In no way am I an expert on “Steampunk.” When I looked at a comprehensive list on Wikipedia of books that fall into this category, I had hardly read any of them. Yet there are a few that I find myself recommending repeatedly, especially to middle-school boy readers.
What is steampunk, you might ask? Imagine if Jules Verne or H. G. Wells were writing for a young audience today and ignoring computers, electronics and other post-Victorian developments. In a vaguely Dicksensian setting, there is scope for science fiction of a swashbuckling rather than dystopian nature. By mixing in elements from the somewhat idealized past we avoid the necessity of contemplating a bleak future.
There are two series I’d like to highlight:
First, try the Larklight series by Philip Reeve, which has a decidedly 19th Century British feel to each volume. The full title of the first book is Larklight or The Revenge of the White Spiders! Or To Saturn’s Rings and Back! A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space. Art and his very proper sister Myrtle face numerous dangers as they try to save our universe from dastardly giant spiders that have captured their father. Larklight is their home, a rambling Victorian mansion drifting through space with the help of gravitational devices. The narration is witty and the action is virtually nonstop. Others in the series: Starcross and Mothstorm
Second, consider the Airborn trilogy by Kenneth Oppel: Airborn, Starclimber and Skybreaker. In a world where airplanes were never invented, dirigibles rule the skies. Matt Cruse is a cabin boy on a luxury airship who discovers mysterious creatures in the clouds with the help of feisty Kate, an aristocratic and inquisitive passenger. They also deal with vicious sky pirates. Young teen readers seem to respond to the mix of action, science fiction and romance in these tales.
I think Jules Verne would have approved.