Enabling Space Cadets: Quality Science Fiction for Children under 12 Years Old

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Enabling Space Cadets: Quality Science Fiction for Children under 12 Years Old

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In this dissertation, I challenge the dominant assumptions in science fiction and children’s literature criticism: that young children’s science fiction is exclusively poor quality, unwelcoming to girls, and lacking in diversity. Most of all, I refute the bias that children do not or cannot read science fiction before they reach 12 years of age. My results offer strong evidence in favor of the genre’s quality and potential. After developing a method for recognizing high quality science fiction for children under 12 that hinges on the power of pictures to scaffold an introduction to the genre, I used this method on over 200 books. I discovered more excellent science fiction picturebooks, comic books, graphic novels, and early readers than anticipated. In addition, I use STEM strategies and the literary theories of feminist science fiction, Afrofuturism, Indigenous Futurism, and Latin@futurism to examine the books for girl-friendliness and diversity. This method revealed that exemplar books are currently in circulation and also offered direction for future improvement of children’s science fiction and children’s literature in general. Other results demonstrate that children under 12 can and do read science fiction, though adult opinions of the genre require more attention. The children participating in the study show high competency in deciphering illustrations and comprehending complex science fiction picturebooks, while library circulation analysis demonstrates that science fiction has a surprisingly high and statistically significant readership among children in 5th grade and below. Meanwhile, the survey data from librarians and teachers indicates that they generally value the genre and include it in their classrooms and libraries, but will avoid using these books in large group settings due to several assumptions about their young readers. Unlike previous literary criticism implies, this case study describes a high quality, vibrant genre that young children read and understand. Since more work is needed to improve adult comfort with this genre in classrooms and libraries, this study opens a future arena for scholarship. Additionally, the research design demonstrates the benefits of merging literary analysis with interdisciplinary methods: a future for children’s literature studies overall.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2017. Major: Education, Curriculum and Instruction. Advisor: Marek Oziewicz. 1 computer file (PDF); vi, 177 pages.

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Midkiff, Emily. (2017). Enabling Space Cadets: Quality Science Fiction for Children under 12 Years Old. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy, https://hdl.handle.net/11299/206212.

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