Follow-up To: On the Care and Feeding of Young Rationalists

Related on OB: Formative Youth

Eliezer suspects he may have chosen an altruistic life because of Thundercats.

Nominull thinks his path to truth-seeking might have been lit by Asimov's Robot stories.

PhilGoetz suggests that Ender's Game has warped the psyches of many intelligent people.

For good or ill, we seem to agree that fiction strongly influences the way we grow up, and the people we come to be.

So for those of us with the tremendous task of bringing new sentience into the world, it seems sensible to spend some time thinking about what fictions our charges will be exposed to.

The natural counter-part to this question is, of course, are there any particular fictions, or types of fiction, to which we should avoid exposing our children?

Again, this is a pattern we see more commonly in the religious community -- and the rest of us tend to look on and laugh at the prudery on display. Still, the general idea doesn't seem to be something we can reject out of hand. So far as we can tell, all (currently existing) minds are vulnerable to being hacked, young minds more than others. If we determine that a particular piece of fiction, or a particular kind of fiction, tends to reliably and destructively hack vulnerable minds, that seems a disproportionate consequence for pulling the wrong book off the shelf.

So, what books, what films, what stories would you say affected your childhood for the better?  What stories do you wish you had encountered earlier? If there are any members of the Bardic Conspiracy present, what sorts of stories should we start telling? Finally, what stories (if any) should young minds not encounter until they have developed some additional robustness?

ETA: If there are particular stories which you think the (adult) members of the community would benefit from, please feel free to share these as well.

ETA2: My wildly optimistic best-case scenario for this post would be someone actually writing a rationalist children's story in the comments thread.

ETA3: On second thought, this edit has become its own post.

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I recently re-read, and once again fell in love with, Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth.

The book is a funny, exciting, thoroughly enjoyable adventure story about the value of intellectual curiosity, and the vital importance of clear thinking.


One of my favorite setpieces is the moment when, driving along the coast, Milo and his two traveling companions each make an unsupported statement -- "nothing can possibly go wrong now," "we'll have plenty of time," "it couldn't be a nicer day". As each one speaks, he is ejected from the car, and lands (safely) on an island just off the shore, which we learn is called Conclusions -- you get there by jumping.

The Humbug attempts simply to jump back, but lands in the sand a few feet away -- the return trip is not so easy.

Milo and friends swim through the Sea of Knowledge to get back to their car, upon which Milo states "from now on I'm going to have a very good reason before I make up my mind about anything. You can lose too much time jumping to Conclusions".

The universe punishes you for using the wrong ritual of cognition, but not in the same way. In real life, it goes like:

Wrong ritual of cognition --> false belief --> bad decision --> bad outcome

In the Phantom tollbooth:

Wrong ritual of cognition --> ejected from car

This bothers me, because I don't want to teach people that certain modes of thinking are Good or Bad for intrinsic reasons, but rather for their instrumental value in making decisions.

It's being used as a teaching device to signal that there might be something wrong with that cognitive process.

If a child insists that leaping to conclusions is wrong because of The Phantom Tollbooth, then I'd agree that something is wrong. But it's a metaphor for the reality (it's harder to get out of a conclusion than to reach it, and jumping to it tends to retard your progress and keep you from your goals).

Metaphors are dangerous but incredibly valuable.

Prove it. I really doubt that. I think they're a highly ineffective teaching device relative to clean demonstrative thought-experiment parables. Analogies might be useful as scaffolding or a spec for learners to build to, but metaphors take it to a level of obfuscation that makes successful integration of the underlying principles of any given metaphorical package unlikely to ever occur.
Prove it. I don't think the use of metaphor to transmit principles has a sound cognitive basis. I propose metaphors fail to integrate with a person's knowledge base and their corresponding principles remain not latent but permanently inactive.
Dangit. Does this gravestone hang around forever? I was only going to rewrite it.
Refresh the page, a Delete button will show up.
No? It doesn't?
I believe how it works is that you can delete a retracted comment only if it has no replies.
... Irony.
You missed one.
I would have tried to coordinate with linkhyrule5 to delete our replies if a third person hadn't gotten involved..
OK let's retract our comments here and see if the tree gets pruned.
I think you can delete things, yes. Testing with this post.

But there's something about being whisked off to the Island of Conclusions that might fix the idea in your mind.

Of course, this reflects the observation that both Hanson and I make of fiction - that it amounts to trusting the author to pick the right things to emphasize. But The Phantom Tollbooth did. And c'mon, these are children's books we're talking about.

5Eliezer Yudkowsky
I read a couple of excerpts from Phantom Tollbooth in my Childcraft books - the part about the Mathemagician looking for the "biggest number" and so on - this would have been at around age 5 or so - and that was probably one of the first pushes in my life toward mathematics.
I think I read exactly the same excerpt -- that was my first contact with the novel. If memory serves it was in a world book children's set of encyclopedias, in the math volume. It was heady stuff for a seven-year-old, and I loved it.
I'm remembering a passage in Childcraft about eating soup made of negative numbers that made you hungrier.
That section comes from the part where Milo and his companions arrive in the Number Mines and are completely famished because they've been travelling all day. They eat and eat but never get full. Eventually, the Dodecahedron helpfully tells them that they've been eating Subtraction Stew because it's perfectly logical that you'd start off full and eat until you're hungry.
Ditto. Verbatim (except maybe around age 8 instead of 5).
I read The Phantom Tollbooth as a 10-year-old, and thoroughly enjoyed it, but all such lessons went over my head at the time.
Yes, but how likely is it that the memory of the story produced even a tiny amount of negative affect when a person, an idea, or even a thought you were about to think reminded you of one of the Demons of Ignorance?
Unlikely. I really didn't think about stories on an abstract level back then, and "Demons of Ignorance" doesn't ring a bell now as being part of the story.

I think there is a tremendous opportunity for a skilled and experienced fiction writer who is very well versed (or who wants to become very well versed) with OB/LW topics to write children's fiction for infants and up that is strongly informed by OB/LW topics.

It would require incredible skill to be able to sneak those topics in unobtrusively and make the stories as fun and interesting as the ones we had read to us as children, to have the underlying lessons be learned without ever being explicitly discussed, but the payoff would be huge in terms of the effect on developing minds.

Imagine a world in which 8-year olds grok things like confirmation bias and the base-rate fallacy on an intuitive level because they are reminded of their favorite childhood stories and the lessons they internalized after having the story read to them again and again. What a wonderful foundation to build upon.

I seem to be way too late for anyone to be interested, but I just wanted to put something out there when it comes to good fiction for kids. Most people here seem to be talking about books, so I wanted to mention a TV show - Avatar: The Last Airbender. It's not perfectly rational (they play the "everything is connected" card a couple of times) but it's really good about passing down smart morals. It both encourages altruism and discourages stupid ways of trying to be altruistic - characters like Sokka emphasize the importance of having a plan and being smart about your strategies. The most important thing, though, is that people learn from their mistakes in that show. Not in the sense of most cartoons, where they declare something like "In this episode, I learned that it is wrong to steal!" and then promptly forget about it the next episode, but in the sense of really questioning deeply held beliefs and prejudices. Plus it's action-packed, fun, and interesting, and remains interesting even for adults.


My recommendations (in no particular preference order):

1.) "Momo", by Michael Ende. Like another commenter, I wish I'd read this one younger.

2.) "The Neverending Story", also by Michael Ende. The novel (which was originally written in German, but the English translation I have seems decent enough) is far more complex and interesting than the movie, and I suspect a fair number of people on here would find the "world-building" sequences quite compelling. There's a lot in the novel (again, which doesn't translate through to the movie) that goes deeply into questions of what it actually means to be happy, how one might actually make others happy, and what the consequences (both positive and negative) can be of enacting wishes.

3.) The "His Dark Materials" trilogy. Yet another one I wish I'd read when younger (I actually only read these recently).

4.) "A Wrinkle in Time" (along with "A Wind In The Door" and "A Swiftly Tilting Planet"), by Madeleine L'Engle. These I did read as a youngster, and while they do occasionally invoke a certain amount of Christian imagery, it's not nearly as heavy-handedly done as it is in, say... (read more)

I enthusiastically second #1 & #2 above. The very best part of Ende's fiction, in my opinion, is his examination of the difference between belief and knowledge. Bastian believes that all sorts of things are good and desirable, but when he enacts his will, he finds that he does nothing but harm. The theme of skepticism - especially skepticism about what is good, evil, and necessary - is immensely important, and it's one of the key themes of The Neverending Story.

The World of Null-A by Van Vogt may or may not have played a role in setting up the meme in my mind, "Rationalists ought to have superpowers, damn it!"

Also Isaac Asimov's original Foundation trilogy.

Scooby-Doo seems like it theoretically ought to help. Every single episode, the supernaturalists are idiots, there's a rational explanation. But it's not something I remember as having had any influence on me.

I wonder what happens if an eleven-year-old watches Death Note. It's not a children's story, but if you want the battle of the dueling supergeniuses...

I'm fairly sure that I would have identified very strongly with Light if I saw it at eleven. On the other hand, at eight I would have identified with L, and now I identify with N, who reminds me of my eight year old self. Anyhow, the moral of Death Note is "If we catch Kira, he is evil. If he rules the world, he is justice." So, it's useful as an example of confusing P(A|X) with P(X|A): rationalists should win, and "therefore" winners are rational. ETA: That "being rational" equals "being justice" is Light's (and L's) conception, not mine. The creator of DN believes that almost every character in it is immoral.
If I recall correctly, they've stated that Light's father is the only truly moral character. Also, I suspect many intelligent people went through a Light Yagami stage when they were 11 -- I know I did.

Pippi Longstocking. It's about a little girl who lives by herself and doesn't go to school and tells all the authority figures to shove it. I've managed to get through 90% of life, both as a child and an adult, basically living by these principles.

A kid's natural reaction to a parent hiding texts is to find them and read them and pay special attention. I don't think hiding the texts more carefully, or telling the kid straight out "You may not read these books until you're older." achieves substantively different results.

f there are "dangerous books", you should read them with the kid. Make your own emotional reactions and counterarguments visible. If you've acquired some immunity to these texts, the right thing to do is attempt to communicate the immunity, not to introduce some kind of censorship.

If you want to stop someone from reading a book, there's generally better ways than telling them not to do it. That aside, kids can be surprisingly dumb, I wouldn't rely on them reaching the right conclusions even with assistance.
What are the "better ways" that you allude to? Unless you plan to be around to correct them forever, I think there's a point when you do have to trust the next generation.
For the majority of kids, the best way to stop them from reading a book is simply to leave it on a bookshelf and not mention it.
Or better yet, just don't keep it anywhere visibly in the house. If you need it for something, keep it on the shelf in your locked study, amongst a whole bunch of other books. In general, just remove it from their attention as much as possible, bot physically and psychologically.
I suspect this is rather less likely to be effective when you're raising a kid who you actively encourage to be intellectually curious.
To provide some anecdotal evidence, my parents encouraged me to be intellectually curious, and they left plenty of their books in open sight, but I had plenty of books of my own that looked much more interesting than theirs.
My parents also encouraged me to be intellectually curious, and left all of our large number of books in open sight, and I suspect that some of the things I read when I was young probably would have distressed them. If not the books about child development and adolescent behavior and so on, then probably things like this book which I read when I was fourteen, which, had it had to clear any sort of ratings system, would probably have been rated X even if all the content of a sexual nature had been excised.
It shouldn't be on the bookshelf in the first place.
Parents are dumb.
I agree completely with this position. However, since I expected it to be the position of many here, I wanted to ensure that the alternative was at least available for commenters to attack and defend.

I wish I had read Momo by Michael Ende as a child instead of at age twenty. I think it has good messages about listening and quality of life.

However, I think the winning strategy - if you can devote enough time to it or are willing to trust your kids enough to let them do it themselves - is to just saturate children with stories of every kind from every source. Almost any story has things you really wouldn't want to take to heart and most of them have at least a few good things to be taken from them (even if it's "look, the author wants to promote X... (read more)

If you haven't yet, you might want to check out The West Wing -- Aaron Sorkin's a brilliant dramatist.
Joss Whedon!

Cimorene is a rationalist protagonist. The Enchanted Forest Chronicles is good for kids.

:D! I intend to name my firstborn daughter Cimorene.
Cimorene did some clever stuff, but my most pronounced memory about the books is frustration with the antagonists. The antagonists are mostly the wizards, whose magical abilities are not only immoral, causing low level destruction everywhere they go by draining magic from their surroundings, but intrinsically sucky. The wizards' powers are overshadowed by pretty much every other sort of magic user, and they can be melted with soapy lemon water, or by pointing at them and saying the right word. Although the series wasn't a work of fanfiction, I felt like it suffered from arming the protagonists with lightsabers, but failing to give the antagonists a Death Star.
I'm not sure where you're getting this. Antorell in particular is pretty incompetent, but this is the case even relative to other wizards; he just happens to recur a lot. The wizards are able to assassinate a king (with help), kidnap a subsequent king, and then ultimately create a large long-term problem for a third king and his family. They're effective at causing trouble, they just don't win in the end. In a kids'-book sort of way, they fail in straightforward and sometimes almost cartoony ways without trying things an evil villain in an adult's book would with their powers, but this doesn't mean that they aren't powerful, it means that they aren't being discussed in a context where they can press the advantage. The word didn't work to start out. That was the more portable alternative to the buckets of water that had to be developed deliberately by Telemain; wizards aren't just inherently vulnerable to the word "argelfraster". I don't think the protagonists are overpowered except maybe Mendanbar (and his book has his magic sword on the fritz for most of the action anyway). By and large they solve their problems by thinking about their resources, going to the correct places, and confronting the bad guys, not by just having ultra-powerful weapons. (Heck, Cimorene got a wish from a genie in book one and used it to get a spell ingredient instead of, like, omnipotence.)
They are effective at causing trouble, but they manage to do so despite being pretty heavily disadvantaged magic-wise compared to the protagonists. Zemenar was supposedly a very exceptional wizard, but when he actually takes the stage his abilities never seem particularly impressive. When I first read the first book, I was expecting him to turn out to be subservient to some Bigger Bad, because he just didn't seem as threatening as I expected from a primary antagonist. There are certainly stories with villains who accomplish less. In plenty of kids' media, the antagonists will be implicitly very powerful, but never accomplish much at all. But in the Enchanted Forest series, I felt like it was the reverse, that pretty much everything the wizards pulled off, they did with the odds stacked against them. Even so, I felt like weaknesses of that magnitude really served to trivialize them as antagonists. The fact that they could be defeated with water with lemon and soap was already a demeaning vulnerability which took away a lot of the tension from any encounters with them. I thought that it would have improved their stock as villains if they researched some defense, and at a critical point where the protagonists tried to melt them with water, they revealed, "Hah, that will never work again!" But instead, the protagonists acquired an even more convenient method to defeat them, while the wizards retained their old vulnerability. I liked the protagonists, but I got the impression that Patricia Wrede didn't like her own antagonists; it wasn't enough for them to lose, they had to be demeaned and trodden on.

I loved Sherlock Holmes stories from about the age of seven, and liked Jonathon Creek when I was a teenager. These days I like House. The idea of super-rationalists solving problems no normal human can solve is fun and I guess, vaguely inspiring. It's also entertaining to try to guess the solution before the end, and criticise that solution when it comes.


I've read a lot, so it's hard to say specifically what fiction had a lasting impact. I will point to Ultima IV, though; I played through the NES version with the help of Nintendo Power magazine. It's a very unusual game compared to the standard RPG plot. Instead of there being some world-threatening crisis with some BigBad to defeat, the game's goal is to become a moral person and serve as an example for others to follow.

I learned about work from Dilbert, which, as everyone knows, is not a satire, but a documentary.

The first two, and only the first ... (read more)

Goodkind is NOT for kids, unless you want them to have nightmares about Mord-Sith until three years after puberty.

Terry Pratchett works, though. I can't really see a kid ever getting religion after that.

I would agree in principle -- Pratchett's work is a remarkably good illustration of what the world would look like if supernaturalist thinking made a scrap of sense -- except that the most enthusiastic Pratchett fan I ever met was (unfortunately for me) also a devout theist. I think I have ceased to be surprised at the ability of intelligent people to compartmentalize.

My parents also read Pratchett. My little brother did too. You'd just have to get the Pratchett books before you got religion, and then, I think, it would act as a pretty powerful vaccine. At least it seems like it ought to...

Agreed on Goodkind not being for kids. Anyone else here read the "His Dark Materials" series by Philip Pullman?
I found that pretty relentlessly downbeat. It attacks organized religion but gives a free pass to supernaturalism. I didn't approve.
While it does invoke certain supernatural elements I would disagree that this makes them less rational. Angels exist, but are fallible, mortal and material creatures composed of Dust. Dust itself is a fundamental particle with known and predictable behaviors, though admittedly ones that are somewhat implausible. The biggest leap is the world of the dead in the final book, but I found it a very good description of how awful an afterlife would actually be, and the problems with an all powerful god figure. In terms of rationalist virtues, the children succeed by being self reliant and intelligent, and it avoids the heavy handed morality of most YA fiction (for example the main character is a skilled liar, and thats seen as a good thing when used well).
It kind of goes in the opposite direction, to the point where I find it jarring. "The boy is a murderer." "Oh, that means I should trust him." Buh?
Not until adulthood, sadly. It's a shame, because I liked the Narnia books (and was proud of myself for picking up on the Christian symbolism without prompting, before I knew anything else about C.S. Lewis); I could have really used Pullman.
Goodkind is indeed not for kids. I'd say that the series is worthwhile through book 4 or even 5 (though book 3 is a lowpoint), though not for the weak-stomached. It picks up again around book 9 or 10, but the few thousand pages between them is mostly not worth it.
Definitely. Amazingly insightful.

I'll also cast my vote for most hard sci-fi. My exceptionally fundamentalist parents tried to keep me from reading fiction of any sort, particularly sci-fi and fantasy. Once I managed to get my own library card it was all over pretty quickly. In particular I recall being impressed by Heinlein's protagonist's stubborn individualism and resistance to dogma.

The early works of Diane Duane are excellent; most especially, the first two volumes of her Young Wizards series, and to a lesser degree the third.

They're all about dealing with pain without letting it warp or twist your spirit. (Yes, I know that's a vague encomium, but I don't know how to explain it any better.)

The later books 'wimp out' in my opinion, written mostly because the author needed to make money, and so the inherent message is changed from a challenging to a comforting one.

I'll check them out.
Diane Duane also wrote Star Trek novels I'd recommend for children. Her novels The Wounded Sky and Spock's World introduced me to extropianism.
I remember those! I read those when I was about 12 years old, and absolutely loved them. My school library only had up to book 3. I remember being quite disappointed.


Many of the Grimm brothers' tales are horrifying. They're part of a pre-WW2 German culture that sought to control children through fear. I'd be careful. What you get behind a cover that says "Grimm Brothers" varies widely.
My childhood copy has some stories marked with "TOO GORY" in my dad's handwriting. I'm not clear on what messages I learned from Grimm - one could get anything from "women are prizes to be awarded to heroes" to "be kind to old people" to "trickery gets you what you want."

Non-fiction but the book that I wish I had read earlier is Engines of Creation by Eric Drexler. The most optimistic account of the future I have ever read. If you are ever feeling down, seriously down, you should read that book before doing anything drastic.

I'm all for optimism. Something worth fighting for.

I was read the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy as a bedtime story, I suspect that affected me fairly profoundly. Later I read Animorphs obsessively, not sure what affect that had

Animorphs is a good one. I read those (or most of them) between the ages of 10 and 13, and I think it was one of my first introductions to the idea that alien biology would be really, really weird. It also impressed me with the lesson that "When the fate of the world is at stake, you have to be willing to do whatever it takes." In the series this extended to things like killing innocents, giving up on family members, and a bunch of other things that characters of lesser series would swear never to do, and then be repeatedly vindicated for against all logic.

Short Story: "Margin of Profit" by Poul Anderson, along with most of the other Van Rijn / Falkayn stories (also liked "The Man who Counts"). I read them at age 14 or so, but good at any age. Fun, space adventure, puzzle/mystery. Heroes use logic and economic reasoning instead of brute force to solve "standard" space adventure problems. A great deal of humor also.



By the early teens I would think that most of the battle has been won or lost. I recall that in my early teens I picked up Ayn Rand's Fountainhead. My father wanted to stop me, but his concern was unnecessary - I put it down again soon. My mind already had built up defenses against poisoned data.
6Eliezer Yudkowsky
I had a similar experience with Atlas Shrugged. My parents saw me reading it and warned me, but I laughed and said, "Thanks for worrying, but I'm not going to fall for a trap that obvious."
And yet you trended libertarian for quite a while. Were you already doing so at the time?
I suspect that people who become libertarians because of Ayn Rand represent a distinct empirical cluster from people who become libertarians for other reasons.
0Eliezer Yudkowsky
Yes, due to my father's influence and a book called The Incredible Bread Machine.
I actually found that if you read Fountainhead first, then Atlas Shrugged is really bad by comparison. Fountainhead is a lot more exploratory? "I will postulate the existence of this dude; what is he like?" Meanwhile Atlas Shrugged turns into YOU ARE EITHER AWESOME LIKE THIS OR NOT AND THAT IS HOW THE WORLD WORKS, PERIOD. When it really obviously doesn't. =/

Good idea. You go first.

In high school, I really liked "The Bridge over the River Kwai" by Pierre Boulle because there were no good guys or bad guys. One-sided stories (Heinlein) are kind of sickening in comparison.

"Les fourmis" of Bernard Werber was my first book, and one that got me thinking. Lots of philosophical ideas exposed in it, though just as well as a lot of mysticism.

But nevertheless, that was the first time someone got me to think about such things as the simulation argument, by making his characters observe a simulated universe, and then wonder if they themselves were simulated, or even the characters of a story ... which they were. I mean, I'd usually not really think about such an idea, I'd just dismiss it offhand without even a second thought or noticing that I had. This hooked me.

Charles McNicholls, Crazy Weather. A great novel. About cultural clashes and cultural identity. Depicts some southwest native American cultures in a way that is sympathetic, yet upfront about the centrality of violence to those cultures. Provides a counter-intuitive lesson on the dangers to an individual of multiculturalism: The main character's problem is that he understands two different cultures too well to fit in to either of them.


(Guesswork based on feelings and handwaving; discount appropriately.) I am more worried by the unstated or mostly-unstated assumptions of children's stories than I am by what they say clearly and explicitly. I have three reasons (or rationalizations) for this. (1) If something's explicit, then it's easier to talk about it, to say "this is probably wrong", etc. (2) Fiction is usually more explicit about differences from the real world, presumably partly for reasons of parsimony, so readers are used to assuming background stuff as fact. (3) When something is stated explicitly, you are more likely to notice its odd features than if it's just left fuzzily in the background.

I think I see what you mean, but would you be willing to provide an example?
Consider, e.g., books in which magical things go on. Narnia or Harry Potter, say. I wouldn't worry much about children becoming serious believers in magic as a result of reading such books, or actually expecting that if they crawl into a wardrobe they might find themselves in another world. On the other hand, in such stories it's usually true on some level that Good Always Wins In The End, or that Love Conquers All (for some notion of "love", usually not the same one as in escapist material for adults), and I think children are more likely to absorb that sort of idea uncritically.
Actually, while I like HP, the thing I found most disturbing in the series was the whole "hey, it's okay to mindwipe muggles to hide ourselves. No real moral issue with raping someone's mind for our own convenience..."
It's a matter of least-harm. Keeping magic away from Muggle view is the best way. When that fails, a minor deletion of memory is a lesser but acceptable option. What other options are there? Killing the Muggle? Kidnapping them and never letting them have contact with 'normal' human society? Removing the memory only of the incident isn't a bad alternative. Yes, the technique could certainly be abused. But the way it's being applied isn't particularly objectionable. It certainly shouldn't be the first line of defense, but it isn't being treated that way.

One could always, well, NOT keep magic a secret.

If there is no better way to protect yourself then I'm totally in favour!
Well yes - that's the point of fiction, it's an ingredient of the miracle by which civilization is built from killer apes.
Could you be more specific about what particular feature you're saying is the point of fiction?
I believe he's implying that fiction can convince us that Good Always Wins In The End, or that Love Conquers All, and that, to some extent, these beliefs become self-fulfilling.
Harry Potter. I've seen the outcry of churces against the book and they have good reason to be scared.

Borderline case here (mostly because of tone), but in some ways Puella Magi Madoka Magica would be great. PMMM isn't a world where you can win just by being hopeful, or having friends, or being dedicated, or what-have-you - things don't work out unless they would really work. And not asking the right questions - or allowing yourself to be led to false conclusions - has very, very nasty consequences.

Of course, I'm not entirely sure I would show that to anyone under the age of 12, and I'd want to be careful about how I dealt with Kyubey's morality afterwards...

Welcome to the Ark has a little bit of a "genius kids" plot device that has the potential to turn porny, but it has a really nuanced treatment of what genius kids should do in the world. At least, compared to other literature targeted at this age group, who are usually just fighting an evil bad guy.

I also have fuzzy but weirdly fond memories of The Chocolate War. Mostly, I remember thinking it was complicated and having to reread it a few years later.

Just stumbled across this post from 2009, and since then I think the Hunger Games series needs to be added to the list.

I haven't read any of the Hunger Games books, but I'm under the impression that they're a less-dark version of Battle Royale. Is this right?
The entirety of Hunger Games (1) is built around the premise of Battle Royale, but it only follows the one protagonist in the first game. That being said, if you read the entire Hunger Games trilogy, there's more political stuff going on. It's really a revolution book about not trusting people in power and stuff like that. So there's more to the series than the premise that book 1 is built around. I also think the Hunger Games trilogy is a good counterweight to the Twilight books, if you think about what kids are growing up with right now, because it has a bit of a similar structure on its surface. But, no, you don't need a vampire boyfriend. Also, it's possible to have complicated and not-necessarily-romantic feelings for two boys at the same time because boys are people.
Gale hardly counts as a person.
He definitely isn't in the first book, but he gets person-ier in the sequels. And he is still bettarrr than Edwarrrdd. Or that other dude. Also! I can have a complicated relationship with a non-person! I think? Like a pet ... turtle?
You can certainly have a relationship with a non-person, but I think that having a complicated one is likely to imply something worrying.
I haven't actually had these pets, but if you imagine having a pet turtle and a pet chinchilla at the same time, then the chinchilla will probably get more attention because chinchillas require more care. And they're also cuter and fluffier and probably more lively. But the turtle might still need attention or do cute things once in a while and you might think "aww, I should show you more attention" and you won't want to give the turtle away, but you might not spend that much time with it either? Or get frustrated that it's stupid and poops in the wrong place and is boring. And I guess you can argue that this is all in my mind and not based on anything the turtle directly wants from me, but I feel like those things factor into our interaction anyway, because they change my behavior? Because the turtle can't tell me it doesn't want these things either. "Dude, don't worry about it. Just feed me and stuff." I guess it says a lot about me that my first example of a complicated relationship is basically just a lot of guilt. Oops.
My little sister just got a copy and offered to lend it to me; is it worth reading?
It depends on what you mean by "worth reading". As an adult I doubt it will change your life or give you new insights to anything (depending on your sister's age, it might give her new insights), but it is pretty entertaining. I really enjoyed reading it, but that shouldn't mean much to you personally, since you don't know if you agree with my tastes in general or not. So if it helps, other YA I also enjoy: Neil Gaiman, His Dark Materials, Discworld Popular YA I dislike: Narnia, Eragon, never been a huge LoTR or Dragonlance fan. So if you agree with my likes/dislikes, I would say the probability of you also liking Hunger Games is pretty high. Amazon has the first book rated at 4.5 stars, and the last book at 3.5 stars. I would actually say that the third book is where a lot of the lessons come in, and people rate it lower because it's not the happy ending they want: (This isn't hugely spoiler-ific, but I rot13'd it just in case you want absolutely no expectations going in. ) Gur znva punenpgref ner genhzngvmrq naq fhssrevat sebz CGFQ, jr svaq bhg gur "tbbq thlf" va gur jne pna or whfg nf urvabhf nf gubfr gurl'er svtugvat, naq gur cebgntbavfg cerggl zhpu tvirf hc nyy nhgbabzl va ure yvsr. Some ideas- The winners make history, power of the media to control and tame masses, bystander effect, even the "good side" can be bad, think for yourself, authority isn't always right.
Our YA tastes are fairly similar, but I actually meant, from a LW sort of standpoint, will I find any good quotes or lessons, any interesting problems or dilemmas, that sort of thing? From the sound of your 'Some ideas', it sounds fairly ordinary liberalism (in the old Enlightenment and 1984 sense).
If I'd read them as a kid, I think it would have had a big impact (which my current self would consider to be positive), especially the last book. As an adult, I think the thing to admire is that the author didn't chicken out in the ending of the 3rd book.
Like I said, nothing that you as an adult would find new, but "fairly ordinary [Enlightenment/ old] liberalism" is a pretty good stepping stone to rationality (How can you rationally question beliefs if an authority always has the answers?). And what kid these days wants to read 1984? (Note: I personally enjoyed 1984, but I doubt that would have been my reading material of choice when I was 12.) If you want to get the basic idea, here's the movie trailer
You might be surprised. When I was a kid of about 12 or 13, one of my friends described a book she'd read lately that she'd found really interesting. It wasn't until several years later when I read it myself that I realized the book she had been talking about was 1984. In fact, the most gruesome and disturbing book I can ever recall reading was one that I picked up after my 12 year old sister was finished with it.
Which one was this?
The Visitor, by Sheri S. Tepper. It was a post apocalyptic sci fi/fantasy novel which explored a few rather interesting philosophical concepts (although it's been so long since I've read it that I can only remember the context in which they were addressed in the vaguest terms,) but some of the content skirts close to torture porn.
Honest question as to why the down-voting? The OP asked for stories that could be positive for young adults/kids. One of the original examples included Thundercats.
Not sure, maybe something to do with: ...which was true given my background but quite possibly not for those with a less fundamentalist upbringing.
Hmm, thank you. I edited it to "fairly ordinary [Enlightenment/old] liberalism" to show that we aren't talking about modern "liberal" views (pro-choice, lgbt rights, etc), but even that is probably not right... Honestly, I did not really know what was meant by "Enlightenment liberalism", but since it was used as a term to talk about the themes I mentioned, specifically: I assumed that that was what Enlightenment liberalism was. But from wikipedia-ing, it seems like the closest thing is Classical Liberalism, which is about the rights and freedoms of the governed. So honestly, I don't think I really understand this term as it is being used in the conversation, and have probably used it incorrectly. I apologize, and thanks for the info.
Seriously??? My post asking for honest feedback as to why I got downvoted, itself got downvoted? Am I doing something completely wrong here?
As I've said before, there are hundreds of LW readers. At least one of them is bound to be a meany meany-head that downvotes people for all manners for wrong reasons. Don't worry too much about downvotes, is the best advice I can give.
This is a notional second upvote from me for the parent comment.
Downvoted for making too much damn sense for my taste.
Almost certainly not as far as I can tell... I imagine a single downvote can always be attributed to rubbing someone the wrong way for some idiosyncratic reason. But downvoting a simple request for feedback is wrong, so voting you back up.
No idea here either. FWIW, I never take downvotes seriously until a post gets to -2.
From the other replies I'm assuming you got down-voted to -1 before getting back to 0. My personal response: No you aren't doing something completely wrong. Asking for feedback in a situation like that is fine - it is not obvious what the initial down vote was for and knowing may have been interesting/informative. Asking for feedback about a small number of down votes in a heated argument can be annoying as I don't expect it to get an interesting response. The later down vote may have been by the initial person, who did not want to explain their initial down vote, or may have been by someone who generally dislikes requests for explanations of down votes. But I would just accept not knowing for sure unless they decide to answer.
You are right; I completely expect that my posts in debates, or on controversial topics are going to be downvoted by people who disagree with me. It happens a lot because a) My opinions are different than many LWers and b) I'm new to all this "rationality" stuff, so I don't always make as much sense as I wish I did. Sometimes I'm just plain wrong.... That's alright, and in those cases I generally expect other people to eventually upvote (if I'm not plain wrong) and it all evens out on it's own. But when someone asks your opinion on a book and you give it (both the asking and the giving being done in a polite and informative manner) it seems bizarre (and honestly rather rude) that someone would just downvote all of your posts in the conversation without giving a reason. Note: I sorta wish you could click on the karma and see who upvoted and who downvoted. Not just for situations like this, but (as I mentioned elsewhere) there's a big difference between a post with 20 each up and down votes, and a post with no votes whatsoever, even though they both ended up at 0.
On the halfbakery website (not exactly a web forum, but similar in some ways) you can't see names of voters, but you can see the positive and negative vote numbers separately, as well as an icon summarising the overall balance.

Well, for my own experiences and memories...

The first series of book, which had a deep and fundamental effect on me as a young child (when I was like 8 years old) is a series of scifi/fantasy books written by a Belgian writer (no idea if they are translated to English) called Philippe Ebly. Not his books contain any really deep message, it's just groups of teenagers having adventures, but those books deeply affected me because they are those which made me a book-eater. It's the first time I spent a whole Sunday devouring books.

Then I started much more of s... (read more)

Oh, dangit, you meant that kind of sentience!

I thought you were talking about AGI and downmodded you for not having read

In the neither here nor there range, Much as I have fallen 'out of love' with Ender's game, in part having read some of Card's political rants, his definition of 'porn' as he applies it to Card's writing in that essay would qualify any work I can think of as 'porn', if the reviewer didn't like it. "I don't like the message" is sufficient, even "I think it's intellectually dishonest" and why - certainly I feel that way about every Ayn Rand novel I have subjected myself to. But his essay seems more about rationalization than rationality -... (read more)

I have to disagree. The repetitive and episodic nature of the plot is the main point of the "pornography" analogy. Not every lousy book has these features.

point your kids at science fiction and let nature take its course. situations like ender's game are resolved simply by being exposed to actual quality sci-fi. Just like the Harry potter situation can be solved by exposing people to quality fantasy (a bit harder admittedly)

What is wrong with harry potter?