Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Kickstart This! 2017 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide

Reading has always been my preferred means of escape. As a child, I have a distinct memory of the excitement of getting my first library card, immediately followed by the very real disappointment upon learning I could only check out 10 books at a time. I loved adventure stories of all kinds, and (this will shock no one who knows me) I read practically every biography of important women in history I could find. I loved learning how they did whatever amazing thing it was they did. It was a thrill to imagine myself doing the same exciting things -- exploring a jungle, flying an airplane, discovering some rare scientific insight.

I credit my love of reading as a child for my sustained sense of curiosity and wonder as an adult. As I've grown older, I recognize the role of science fiction and fantasy worlds in helping us explore solutions to real world problems, and the critical importance of including a diverse audience in these explorations. Especially the need to provide these worlds to younger readers.

Over the last couple of years there has been a clear call for more diversity in young adult literature in general, and in science fiction and fantasy in particular. It has always struck me as somewhat ridiculous that science fiction and fantasy worlds were so predominately white and male when the writer could create a whole new world from scratch. I mean, it makes sense to me in a kind of anthropological sense, seeing as how society at large was not exactly working on issues of race and gender without a serious fight. But still. How curiously limited for a genre which is supposedly all about possibilities!

So many of the few stories that did break out of the white-male paradigm have been much beloved by generations of readers, and lovingly handed down to newer generations of readers. Even so, it's still vitally important we write more, making sure everyone has a chance to see themselves in these stories, and to see a wide variety of others in them as well.

Corie and Sean Weaver have been working on this task for several years now. They founded Dreaming Robot Press with the goal of creating opportunities for more diverse stories. Like those you'll find in their current Kickstarter project, the 2017 Young Explorer's Adventure Guide. Corie sent me a copy of the anthology to review and I have to be honest, after only ready a handful of short stories, I am in love and am already making a list of all the young readers in my life who need a copy! There's something magical about reading a story about a bright, somewhat precocious explorer and to immediately think of your favorite 11 year old girl, knowing she'd enjoy seeing herself in the pages of a story set on a moon colony.

Corie Weaver was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the importance of representation in kids literature, and to discuss her inspiration for this fantastic project.

SRPS: First of all, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What's your background? What inspires you?

CW: I'm a lifelong reader, of anything and everything, but especially science fiction and fantasy. The Chronicals of Narnia, the Dark is Rising sequence, the Pyrdain Chronicles, the Hobbit – these are the first books I really remember. That there were whole worlds out there waiting for me to just come find them was terribly exciting – and still is.

I'm also an author of middle grade fantasy and young adult science fiction. Beginning writers are always told to imagine a specific person that they're writing to – I decided to write things that a younger me would enjoy.

SRPS: What is Dreaming Robot Press, and how did it come into being?

CW: Dreaming Robot Press is a small press that focuses on science fiction and fantasy stories for middle grade and young adult readers. In addition to the Young Explorer's Adventure Guide series, we also publish stand alone novels. My husband and I were talking with friends about their problem's finding books they wanted for their children.  He has a background in magazines and newspapers, I worked at a small publisher in the '90s. We decided to take the leap, and have never regretted it!

SRPS: Your work focuses on the middle grade readers. What is unique about this age group, and why is it important to create work specifically for them?

CW: This is a crucial age to grab kids. If we can get them hooked on reading by ten, they'll be life-long readers. These are also the years that can determine their interest in science and technology.

Sally Ride, first American woman in space and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, famously said:
"Young girls need to see role models in whatever careers they may choose, just so they can picture themselves doing those jobs someday. You can't be what you can't see."
Girls need to read stories where any number of possible roles are modeled for them. Just as importantly, boys need to read stories where girls are active participants in adventures. And children of all colors and backgrounds need to know the future includes them.

SRPS: Too true! Thankfully, there's been a big push in YA Lit lately for more diverse representation. This is something you've obviously supported with each of your previous editions of the Young Explorer's Adventure Guide. What inspired you to take up this important cause?

CW: The project started with a simple question on Facebook: "Any recommendations for YA science fiction or fantasy with a female MC, without a romantic subplot?"

It was harder to answer than it should have been. Friends brought out a lot of beloved stories with strong female protagonists… but then remembered. "Oh, yeah. I guess they do end up together." "Right, I'd forgotten about that whole theme." "Well, it's not a huge part of the plot, but…"

Not that these aren't great books, but it started feeling like it's not valid for a young woman to go on a hero's journey without also finding true love along the way.

The conversation turned to look at books for younger readers, and here we ran into a startling statistic: according to a 2011 study of 6,000 children's books, only 31 percent had central female characters, and even fewer featured main characters of color.

That's of all children's books, but from our admittedly unscientific review of middle grade science fiction, it doesn't seem far off.

SRPS: You've done a couple of Kickstarter campaigns already. I assume that's because you've had such a great response to each of your projects. What's been the most surprising thing along the way?

CW: One of the things I love about Kickstarter is the number of people who just browse for cool projects. We have so many wonderful backers that have no connection to us or our authors, and who just found the project while browsing. The most surprising thing was when the Science Fiction Writers of America contributed to the 2017 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide as a STAR project.

SRPS: How exciting! So, what can readers expect from the 2017 Young Explorer's Adventure Guide?

CW: Lots of adventure, and all over the universe! We have a pair of sister detectives who track down the theft of a clockwork rose, genetically engineered dinosaurs, kids exploring alien flora and fauna, a tale of intelligent seed cities waiting to be inhabited, deep space colonists, and humans returning to a long forgotten earth.

It's true. This book is chock full of amazing stories. Go back this project ASAP!

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