Developing the Young Reader

by Julie E. Czerneda & Lynn E. Cohen Koehler

At the Millennium Philcon 2001, we will have an opportunity to share our love of science fiction (SF) with both young readers and those responsible for their education. We hope everyone involved will join us in developing ideas and events for this important purpose.

What tools do young people need in order to thrive and cope with the rapid rate of change in our society? What will help them become understanding and able decision-makers in the future? They need the skills to read with comprehension, to critically assess source and content, and to interpret scientific information. They also need a conceptual framework within which to test new ideas, to develop their own sense of the potential benefits and risks of new technologies.

If all this rings a bell within the SF community, it should. We are the keepers and lovers of a body of work which is read to be enjoyed and which digs into the concepts of science with imagination, creativity, and a through appreciation of consequence. We know its value. But does anyone else?

A love of reading science fiction produces a literate person open to new ideas, critically aware of the consequences of change, and ready for the future.

As readers, writers, parents and educators, we have decided to bring our combined knowledge of science fiction and the needs of the young readers together in order to produce a series of programs at the Millennium Philcon. We are developing programming focusing on three major areas.

The first area will be events (seminars, workshops) aimed specifically at educators with the intention of providing practical, classroom-tested ways to incorporate science fiction into their lesson planning, both in science in language arts. Part of this would include helping to identify the science fiction materials appropriate to various classroom needs and students. There are several experts attending the Millennium Philcon qualified to prepare such events. We hope to involve educators and their boards in the planning, and to have these items recognized as professional development for credit.

Second, we plan to have events aimed at anyone seeking to encourage young people to read science fiction. Parents, educators, librarians, writers and artists are encouraged to attend some or all of this programming. There will be programming for those interested in creating juvenile and young adult (YA) science fiction. YA and children's authors attending the Millennium Philcon will lead readings, workshops and other events focusing on expanding the awareness of literature available for young readers, and on producing such literature and art.

And finally, there will be events meant for young readers and writers and artists. These could involve a variety of things, including plays, contests, workshops, meet-and-greets with YA authors, and other events coordinated with YA programming and children's programming.

Obviously, there is ample potential to combine elements from the above three threads to accomplish more than the goal per event. We are anticipating some form of credit (college, CEU) for attending the educator / librarian series.

In the past, SF literature, with few exceptions, has been viewed by educators as little more than entertainment for young readers, something to perhaps whet the appetite for "real books" later in life or encourage a reluctant student. Today, curriculum experts are taking notice of something we've taken for granted: that those most comfortable with the flood of new technologies and scientific discoveries, those most able to see past the novelty to the potential, have been prepared by their choice of literature. We are living in a science fictional world and science fiction readers have the advantage of knowing the terrain.

As a result, and also in answer to the need to develop language skills in all areas, science curriculums are now embracing the use of science fiction writing and reading to help students become scientifically literate - to have the flexibility of thought and imagination they will need. We are seeing other school curriculums using science fiction as an educational resource, too.

At the Millennium Philcon, we will try to reach out to all educators, librarians, parents, writers...all who have interest in the literature and can provide an opportunity to learn and interact and share our love of SF with those in our community and others.

We welcome input from the science fiction community. -- Poor Richard's Almanack, Issue 3, September 2000

Begin with the end in mind and remain focused. -- Dr Stephen V. Barone