Picture a mad scientist in your head. Got it? Now, here’s editor Corie Weaver explaining why that image should be a more diverse one, and how her 2017 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide anthology helps to make that possible.
Mad scientist should be an equal opportunity career.
I firmly believe this. So when a friend mentioned that she was having a hard time finding science fiction books for her aspiring mad scientist daughter, I figured she just wasn’t looking hard enough. (Sorry, Kim.)
How difficult could it be? She wanted a science fiction book for an eight year old, with a female main character and no romantic subplot. A Wrinkle in Time, The City of Ember, Zita the Spacegirl – there were certainly stories that fit the bill, but not as many as I expected or desired.
Where were all the SF books for girls? I got curious and started digging. According to a 2011 study of 6,000 children’s books, only 31 percent had central female characters, and even fewer featured main characters of color.* The odds, apparently, were against me.
All of this happened about the same time I became aware of the Sad Puppies and their, shall we say, issues. I honestly don’t know how to argue with adults who are so convinced of their position that they can’t see outside their own bubbles.
But I do know how to reach children.
What better way to ensure the bright future of the genre I love than to encourage more kids to read science fiction? And not just great science fiction, but diverse stories where everyone is welcome?
In 2014, we put out a call for submissions for the first Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide, an anthology of science fiction short stories for middle grade readers. We didn’t just want great stories. We wanted stories that showed the universe was big enough for everyone – that anyone can be a hero.
A wide variety of authors responded to the call, from relative newcomers to the field to award winners such as Beth Cato, Eric Choi, and Nancy Kress. Nancy has sent us a story for every year of the anthology, and as our author with the most time working in the genre, I couldn’t help but ask what had drawn her to the project.
She answered: “When I was a child, the school library had a Girls’ Section, which included fairy tales, and a Boys’ Section, which included all the science fiction. Things have changed, of course, but not enough. There is a strong need for science fiction, as opposed to fantasy, aimed at girls, especially in the middle grades. This anthology is an important contribution to the effort to fill that need, and I’m delighted to be a part of it.”
I think about how much things have changed. As a girl I read all the fantasy and science fiction I could get my hands on. The library wasn’t divided by gender. But stories I read then I’d be reluctant to pass off to a kid now, at least without some disclaimer, some explanation. “Things were different then,” I’d say. “You should come talk to me when you’re finished reading the story, and we’ll talk about how some attitudes have changed.”
Sally Ride, first American woman in space and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, famously said: “Young girls need to see role models in whatever careers they may choose, just so they can picture themselves doing those jobs someday. You can’t be what you can’t see.”
Girls need to read stories where any number of possible roles are modeled for them. Just as importantly, boys need to read stories where girls are active participants in adventures. And children of all colors and backgrounds need to know the future includes them.
Which means there needs to be space for those stories to be told. Every year we get a great mix of stories, and we comb through the submissions to try to make a perfect anthology to get kids hooked on science fiction. What’s it like to be a space station detective or reluctantly hold your society’s cultural knowledge for your return to Earth? What do you do when your robot gets you in trouble or when you’re homesick for Mars?
What we want, what all of our contributing authors want, is for all kids to be able to see themselves as active participants in the future.
The 2017 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide is the third year of our journey.
Science fiction is for everyone. Girls, boys, robots – everyone is welcome here.
* “Gender in Twentieth-Century Children’s Books: Patterns of Disparity in Titles and Central Characters.” (http://gas.sagepub.com/content/25/2/197.full.pdf+html) The results of the study are also discussed in this Guardian article: (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/may/06/gender-imbalance-children-s-literature)