, I once saw a child laughing so hard while reading Dara O’Briain’s non-fiction book Beyond the Sky that he actually fell off his chair!

Many people say we’re currently living through a golden age of children’s literature, but I think it’s even truer to say that it’s a golden age for children’s books, with non-fiction that entertains and delights, whilst novels filled with adventure, mystery and suspense can be weaved from sparks of scientific wonder.

Novel as 'empathy machine'

The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day is a story about girl called Maisie who wakes up on the morning of her birthday to find her house is empty and outside the front door is nothing but a dense, terrifying blackness. And when this darkness starts to come inside, Maisie has to rely on her knowledge of the laws of the universe and the love of her family to save her.

We know that the novel is an empathy machine and, by including scientific ideas and theories in the stories I write, I’ve discovered I can reach children who might not have picked up a novel before. That’s not to say these children are reluctant readers, although equally they may be. These are readers who might be poring over the pages of National Geographic Kids magazine or building their own realities in Minecraft, but for them the fiction aisles of the bookshop and library might feel like half a universe away.

'Seek out wondrous things'

In a recent talk at the Royal Institution, science teacher and author Alom Shaha spoke about how science helps us to ‘seek out wondrous things’ and I think that’s what writers like myself, M G Leonard, Irfan Master and others are doing: we’re seeking out the wonder that is found in the universe and using this when we build our stories to light the blue touch paper of children’s imaginations.

Children's books help children to make sense of the world, provide a refuge from it and maybe, one day, inspire them to build a better one.

The Infinite Lives of Maisie Day by Christopher Edge (Nosy Crow) is out now.

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