Wednesday, January 16, 2013

An Argument for Science In Fiction

I've made the argument before, and I'll make it again: kids learn more than just morals from stories.

Phrased another way: you don't have to read nonfiction to learn science (or any other subject, for that matter). Yes, nonfiction is a great learning tool. You'll never catch me suggesting kids stop reading nonfiction. I just want us to get past this weird idea that nonfiction is for LEARNING FACTS and fiction is for LEARNING LESSONS.

Why not learn both from both?

That's my personal goal, actually. To create fiction that has real factual content, and to create nonfiction that inspires moral behavior. Totally possible. This already happens all the time, actually.

Rebel Alliance, FTW.
Case in point: Me. Age ten. Outside of school reading, I read nothing if it didn't have STAR WARS emblazoned across the front. Seriously. I was an addict. It was my whole life. Someday I'll find and post an embarrassing picture of myself surrounded by my Star Wars books and action figures, wearing my Han Solo-encased-in-carbonite t-shirt, and wielding my telescoping lightsaber and my real sound-effects blaster.

Flash forward fourteen years. It's 2009, I'm just starting a new job at a new museum, I just earned my Masters in paleoanthropology, and the first thing they want me to teach is...astronomy.


Huh. I've, uh...never taken astronomy. Or even really cracked a book open about it (or so I'd thought).

As I began to pour through our database of astro-info, I started picking up the terminology and obscure factoids oddly fast. I mean, I'm good at memorizing, but even this seemed crazy quick to me. How did I learn all of what was essentially Astro 101 in just about three weeks?

No, it's not because I'm a genius (though thanks if you assumed that!). It's because I'm a geek. Specifically, a Star Wars geek. I may have never opened a textbook on astronomy, but I'd read nearly a hundred books that took place in space.

Light Speed. Blue Shift. Quasars. Black Holes. Supernovae. Red Giants. I knew these words. I knew them all, and even had a surprisingly accurate idea of the science behind each. While obviously not everything in Star Wars is scientifically accurate (*cough*no sound in space*cough*sorry TIE Fighters*cough*), enough of it is close enough that when it came time for me to read some space NONfiction, I was already on board with almost all of it.


Flash forward again 3 years, 4 months, and I'm a seasoned planetarium presenter, a pro at teaching astronomy to the public, and I even head up our museum's observatory.

Oh, and I'm also working on my very own sci-fi fiction novel for middle grade readers. Something I hope would've even dragged ten year-old me away from Star Wars for at least a day.

So there you have it. Science in fiction totally works. At some point I'll need to post about my love affair with Kate Messner's EYE OF THE STORM.

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