Four favourite books about aliens: lift-off to a love of reading!
Published on: 23 August 2023
Author N.S. Blackman shares four favourite books that are out of this world for middle-grade readers
Nothing beats a gripping space adventure, especially one that starts right here, right now, on Earth. And for some children sci-fi turns out to be the perfect launch-pad into a love of reading. For a year (or three), starting when I was nine, I was obsessed with stories about aliens: they turned bookshops and libraries into places of wonder. And they turned me into a story lover, a reader, and a writer.
The golden rule, for me, is that adventures should start in the here and now, in a world that seems all-too-familiar. Because we all want to imagine that extraordinary things can happen.
And the heroes of a good sci-fi story – like the 11-year-old friends Alicia and Col in my book Undercover Alien – should get to escape for a while, and see their world in a totally new way. Whatever troubles they are battling with in their normal lives – like trying to settle in at secondary school, like trying not to get picked-on by the in-crowd bullies – suddenly seem less important when they step through the door (entirely magical, but powered by yet-to-be discovered technology) into a much bigger universe.
Throw in some humour, some heroism, and some emotional depth, and this genre is perfect for readers who are ready to explore new worlds and new ideas.
"How To Be A Human" by Karen McCombie
How to be a Human is a lovely story about friendship and making connections. Wes is the new kid at Fairfield Academy, and so is obviously a target for the class bullies; Kiki, meanwhile, has found herself frozen-out after a series of all-too-familiar embarrassments (ever turned up to fancy dress party in glorious costume only to discover that it wasn’t a fancy dress party? Me too). The two of them encounter Star Boy (or Stan, as they decide to call him), a crash-landed alien who’s awaiting rescue in the school basement. Stan, it turns out, has been studying them, and the other ‘wildlife’ at the school. The three form an unlikely friendship – and the reader gets to enjoy that sense of escape, empowerment, and seeing the world in a fresh way through alien eyes.
"The Kid Who Came From Space" by Ros Welford
Middle-grade readers who’ve enjoyed Louis Sachar’s books should get on well with Ros Welford’s The Kid Who Came From Space. Again, this story transforms the everyday with the possibility extra-terrestrial adventure. Set in a Northumbrian village, the story features twelve-year-old Ethan, whose twin sister Tammy has gone missing. Ethan knows that she is being held captive by aliens, but if he reveals the truth, he might never see her again – so it’s down to him to rescue her. He has unexpected help from one of the aliens, an outsider in her own world who (unusually) can feel emotions and empathy. It’s a great concept, and the adventure is carried along with some well-timed twists and cliffhangers.
"Space Band" by Tom Fletcher
Can the worst band on Earth become the best band in the universe? That’s the great premise of Tom Fletcher’s Space Band. George, Neila and Bash are the worst band on Earth. George wants them to be brilliant, but Neila has stage fright, and Bash is distracted by his obsession with stars, aliens and faraway planets. They’re determined to blow their friends away at their school Battle of the Bands contest, and what they lack in talent and confidence they make up for in heart. But the moment they start to play, they’re beamed up into space.
Again, the problems of everyday life seem suddenly small. Readers will be carried along, as the young friends find themselves competing in an even bigger challenge: an intergalactic Battle of the Bands. Because if they don’t win, they might never make it home again...
"Space Boy" by Stephen McCranie
No list of sci-fi adventures would be complete without at least one graphic novel, and this one, by Stephen McCranie, is perfect for 11–14 year olds. It’s beautifully illustrated and that alone should immerse the reader in the world of the story.
I think there’s a real argument for short and pacy books for middle-grade readers – some children are put off by books that are too long. For similar reasons (and for readers who are perhaps reluctant or easily distracted), graphic novels like this can be a great way into fiction.
Space Boy is part of a series – a sci-fi drama of a high-school-aged girl who belongs in a different time, and a boy ‘possessed by emptiness as deep as space’. The protagonist is dropped into a new environment and has to learn to live anew. Her relentless optimism and kind heart are put to the test repeatedly, but she weathers the trials. Throw in an alien artifact, a mysterious murder, some political intrigue, and a love that crosses light years, and it’s perfect for the age group.
"Undercover Alien" by N.S. Blackman is out now.
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