Becoming Octavia

Sara Rebman, Librarian, Children's Literature Department,
Octavia Butler
Photo courtesy of the Estate of Octavia E. Butler

As the month of June comes to an end, we are celebrating the first anniversary of the Octavia Lab and Octavia E. Butler’s birthday by taking a glimpse into her life as a teenager and a list of great science fiction reads for teens!

Many of us look back on our teenage years as a painfully awkward time, and Octavia E. Butler may have felt the same way. As a teen, Octavia grew very quickly and ended up becoming six feet tall. She was painfully shy and avoided school activities.

Octavia had undiagnosed dyslexia and did not do particularly well in school. She recalls not even thinking of herself as particularly smart until eighth grade. During her education, there were a few teachers that took a special interest in Octavia and encouraged her to believe in herself.

Miss Peters, a seventh grade home economics teacher at McKinley Junior High, was the first teacher to read Octavia’s stories and encourage her writing.

In eighth grade, Octavia had a science teacher named Mr. Pfaff. His enthusiasm for the subject inspired Octavia and bolstered her existing love of science. Octavia shared her writing with Mr. Pfaff, and he actually typed the first story she ever submitted to a science fiction magazine. His willingness to take the extra time and effort to help her achieve her goals was something she remembered fondly.

When she entered the ninth grade, Octavia had her first African American teacher, Ms. Buggs. Ms. Buggs taught English, social studies, and drama. She understood Octavia’s fear of public speaking and instead allowed her to submit written reports. Octavia did eventually overcome her fear of public speaking by taking a class after she graduated from college. She realized that public speaking was essential to promote her books.

The encouragement and support Octavia received from her teachers left an impression on her life as she pursued writing and became an award-winning author. Below is a list of science fiction books for teens that are also sure to leave an impression!

Science Fiction for Teens

Book cover for Parable of the Sower: A Graphic Novel Adaptation
Parable of the Sower: A Graphic Novel Adaptation
Butler, Octavia E., Duffy, Damian

A gifted woman tries to find family and community in post-apocalyptic California.

Book cover for Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation
Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation
Butler, Octavia, E., Duffy, Damian, Jennings, John

Dana, a black woman living in 1970s Los Angeles, travels back in time to a pre-Civil War era plantation, where she saves a young white boy’s life. She learns that the boy is destined to become one of her ancestors, and as she’s pulled back and forth between her own time and the Antebellum South, she becomes dangerously entangled in the lives of slaves and slaveholders.

Book cover for The Art of Starving
The Art of Starving
Miller, Sam J.

Matt discovers that when he starves himself he develops powers. Can he use them to find out what happened to his sister who was driven by school bullies?

Book cover for Akata Witch
Akata Witch
Okorafor, Nnedi

Sunny lives in Nigeria, has albinism, and feels like there is nowhere she fits in. When she discovers that she has magical powers she meets others like herself and they set out to catch a criminal who also has powers.

Book cover for Children of Blood and Bone
Children of Blood and Bone
Adeyemi, Tomi

King Saran banished magic from the island of Orisha eleven years ago. Now seventeen-year-old Zelie, with the help of her brother and the Princess, has an opportunity to restore magic.

Book cover for Labyrinth Lost
Labyrinth Lost
Córdova, Zoraida

Alex hates magic, but she comes from a family of brujas, and turns out to be the most powerful witch in a generation. When she does a spell to get rid of her powers her whole family disappears! With the help of a brujo will she be able to get them back?

Book cover for Dread Nation
Dread Nation
Ireland, Justina

In this alternate history novel the dead rise up from Civil War battles and begin to eat the living.

Book cover for Want
Pon, Cindy

In the future, Taipei is plagued with pollution and viruses. The wealthy wear special suits to protect themselves and the poor die early deaths. A group of teens infiltrates Jin Corp, the company that creates the suits, and discover they may be creating the pollution as well.

Book cover for Mirage: Mirage Series, Book 1
Mirage: Mirage Series, Book 1
Daud, Somaiya

Amani is abducted and forced to become a body double for the cruel Princess Maram.

Book cover for The Abyss Surrounds Us
The Abyss Surrounds Us
Skrutskie, Emily

Cassandra is in the family business of training sea monsters to protect ships as they cross pirate-infested waters. On a trip across the NeoPacific, Cassandra is abducted by a pirate queen who wants her to train a very special monster.

Book cover for Scythe
Shusterman, Neal

The world has conquered hunger, disease, war, and death. In order to keep the population under control, a group of Scythes are commanded to take lives. Citra and Rowan are assigned to be apprentice scythes and their failure could result in their death.

Book cover for Sal and Gabi Break the Universe
Sal and Gabi Break the Universe
Hernandez, Carlos Alberto Pablo

Sal has the power to reach through space and time and retrieve any object or person. But, what will this power do to the universe?