Reading Mindfully: Isaac Asimov’s “Youth”

Reading Mindfully: Isaac Asimov’s “Youth”

Each month, we offer you a chance to read mindfully, to use literature to think about your perceptions and reactions to the world in which we live and work. Through these short texts and accompanying questions, we hope to give you a small taste of Books@Work. Please grab a friend or colleague to read, share and discuss – and send us your thoughts.

By all counts prolific, Isaac Asimov wrote or edited over 500 books in his lifetime, and he is best known for his science fiction. “Youth” first appeared in the May 1952 issue of Space Science Fiction. Although known for such works as the Robot series and Foundation series which are concerned with humans in an advanced scientific future, “Youth” is a rare Asimov story dealing with alien characters.

As you read “Youth,” consider these questions:

  • What does this story show about the power of perspective?
  • Could the story’s outcome have been different? Do you think anyone did the right thing for the wrong reasons, or the wrong thing for the right reasons?
  • What are your instincts or reactions when you encounter something strange? Have they changed since you were a child?

by Isaac Asimov

Illustration From the 1952 Edition of Youth via Project Gutenberg

Illustration from the 1952 edition of “Youth” via Project Gutenberg [Public Domain]

THERE was a spatter of pebbles against the window and the youngster stirred in his sleep. Another, and he was awake.

He sat up stiffly in bed. Seconds passed while he interpreted his strange surroundings. He wasn’t in his own home, of course. This was out in the country. It was colder than it should be and there was green at the window.


The call was a hoarse, urgent whisper, and the youngster bounded to the open window.

Slim wasn’t his real name, but the new friend he had met the day before had needed only one look at his slight figure to say, “You’re Slim.” He added, “I’m Red.”

Red wasn’t his real name, either, but its appropriateness was obvious. They were friends instantly with the quick unquestioning friendship of young ones not yet quite in adolescence, before even the first stains of adulthood began to make their appearance.

Slim cried, “Hi, Red!” and waved cheerfully, still blinking the sleep out of himself.

Red kept to his croaking whisper, “Quiet! You want to wake somebody?”

Slim noticed all at once that the sun scarcely topped the low hills in the east, that the shadows were long and soft, and that the grass was wet.

Slim said, more softly, “What’s the matter?”

Red only waved for him to come out.

Slim dressed quickly, gladly confining his morning wash to the momentary sprinkle of a little lukewarm water. He let the air dry the exposed portions of his body as he ran out, while bare skin grew wet against the dewy grass.

Red said, “You’ve got to be quiet. If Mom wakes up or Dad or your Dad or even any of the hands then it’ll be ‘Come on in or you’ll catch your death of cold.'”

He mimicked voice and tone faithfully, so that Slim laughed and thought that there had never been so funny a fellow as Red.

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Image: Illustration from the 1952 edition of Isaac Asimov’s “Youth,”  [Public Domain] via Project Gutenberg

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Capria Jaussen

Capria Jaussen

Capria Jaussen is the Director of Operations of Books@Work.

Cecily Erin Hill

Cecily Erin Hill

Cecily Hill is the Project Director, NEH for All at the National Humanities Alliance and former member of the Books@Work team.