One of the panel topics I’ve addressed at cons is how to get kids interested in sci-fi, fantasy, and all related things that make us geek out and that we find squee-worthy. Well, other than the fact that all of us at those kinds of panels already think all those things are super cool, and that tech folks and engineers tend to make more money than the average bear, I usually try to point out the mainstream things that kids love that are already in their lives and actually fall into the broad ‘geek stuff’ categories of sci-fi, fantasy, alternate history, speculative fiction, etc. These ‘gateway drugs’ are often the best way to bring kids into the fold.
What do I mean? Well, some of the biggest blockbusters in kids, YA and adult fiction and movies are actually pretty darned geeky. Check out this list, for example:
- Harry Potter (fantasy/paranormal – full of magic and mythical creatures)
- Golden Compass (more fantasy and a little steampunk/sci-fi)
- Divergent (post-apocalyptic/dystopian fiction)
- Narnia books and movies (fantasy)
- Hunger Games (decidedly post-apocalyptic/dystopian fiction)
- Twilight (fantasy/paranormal)
- Ender’s Game (solidly sci-fi – and it’s the number one book I’ve ever recommended to get kids into sci-fi)
- A Wrinkle in Time (definitely sci-fi with a little paranormal thrown in)
- The Giver (post-apocalyptic/dystopian)
- Percy Jackson series (fantasy)
- Wild Wild West (steampunk – and I’m probably dating myself by putting it on here)
- Heroes (fantasy/paranormal)
- X-Men (paranormal/sci-fi)
- All the superhero movies such as Spiderman, Avengers, etc. (comics, sci-fi, fantasy/paranormal)
- Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (fantasy)
- TMNT and pretty much any cartoon involving space, aliens, mutants, evil scientists, etc.
- Star Wars (duh)
- Despicable Me (sci-fi – no, really!)
- Mary Poppins (paranormal)
- How to Train Your Dragon (fantasy)
- Godzilla (sci-fi/fantasy)
- Transformers (sci-fi/alternate history)
- Avatar (sci-fi)
- I, Robot (sci-fi)
- Aliens (sci-fi/horror)
- Men in Black (sci-fi/comedy)
- The Matrix (sci-fi/dystopian/post-apocalyptic)
- World War Z (and pretty much all zombie moves – sci-fi/paranormal/dystopian)
This list is by no means exclusive – it’s just a quick list off the top of my head of the things that have been wildly successful in the mainstream that people don’t even realize fall solidly into the genres traditionally considered ‘geeky.’ And that’s without even looking at the world of gaming. If you want to get a kid interested in geekdom, find out what he or she likes – and then gradually introduce similar things to expand his or her horizons.
For example, my daughter currently loves Invader Zim and Wall-E, which is branching out to a general love of robots thanks to GIR and Wall-E. And she adores Our Neighbor Totoro, so I’m hoping she will also take a liking to Kiki’s Delivery Service and Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle in the future.
Also, as a side note I just realized that Will Smith actually does an awful lot of sci-fi.
What’s missing from my list? How do you get kids interested in geek stuff without driving them away with un-cool-ness?