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Hunger Games lite

We’ve heard from a few people looking for books for younger readers who are interested in, but not quite ready for, The Hunger Games trilogy. Here are some sci-fi and dystopian fiction suggestions for the pre-teen set (ages 9–11), all recommended by the Magazine.

In Jeanne DuPrau’s The City of Ember, the titular metropolis has no natural light, and the blackouts of its antiquated electrical grid are coming more and more frequently: “disaster was right around the corner.” So thinks Doon, a curious twelve-year-old who, along with his spirited schoolmate Lina, determines to save the city. The writing is agreeably spare and remarkably suspenseful; look for sequels The People of Sparks and The Diamond of Darkhold. (Random House, 2003)

When, in The Boy at the End of the World by Gref van Eekhout, Fisher looks out upon the world he has inherited, he sees ruins. His robot Click tells him, “Humans are no more.” Fisher sets off in search of other people, heading across a landscape inhabited by piranha-crocs, giant prairie dogs, and carnivorous plants. His adventures, told in fast-paced prose and set in a boldly imagined future, will be exciting for young readers. (Bloomsbury, 2011)

The robot protagonist of Helen Fox’s Eager has been programmed to experience the world much like a child, learning and growing from each new adventure. Eager experiences joy, sadness, and — in helping Gavin and Fleur Bell investigate a new breed of robots that are staging a revolt — discovers his own courage and bravery. The endearing Eager makes a memorable, and occasionally poignant, protagonist. (Random House/Lamb, 2004)

Allegra Goodman’s The Other Side of the Island takes place after a flood decimates the population and Earth Mother’s Corporation encloses regions of the now island-dotted planet. Ten-year-old Honor struggles between her society’s relentless indoctrination and her unpredictable parents; tension ratchets up after they are “taken.” Fans of dystopic and speculative fiction will want to check this out — there’s much for discussion and debate. (Penguin/Razorbill, 2008)

Video game enemy aliens surrender to twelve-year-old Johnny Maxwell and ask for safe conduct to their home world; Johnny takes up the challenge, and the alien fleet disappears off the screens of gamers around the globe. Terry Pratchett’s Only You Can Save Mankind is a quirky and timely knee-slapper. First published in Britain in 1992, it’s still fresh, engaging, and thought-provoking. Readers will want to keep up with Johnny’s adventures with Johnny and the Dead and Johnny and the Bomb. (HarperCollins, 2005)

In William Sleator’s Interstellar Pig, Barney’s boring vacation at the beach seemingly takes a turn for the better when three unusually attractive young adults rent the summer cottage next door. However, after the neighbors unwittingly reveal their extraterrestrial identities, the board game they have taught him becomes a real-life battle, and Barney must outsmart the aliens to save Earth from destruction. The fantastical tale, containing some of Sleator’s most inventive characters, continues in Parasite Pig. (Dutton, 1984)

For more in our Fan Week series, click on the tag Fan Week 2016 and see #HBFanWeek on Twitter.

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.



  1. Rebecca Hachmyer says:

    John Christopher’s “The White Mountains” is another great dystopia for that age group that is– thank goodness– still in print (albeit with yet another unfortunate cover).

  2. Heather Lee says:

    I’m suggesting “Floodland” by Sedgwick, “Interworld” by Gaiman, reminding students of “Wrinkle in Time”, and Peter Dickinson’s “Devil’s Children”, “Heartsease” and “Weathermonger”. Also Catherine Fischer’s “Dark City”. For patient readers I add “Gathering Blue” by Lowry, and Nicholson’s “Wind Singer”. Another old one I wish someone would reprint is Hoover’s “This Time of Darkness”, And I am a huge fan of Westcots “Uglies”, and Reeves “Fever Crumb” series. Townsends “The Creatures” still reads really well if you can find it. Maybe ebooks will get some of these a new life.

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