I bought my niece a Kindle that just arrived and I'm about to load it up with books to give it to her tomorrow for her birthday. I've decided to be a sneaky uncle and include good books that can teach better abilities to think or at least to consider science cool and interesting. She is currently in the 4th Grade with 5th coming after the Summer.

She reads basically at her own grade level so while I'm open to stuffing the Kindle with books to be read when she's ready, I'd like to focus on giving her books she can read now. Ender's Game will be on there most likely. Game of Thrones will not.

What books would you give a youngling? Her interests currently trend toward the young mystery section, Hardy Boys and the like, but in my experience she is very open to trying new books with particular interest in YA fantasy but not much interest in Sci Fi (if I'm doing any other optimizing this year, I'll try to change her opinion on Sci Fi).

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One for the Morning Glory - John Barnes. Top of my list. Action, adventure, a prince who has lost half of his body, and Highly Unpleasant Things It Is Sometimes Useful To Know.
The Face in the Frost - John Bellairs. Up there with A Wizard of Earthsea for good takes on wizards, and less likely to be found in the course of everyday life.
Speaking of Ursula LeGuin, the first three Earthsea books are a good plan, and I highly recommend Very Far Away from Anywhere Else.
The Phantom Tollbooth - Norton Juster, if she hasn't read it yet, and if the illustrations work correctly on the Kindle.
Has she read The Westing Game - Ellen Raskin? That one's probably in her school library.
Oh, and of course for introductions to SF for someone who likes mysteries, try The Caves of Steel - Asimov.

Seconding Phantom Tollbooth.
The Phantom Tollbooth is enjoyably mind-opening, if handed to a child at about the right age. It's very light-hearted, but is liable to instill thinking about thinking. I read it when I was 10, and again at 12, and again at 14, and again at 16, getting deeper appreciation each time. Also, I suspect the Tiffany Aching books are ideal - but I'm a huge Discworld fan, ymmv.
Fourthing Phantom Tollbooth.
Voting this back up from -1. It appears someone has been downvoting all instances of anyone seconding others' recommendations. Why do this? Multiple recommendations for a single work provide additional useful information; that multiple people agree that the work is worthwhile, and think so strongly enough to vocalize their support after it's already been raised to attention.
They may be doing so because they think simple upvoting is a better way to to second recommendations. However, this isn't really the case because many recommendations mention multiple books, so doing so would not clearly endorse a specific book.
Plus, upvoting doesn't distinguish between "I agree that some or all of these books are good recommendations," and "Thanks for suggesting some plausible sounding candidates."
I agree that The Phantom Tollbooth is especially useful for multiple reads. I read it when I was 8, then when I was 10, then 13, and again when I was 15. It's a wonderful example of a multi-layered children's book that adults can appreciate on an entirely different level than kids. Also, it taught me much of the basics of good writing, in a way that primed me for reading, eg, Orwell's essays on the use and abuse of the English language.
One for the Morning Glory also has very playful use of words-- if she likes that, she might also like "The Throme of the Erol of Sherril" by McKillip. Any chance she'd like some Bujold?
Voted up for the Westing Game.
Second "One for the Morning Glory" - it's brilliant on so many levels. (Though I'm not totally sure it's age-appropriate. On the other hand if she can read OftMG, you can certainly start her on Pratchett too.)

A Wrinkle in Time and sequels by Madeline L'Engle.

The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov. (You said she likes mysteries, right?)

Seconding Wrinkle In Time.

Fablehaven by Brandon Mull.

Anything Tamora Pierce; I'm partial to the Circle of Magic but you could start her in Tortall just as well.

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman.

Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine.

Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder

Sharon Shinn (not arbitrary books, some of them have a touch of adult content, particularly avoid Wrapt in Crystal and Heart of Gold until she's a bit older; I recommend Archangel in another comment and that's a fine starting point but I think Safe-Keeper's Secret and seq... (read more)

Agreed on Watership Down-- it might be marginally fantasy because there's a small amount of ESP. And also agreed about Zenna Henderson. More on the fantasy front-- McKillip's The Riddlemaster of Hed. I'd say the first book is much better than the sequels, but the sequels still have some good stuff in them. Ferrett Steinmetz's "Saurkraut Station" is excellent YA science fiction.
The McKillip is fantastic. I enjoyed that plenty as an adult as well!
Totally thirded. Great read with a likeable female protagonist and full of interesting ideas. Pullman has a strong anti-religion message (R.t. Gur yrnq punenpgref xvyy tbq gb chg uvz bhg bs uvf zvfrel) but that comes second to the art of story-telling and never feels forced.
His message was unforced in the first book, occasionally clumsy in the second, and completely and utterly anvilicious in the third, to the point where it obliterated all pretense of narrative or character development. I always feel a sense of what almost feels like betrayal when I read these kinds of books -- be it by Pullman, or Ursula LeGuin, or Neal Stephenson. Here is an author who obviously can write extremely well, based on his past works; and yet he chooses to write poorly as a tradeoff, in order to push his message... But there was no need for a tradeoff ! Writing is not a zero-sum game !
Hmm, it felt pretty forced to me, especially in the third book. So I guess your mileage may vary.
Now I think about it, I managed to read all the Narnia books without ever noticing the Christian undertones, so I'm probably not a good guide to these things
Finally noticing the Christian allegory, around the age of twelve, ruined the Chronicles of Narnia for me when it had been one of my favorite series as a kid.
I didn't notice the Christian allegory (I wasn't brought up Christian) until I had it explicitly pointed out to me, and even then, it struck me as being so off-base that I couldn't imagine being convinced by it. (The dwarves with their eyes shut--the people who refuse to integrate readily available empirical evidence when it might change their minds about something, those are supposed to be atheists?)
I find it doubtful that C. S. Lewis ever intended it to be convincing. He wanted it to function as a fantasy story, but I think he also wanted it to resonate with people who buy into the Christian myth, and to make people who don't think "Huh, so this thrilling fantasy story is something that all ties into Christian belief? I'd be interested in learning more about that then." When I realized what it was supposed to be an allegory for, though, I was hit by a wave of plot elements I'd always accepted as perfectly sensible fantasy elements which suddenly struck me as crashingly wrong. It was like Hirou's revelation in The Sword of Good. Like when, just a few chapters earlier (I was rereading Prince Caspian, at the part where Aslan tells Peter and Susan that they won't be able to return to Narnia and would have to come to know him in their own world, and it finally hit me that he was supposed to be Jesus,) Lucy had asked Aslan why he couldn't simply raise up an army and crush Miraz like he did with the White Witch, and Aslan said something like "Child, don't you know such things are never done the same way twice?" I wanted to shout at him, "Why!? Justify yourself to me, Aslan!" The bottom dropped out of the plot and everything started to seem arbitrary and unnecessary; Aslan has the power to solve every problem, he has absolutely no need for the protagonists, has no comprehensible reason for selecting them out of the entire world population to fill their spots in the song and dance he's orchestrated, and the entire structure of the plot is determined by some set of supernatural laws or requirements which are completely opaque to the reader. C. S. Lewis wrote that an allegory should be able to stand on its own merits as a narrative, but once I turned a more critical eye to it, I was overwhelmed by the degree to which the Chronicles of Narnia failed to do so. The grand structure of the plot rests entirely on authorial fiat, rather than any comprehensible chain of cause
Bah ! The first book in the series was great. The second one was ok. The third one was what felt like 500 pages of non-stop didactic moralizing. In the unlikely event that I ever meet Pullman, I would love to remind him that this kind of heavy-handed anvil-dropping didn't work for C.S.Lewis, and it doesn't work for Pullman, either. Bah I say ! I read it when I was an adult, and it almost gave me nightmares. It's a great book, don't get me wrong, but... I upvoted your post just for that. Makes up for the Pullman thing.
Seconded Circle of Magic, His Dark Materials, and Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Do you generally dislike Piers Anthony, or do you specifically anti-recommend him in this situation? I enjoyed Incarnations of Immortality and the first few Xanth books, but I don't really think they would be age-appropriate.
I generally dislike Piers Anthony and particularly disrecommend him in the case of an elementary school girl. He has some interesting content. I own some of his books, and have read many more. But he wraps up his worldbuilding concepts and his plot notions in repulsive sexism (against both sexes) and barely passable writing/characterization and gratuitous Author Appeal gimmicks.
I would go even further. I don't think that he has any interesting content, either. What he has is a lot of puns. That's enough for a stand-up comic routine, but not enough for a book.
His content is not well presented, but that doesn't mean that telepathic horses and all the myriad Xanth talents and amoeba people etc. etc. are intrinsically uninteresting. (Please mind you are talking to the person who wrote more than 500,000 words of Twilight fanfiction without changing any established worldbuilding. Salvageability of ideas is so different from quality of packaging.)
I know, I'd read your fanfiction and I enjoyed it :-) I think you and I just have different definitions of "content". As far as I can tell, you use the word to mean "interesting ideas that could be used as building blocks for a compelling narrative", whereas I use the word to mean "the finished narrative". I could agree that Piers Anthony has some interesting ideas, though not all of his ideas are interesting, IMO.
Having read Piers Anthony as an elementary school girl, I can attest that he may screw kids up.
Secretly, it's also about people :D http://27.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_kyvtdcgf6V1qaqtpfo1_500.png. Also, I don't like this book. As a substitute, how about those Garth Nix books?
Those Garth Nix books are great, but not at all similar to Sophie's World. I would recommend both (although if I had to pick one, Garth Nix all the way)
Garth Nix books are quite good, though I'd avoid Shade's Children. It might be inappropriate for a 5th grader.
Why don't you like Sophie's World?
Oh, the whole philosophy-as-magic thing.

Be careful - if you try too hard to change her opinions, she might decide Sci-Fi is no good at all. Try to cater to what you know about her interests.

The Scott Westerfeld "Uglies/Pretties" series might be a good introductory book for a girl who isn't interested in sci-fi yet. It has some interesting dystopian implications, but doesn't obviously have the "ALIENS! SPACE!" aesthetic overtones of most sci-fi, which is what turned me off from sci-fi books as a kid.

(I was also mostly into YA fantasy, and didn't like sci-fi until I discovered the part of it that was really about philosophical and ethical questions, not just aliens and space.)

I intend to not be too pushy. Just recommending books that have themes I know she'd enjoy. Thanks for the recommendation (books are currently on the reader now) and thanks for the warning, I'll keep it in mind.
I hated "Uglies" enough to demand that the audiobook be stopped partway through on a family car trip, but the general idea might be sound. Glancing at my shelf, sci-fi that might work includes: Archangel series by Sharon Shinn (has a strongly fantasy aesthetic, but is technically sci-fi; the same author does some of both in other series/standalones) The Host by Stephenie Meyer (especially if this girl likes Twilight, but it might not be young-audience-aimed enough; if you're giving her Ender's Game and its sequels, maybe it's fine) Tripods series (has aliens in, but starts gently; first book IIRC only has tripods and doesn't explain them in terms of the aliens) The Time Traveler's Wife is sci-fi while being heavily focused on its characters/relationships, but has plenty of adult content so maybe not that one. I seem to have a lot more fantasy than sci-fi. Why is sci-fi preferable here at all?
Pure Uncle Bias in this case.
One reason sci-fi might be preferable: There doesn't seem to be a lot of fantasy that really explores the implications of different worlds and the ethical, social changes that might come with a different set of world-parameters... That I know of, that is. I'd be happy to be pointed towards more of it.
Seconding "The Tripods Trilogy" by John Christopher. It was my introduction to sci-fi and had a stong emotional impact.
What did you hate about Uglies?
The main character was completely unlikeable. I didn't approve of a single thing she thought, did, or said.
That's pretty thorough. I liked the book, but not its sequels.
Yeah, this one more suited for the uncle than for the niece :P Too much sexings.

Has she read The Phantom Tollbooth? That's definitely one that's worth checking out. I can never remember what books are at what reading level, but I'm pretty sure it's age appropriate.

Honestly, I've never had a taste for most sci fi either, I've always found it much harder on my suspension of disbelief than fantasy. It's one thing for me to accept a setting that runs on fundamentally different rules, but when a story that's nominally set in our own universe differs from our own in implausible-seeming ways, my instinct is to call bullshit. Sci fi scenario... (read more)

Within YA mysteries, my favorites as a child were The Three Investigators. They had more clever plots than the Hardy Boys and other series, and the protagonists did more actual deduction, observation and reasoning. Also, cameo appearances by Alfred Hitchcock! Sadly, they don't seem to be available for Kindle.

If she hasn't read it yet, you could give her Sherlock Holmes. Quite a lot of (19th century, but still) science and methodic reasoning, should be read before other classical mystery authors like Agatha Christie (because all were reacting to it), and wi... (read more)

Even as an adult, I enjoyed The Mysterious Benedict Society books by Trenton Lee Stewart. 4th/5th grade is probably about right. How can you not love a series with a book titled The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma?


I loved these books as an early teen:

Fantasy: The Hobbit (Film coming out in a few months). No hidden pro-science virtues but a lovely, funny book.

Adventure stories:

  1. Anything by Jules Verne e.g. Twenty thousand leagues under the sea. Fits into a science-as-exploration theme.
  2. Arthur Conan Doyle (The Lost World - a dinosaur book - or some Sherlock Holmes: speckled band, hound of the baskervilles...)
  3. Willard Price's adventure series (writing is a bit poor, but that's completely made up for by the exciting-ness and delightful descriptions of wild animals
... (read more)
I liked Heinlein a lot (better than Asimov or Norton) as an early teen, but I've heard mixed things about how well his books hold up these days.
I recently reread Time Enough for Love and it still holds up -- it's not nearly as anti-feminist as some of his hard sci-fi. Stranger in a Strange Land is slightly less relevant, though a great deal more subversive and slightly more anti-feminist. On second thought, I would give neither book to e.g. my 13-year-old cousin.
I probably should have mentioned that I was a teenager in the sixties, and what was available to me was the juveniles. I think my favorites were The Star Beast and Have Spacesuit, Will Travel, with Citizen of the Galaxy trailing not too far behind. I think I only read Rocketship Galileo once, even though Nazis in abandoned alien tunnels on the moon seemed wonderfully extravagant. I reread it recently, and found it had so much immediately-post-WWII material as to be rather sad and grim compared to most of the juveniles.

Since you said she's interested in fantasy, I'd suggest the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede (Dealing with Dragons is book one.) Unfortunately it's not on the Kindle yet, but it does a good job of pointing out common fantasy tropes in an entertaining way. Also, the main female character is a very good role model.

If you want more of a scientific mindset applied to fantasy, I'd say The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Andrews Edwards instills scientific curiosity very well. Also not available on Kindle...

Finally, (this time a... (read more)

I'd second the Young Wizards as an awesome read, although I wouldn't really call it sci-fi (or rational). More like fantasy with a thin jargon veneer. It's got strong protagonists of both genders and a very positive tone overall (I'm reminded of MoR!Harry saying 'If Light winning is a problem, let the Light win again')
IIRC, Duane eventually put something in to the effect that fighting entropy is an over-simplified goal, but I don't remember which book that was in.
Well there was that one book in the middle of the series which is basically pro-death (ends with one of the characters choosing not to be completely cured because then their whole life would become about not dying rather than appreciating the time they had), but I would still say that the overall message is highly anti-death
The Wizard's oath was specifically about fighting entropy, and that's problematic because living things depend on entropy. Fighting entropy isn't the same as fighting death.
II just looked up the wording of the oath, and entropy doesn't actually enter into it (it also does say "I will put aside fear for courage, and death for life.") It's true that the characters often talk about fighting entropy, but it doesn't seem like it's ever been an accurate description of what they do.

I remember enjoying the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander when I was at that reading level. It's a lot like Lord of the Rings for children. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, Detectives in Togas by Henry Winterfeld.

For sci fi for about that age, maybe Interstellar Pig, although it does not seem to be available on Kindle. Might be a little scary (scared me when I was about that age). Caveat - haven't read it since I was a kid, so not sure how well it holds up.

I enjoyed the Norby series of books, by Asimov and his wife.

Asimov wrote a number of non-sci-fi mysteries that are pretty good. If you can instill Asimov fandom that might be a back door to sci-fi.
Indeed. The Black Widowers and the Union Club mysteries are puzzle-like short stories, quite age-apprioprate. The novels The Death Dealers and Murder at the ABA are probably better read a few years later.
Seconded, I also enjoyed the Black Widowers, I remember some pretty clever bits.

How about an anti-birth control story where the third child (In a world where like, you know, only 2 children are normally allowed) becomes trapped naked in a bathroom with a mean bully, so he brutally murders him to escape... then goes on to commit widespread genocide. Young girls love that stuff.

Oh wait, Ender's Game is already on your list. Oops.

Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge, which won a Hugo Award, is by far the clearest example and best suggestion I can think of, but I'm not seeing it on the Amazon Kindle market. Shucks, what I get for trying to be witty.

Regardless of the quality of Ender's Game, that is incredibly misleading.
Yeah, the anti-population-control screed is the prequel about Ender's parents.
Oh, okay, well I've only read Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead. Damn it and here I thought I was being moderately insightful pointing out that theme, but he went and made it the whole plot of a prequel. Oh well, I still thinks its a rather silly selection for a pre-teen girl.

I'm surprised HPMOR has not been mentioned yet. It's an astoundingly brilliant piece of fanfiction, and includes most of the themes on Lesswrong, including the philosophies of Rationality and science.

I don't think that HPMoR is really at fourth or fifth grade reading level. I think the same is probably true of a lot of the other books being recommended here, for that matter. I suspect a lot of people here may not remember what it's like to be at a fourth or fifth grade reading level (as opposed to simply being in fourth or fifth grade.) I certainly don't.
The level is Boxcar Kids, Nancy Drew, RL Stein etc. Some suggestions have been hugely useful, some will be useful in middle school. No big deal. I've already downloaded all the series she likes so I'm willing to put things above her reading level (it's not like she won't learn to read at that level eventually). It was a good catch though that I was asking specifically about reading level and not just age. For her age she's about average, thought she does lag in math (I'm making sure she picks that ground up), but she does have the blessing of enjoying books. Giving her a respect for rationality and science would be nice. But really I'll be happy if she stopped talking about the Bieber. I just can't compete with the guy's hair helmet. EDIT: In Before Ender's Game is higher than her reading level. I know. I know. I'm putting your above reading level stuff in there too. She'll have a small library in her pocket and I'll forever be the favorite uncle. Muahaha.

The Giver trilogy is age appropriate and well-written dystopian children's novel. I remember very distinctly that this was my first exposure to what seemed like a plausible future world. (I read this in 4th grade so it might be too easy. )

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy would also be good; I read this in 6th grade and it was book that sparked my interest in sci-fi.

The Giver is enjoyable, but it has this problem. The sequels are just bad. HHGTTG is good.

The subtle knife series by Philip pullman. Without a doubt

Smith of Wootton Major . I read this book when I was about 10 or 11, and I still remember what it felt like as it rewired my mind.

Ender's Game, of course, as you'd said.

Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan trilogy (not to be confused with that other book by the same title).

Pretty much anything by Terry Pratchett except for The Colour of Magic (it's not great), but especially the Tiffany Aching books (starting with The Wee Free Men), and possibly Small Gods.

Neil Gaiman's Stardust, and especially The Dream Hunters.

The Myth series by Robert Asprin.

Hmm, upon reflect... (read more)


The Artemis Fowl series should spur an interest in technology - I loved it (I only read up to The Eternity Cube though). The plans in the series also have a lot of flaws, that were frustrating to notice, but I suppose that could provide some lesson or another. It's pretty irrational actually; I suggest it as it may provoke a reaction to irrationality.

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. It made me really want to learn programming, thought I'm not sure what reading level it is.

The Great Book of Amber by Roger Zelazny should be right up her alley in a couple years.

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