We're used to seeing lots of fantasy picture books aimed at little kids — so it's nice to find a bunch that are more geared towards science fiction. Check out a look at some new science fiction picture books... plus one classic.
Top image: Oh No! Not Again!: (Or How I Built a Time Machine to Save History) (Or at Least My History Grade)
The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man by Michael Chabon, illustrated by Jake Parker
Pulitzer Prize winner Chabon has done comic books before — so a comic book influenced picture book doesn't seem that strange. This is a really cute superhero tale, with a big twist ending. The ending is well set up, but I will admit I didn't see the twist coming — even though this is a book for kindergartners. The illustrations manage to both play off of and expand on a sort of golden age comic look of square jaws and starbursts. The Fortress of Awesome "deep at the bottom of the deepest, darkest trench under the Arctic Ocean" has got an especially retro-future feel.
There's not much moralizing in this book — although Chabon can't help but toss in a life lesson (when you get grumpy, you should have a snack). It's the kind of book that'll hold up to multiple readings, even once the twist is revealed (though maybe not as well as the classic twist ending picture book The Monster At the End of this Book). Pick this one up for kids who love superheroes and Toy Story 3.
Oh No! Not Again!: (Or How I Built a Time Machine to Save History) (Or at Least My History Grade) by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Dan Santat
This sequel to Oh no! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World) is more crazy fun, from the unnamed little girl whose robot nearly destroyed our planet the first time around. When she misses a single question on her history test, there is only one thing she can do "I just need to build a time machine and change history so I am right." Unfortunately, the prehistoric humans she meets are not very interested in helping her out. However, they are interested in her time machine. The whole thing, from the pig-tailed mad scientist's brilliant cluelessness to the cave people's interactions with modern technology is funny. Dan Santat's art is great. It seems to have lots of manga influences, while being softer and more colorful than straight pen-and-ink illustrations. There is not a lot of text in the book, so much of the humor is in the illustrations. The time machine schematics on the endpapers are the sort of glorious technobabble that kids should be exposed to early and often, and which will make adults smile. This is for good-hearted kids, who cause trouble and watch Phineas and Ferb
Leo Geo: And His Miraculous Journey Through the Center of the Earth by John Chad
If you ever go to book industry panels, you'll hear someone toss around the phrase "book as object." Leo Geo is a perfect example. You flip the book sideways and read it vertically (and flip it over in the middle – a nice touch). The humanoid Leo wants nothing more than to travel to the center of the earth. On his way down, he imparts plenty of facts about things like magma and rock composition. He also deals with landslides and earthquakes, fends off monsters and robots, and fights mole people who are intent on conquering the Earth.
The more sophisticated language makes this a book for older kids, but I imagine that kids won't want to re-read this, so much as just stare at the incredibly detailed line drawings. There are strange and fantastic images several times a page. It's a wacky homage to Journey to the Center of the Earth, and it works. Kids who love playing in the dirt, drawing and collecting rocks will love Leo Geo.
Math Curse by Jon Scieszka, illustrations by Lane Smith
"On Monday in math class, Mrs. Fibonacci says, ‘You know, you can think of almost everything as a math problem.'" So begins a math curse that turns real life into a series of funny strange and improbable math and language brain teasers.
Dipping into bases, multiplication and logic, this informative and silly book revels in both the ubiquity of math and the occasionally ridiculous ends it can be twisted to. For example, if an apple pie is cut into 6 equal slices "What is another way to say 1/2 of an apple pie? a. 2/6 b. 3/6 c. la moitié d'une tarte aux pommes". Lane Smith's art is a wonderful blend of collage style and more straightforward illustrations that captures our poor unnamed protagonist's less than stable state of mind. This book has been around for a while, but shouldn't be missed by anyone who loves puzzles, either kids or grown-ups.