Steampunk Stories: Crazy, Funky Tales Your Tween or Teen Will Love

by Stephanie Cohen

Photo credit: selimaksan, E+/Getty Images

Which kinds of books do you give to kids who love mechanical mayhem, history, time travel, and fantasy all rolled into one? How about a little steampunk?

If you’re wondering what steampunk is, think Victorian-era cloak-and-dagger meets Jules Verne or H.G. Wells. Or maybe “Blade Runner” with a sprinkle of Mary Shelley mixed with a dash of A Wrinkle in Time. Steampunk, as a genre in literary fiction, emerged out of the 1970s, though some argue that its elements and style go back much further.

If you have a reader who likes venturing into alternate worlds with lots of moving parts or is drawn to the idea of history flying straight into the future, try one of these picks from the steampunk shelf.

  • Finishing School Series

    by Gail Carriger

    My daughter recently stumbled upon the Finishing School series by Gail Carriger. The YA books in the series — Etiquette & Espionage, Curtsies & Conspiracies, Waistcoats & Weaponry (with the tagline: "A spy should always dress to kill”), and Manners & Mutiny — have been a total hit, with their corsets and intrigue, steel-bladed fans and steel-tipped quills, spy agent training, futuristic flyawaymen, robots, werewolves, and vampires.

    Set in the 1850s, this zany series is about a finishing school — Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies — that’s nothing like the ones you’ve read about. Here girls learn about intelligence gathering, deception, and espionage — and how to survive the London Season with a full dance card. Mademoiselle Geraldine must prepare Sophronia Temminnick and her friends to be lethal but not indelicate (“one’s shoes are as important as one’s thoughts, and possibly more powerful in the correct context”). These books are fun and fast reads, perfect for those who like mysteries and action carried out by witty and capable girls.
    Ages: 12+

  • Cinder

    by Marissa Meyer

    The classic tale gets a reboot with Cinderella reimagined as a skin-and-metal cyborg, complete with a synthetic leg and new brain interface that can detect when someone lies. In this first book in The Lunar Chronicles series, readers are introduced to 16-year-old Linh Cinder, an orphaned cyborg and whiz mechanic living in a futuristic New Beijing City after World War IV. Robotic shopkeepers sell their wares in a medieval-esque marketplace and young girls dressed in silk and brocade seek their prince. The Eastern Commonwealth must contend with the arrival of a murderous queen from a lunar race and a devastating plague that leads Cinder, under the control of an evil stepmother, into a race for an antidote and headlong into the mystery of her own origins. The mild romance that casts a sweet 18-year-old Prince Kai in the role of Prince Charming makes this a perfect YA pick for those who like their love stories mixed with sci-fi.
    Ages: 12+

  • The Mark of the Dragonfly

    by Jaleigh Johnson

    Jaleigh Johnson has created a stunningly mystical world in The Mark of the Dragonfly. Filled with powerful royal factions, shape shifters, old trains, machinists, and healers, this a delightful middle grade read. Piper Linney, a 13-year-old girl with a knack for fixing the mechanical treasures that fly out of the sky during meteor storms, teams up with Anna, a girl with a strange tattoo of a mechanical dragonfly, for an intense journey. Traveling through a desolate land filled with scrap towns and factories, this book varies between serious and fantastical, spunky and moving.
    Ages: 10+

  • Goblin Secrets

    by William Alexander

    The National Book Award winner in 2012, Goblin Secrets is woodsy and magical, but also eerie. The undercurrents of this book have a ghoulish feel and there’s a simmering intensity to the narrative with new twists around every corner. The author, William Alexander, creates the mythical Zombay, where acting in the theater and wearing theatrical masks is illegal. Grabba, a witch who is a grandmother-of-sorts to a batch of orphaned kids, won’t let a young boy named Rownie go to the goblins who have invited him to perform in a theater ensemble. But Rownie, who has a talent for wearing masks, is determined to find his lost brother, an actor who was arrested. A haunted and abandoned rail station with its own secrets, a corrupt mayor, and floods from an angry river add to a mystical journey that showcases the power of words and the ways people change.
    Ages: 8 - 12

  • The City of Ember

    by Jeanne DuPrau

    This is the fantastic first book in Jeanne DuPreau’s Books of Ember series. A hydroelectric generator — which has provided all of the artificial light to inhabitants of an underground city for over 200 years — is about to stop working. If this happens, Ember will be plunged into darkness like the Unknown Regions. The Builders, who designed the city, left behind a secret message in a box that will open and reveal its contents to the dwellers at the right time. Two children — Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow — who find the contents of the box, realize it might be a secret message explaining how to keep the lights on, but first they must decipher it. This is a powerful story about innovation and how the power to create can shape and alter the course of society. Also check out the movie version, which has a decidedly more steampunk vibe.
    Ages: 8 - 12

  • League of Seven Series

    by Alan Gratz

    The books in The League of Seven series are set in a radically altered America in the 1870s — the United States of America is now the United Nations of America, a nation divided into large tracts held by Native American tribes. Manhattan is now Mannahatta, Brooklyn is Breucklen, and there is a Statue of Hiawatha instead of Lady Liberty. Petticoats and crinoline exist alongside submarine and airship travel. Gratz introduces us to the seven members of the Septemberist Society who exist in this creatively transformed U.S. of A: a Norse tinker, an Aegyptian princess, a Greek scientist, an Akrican trickster, an Amazonian warrior, a Greek strongman, and an Athenian hero. These heroes with special powers protect the world from thousand-year-old, mythological-like Mangleborn monsters locked inside the Earth. Every generation has its League of Seven and now Archie, a young boy whose parents are researchers for the Septemberists, has a front row seat to the action and adventure.
    Ages: 10 - 14