What kid doesn't love a good adventure book? After all, adventure books are exciting, packed full of twists and turns, and take readers on a white-knuckle journey of discovery. Adventure books for kids also come in all sizes and genres so every child can find something that fits his or her particular taste.
To fill the bookshelves of those who love a page-turner, I've curated a list of adventure books for kids. I've done my best to include books with diverse characters from all walks of life, but I will admit it was challenging to find adventures books with people of color as the leads. In order to help you navigate such a long book list, I've divided it into specific categories. You can scroll through the whole list, or click on one of the topics below to jump to the adventure type of your choice.
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Note: As I often do, I've left off some obvious choices, like Percy Jackson and Harry Potter. After all, you already know about those books!
Table of contents
Fantasy Adventure Books
Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chockshi. My kids loved this adventure book and I love that the tale relies on Hindu mythology to take them on a fantastical journey. Aru has a tendency to stretch the truth, and while she is spending the school holiday at Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture (her mother is an archeologist), her classmates dare her to prove her claim that the Lamp of Bharata is cursed. But what happens next involves frozen classmates, the Hindu epic poem, the Mahabharata, a demon and the Kingdom of Death! Your kids will be counting down the days until they can read the sequel.
The Map to Everywhere by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis is very exciting and its magical adventurous spirit makes it one of the best adventure books to read! I was hooked by the end of the first page, which let me tell you does not happen very often these days. Two worlds collide when Fin, a master thief in a magical pirate world meets Marrill, a "normal" girl who boards a ship in a mirage in an Arizona parking lot. The two join up in a multi-world quest to find two parts of a famed pirate map that Fin thinks might help him find his mother. Be sure to read the sequels!
Time Traveling with a Hamster by Ross Welford. In this, one of the few children's books with a British Indian protagonist, Al Chaudhury gets a letter and a hamster from his deceased father. The letter tells him to find his father's time travel machine and go back in time to avert a disaster. A fun and suspenseful read, great for any fan of time-travel adventure books.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. This is possibly my favorite chapter book ever and I consider it a modern classic. Minli's family lives in poverty and Minli sets out on a quest to find the Old Man of the Moon and change her family's destiny. Along the way she is accompanied by the Jade Dragon and her journey is filled with twist and turns of fate. Lin deftly weaves together Minli's quest, her father's stories and wonderful illustrations to create a memorable tale. Don't forget the companion book, Starry River of the Sky and When the Sea Turned to Silver.
Magic Marks the Spot (series) by Caroline Carlson. No adventure books list would be complete with a pirate tale or two. Hilary wants to be a pirate. Unfortunately pirates don't take young ladies into their ranks and she is sent off to finishing school, instead. With the help of her gargoyle (that's right) she escapes and runs off to join the ship, "the Terror of the Southlands". From then on it is a non-stop treasure seeking adventure. This book has loads of humor, quirky characters, a dynamic heroine, and all the qualities of a fantastic swash-bucking read.
The False Prince (trilogy) by Jennifer A. Nielsen. I love to put this title on book lists. I devoured this series as it was being published. Each year I eagerly awaited the publication date of each new installment in the trilogy. The Kingdom of Farthenwood is in turmoil and a nobleman is determined to pass off an unknown orphan as the missing prince. He brings three boys to train at his estate, promising that the one who best completes the test will have a new life as the ruler of Farthenwood. As a reader, I was constantly on my toes as to the outcome and a surprise twist will leave kids eager to read the next two books.
The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sand (trilogy). There is some dark subject matter in this book but it is an incredibly suspenseful and action-packed read aloud for older kids. (On par with some of the darker imagery in the Harry Potter books). Christoper, an orphaned apprentice in 17th century London must solve a complex puzzle surrounding the murders of apothecaries. Despite the seriousness of the plot, the well-drawn characters provide some humor.
The Inquisitor's Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hatem Aly. Multiple narrators describe the adventures of several children and their (potentially) holy dog. This book is an amazing mix of morality tale and puzzling mystery. Jeanne with her psychic visions, Willian, a biracial Muslim monk with superhuman skills, and Jacob, a Jewish fleeing his destroyed village who has healing powers come together for an adventure that enriches their lives, as well as the lives of the readers. NOTE: Several parents (see comments) have told me that the passages of violence were too much for their kids. I now recommend it only for kids ages 12 and up.
The House of Arden, by E. Nesbit, published 1908. Edred and Elfrida Arden are the heirs to Arden Castle, and just before he turns 10, Edred becomes Lord Arden, but he won't inherit the missing fortune unless he finds it before his birthday. The siblings set off on a time traveling adventure to find the treasure. Edred and Elfreda squabble like normal siblings and a grouchy magical creature, Mouldiwarp adds a quirky touch to this fun tale. One part fantasy and one part history!
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill is the 2017 Newbery Award recipient, and rightly so. The Protectorate has always sacrificed a baby to keep the witch in the forest at bay. Little do they know the witch has been saving the babies all these years. One year the witch decides to raise the baby herself, and inadvertently fills her with a fierce and strong magic. As the girl grows older and comes into her magic, a man in the Protectorate vows to find and vanquish the witch, revealing the truth about both the Protectorate and the witch.
The Fog Diver by Joel Ross. Both my son and I tore through this book. In a world where a deadly fog covers most of the earth, the population lives high on the mountains. A boy named Chess, with fog in eyes, has the uncanny ability to survive in the fog. He and his friends scavenge for goods from past worlds by diving off a floating boat. They are determined to save their adoptive mother, who is suffering from fog sickness but Lord Kodoc is on the hunt for Chess, whose abilities he both fears and desires for his own purposes. This may all sound very melodramatic, but it makes for a very exciting story. Be sure to catch the sequel!
The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials Trilogy) by Phillip Pullman. Two kids, Lyra and Will, cross parallel universes in a world where their souls (for lack of a better word) exist outside of their bodies as animal companions. The plot is complex and is heavily involved with philosophy and theology.
The Vengekeep Prophecies by Brian Farrey (trilogy). Jaxter Grimjinx is the eldest son in a family of thieves. When a trick goes bad and magical misfortunate starts to rain down on the city, Jaxter sets off to find the ingredients to counteract the spell. This is a great book full of interesting characters, magical moments and lots of suspense. I raced through this series, as did my son!
Howl's Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones. Jones wrote loads of fantasy adventures and you might recognize the title of this one because it was made into a successful animated movie. However, it’s such a captivating book, don’t limit yourself to the film version. Young Sophie is transformed into an old woman by The Witch of Waste and the only way to break the spell is to seek out the Wizard Howl in his bizarre moving castle.
The Apothecary (Series) by Maile Meloy. The action is set in 1952 against the backdrop of the cold war. In London, 14 year old Janie befriends Benjamin, the son of a mysterious apothecary. Benjamin wants to be a spy and enlists Janie in his efforts. When his father disappears, Janie and Benjamin get caught up in a plot involving a magical book called the Pharmacopoeia, spells which allow humans to turn into birds, Russian spies, and unbelievable potions. I couldn't put it down!
The Mark of the Thief (trilogy) by Jennifer A Nielsen. This incredibly thrilling trilogy is packed full of action and twists behind every corner. Nic and his sister are slaves in mines just outside of Ancient Rome. When Nic discovers an ancient bulla that once belonged to Julius Caesar, the bulla infuses him with a power. He becomes both a target and a pawn in a political conspiracy. This is a excellent selection for kids who like mythology.
Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier. This is the follow up book to the very popular Peter Nimble and the Fantastic Eyes, and I may have enjoyed it a bit more but then I am partial to a strong heroine. Sophie is a 12-year-old bookmender faced with a government bent on rampant censorship. A mysterious book suggests that Sophie has an important role to play and when Peter and his very odd cat show up she tumbles into a riotous adventure that will keep your kids turning pages well into the wee hours of the night.
Mystery Adventure Books
On the Blue Comet by Rosemary Wells. Like the Hogwart's Express, the Blue Comet is a magical train that takes children on unexpected adventures. However, the Blue Comet crosses time and space, taking its riders back and forth between the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. You can only board the Blue Comet if you possess an intense need to escape your current situation. That's exactly what happens when Oscar witnesses a crime. He is transported through time and must find his way back again. Suspenseful.
Icefall by Matthew Kirby. Solveig and her brothers, along with berserkers set to protect them, wait anxiously through the winter, trapped in a fortress near snowy mountains and the frozen sea. While they wait for word from their father the king, it slowly becomes clear that someone amongst them is a traitor, but who? This is a thrilling adventure mystery for kids who like stories that keep them perched on the edge of their chair in tense anticipation.
The Boundless, by Kenneth Oppel, is an action packed adventure, just the kind of book that is currently grabbing my son's attention. Will embarks on the maiden voyage of "The Boundless", a train with 987 cars! One of those cars contains priceless treasures that nefarious individuals would like to get their hands on. Will teams up with colorful characters in order to save the train and the treasure.
The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity is the first book in the Brixton Brothers series. 12 year old Steve dreams of being a detective and has studiously read and re-read "The Baily Brothers Detective Handbook." He knows everything about solving crimes, which comes in handy when he finds himself thrown into the middle of an exciting mystery. Every book in the series has tons of adventure, twist and turns, loads of intelligent humor and a satisfying ending.
Humorous Adventure Books
The Explorers: The Door in the Alley by Adrienne Kress. (Book 1 of a trilogy) We had a good time reading this adventure book out loud. 12 year old rule-rollower, Sebastion's, adventure begins with a pig in a teeny hat. It then continues as he enters The Explorer's Society and learns of a missing key and Filipendulous Five, a group of mysterious explorers. He teams up with Evie, an orphan who just so happens to have a grandfather connected to the Filipendulous Five. Together they set out to solve the mystery of what happened, evading bad guys and finding clues. The narration is full of fun wordplay, a little bit of cheeky snark and clever footnotes!
Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman. When Dad steps out for some milk at the corner store he encounters a group of aliens who demand that, as a representative for all mankind, he surrender. He refuses and then gets sucked into a fantastical time-traveling adventure involving a hot air balloon ride with a stegosaurus, wampires (sic), pirates and the aforementioned aliens. Through it all, he maintains a firm grasp on the milk and in the end is, fortunately, able to return in time for his children to enjoy their breakfast cereal. Kooky, bizarre, imaginative and thoroughly Dahl-esque.
Buckle and Squash: The Perilous Princess Plot was one of our best read aloud novels of 2015. When I read this to my 6 year old we could not stop laughing! I quite enjoyed creating silly voices for all of Sarah Courtauld's ridiculous and charming characters. Hard-working, practical Eliza and her dreamy, prince poster-collecting sister Gertrude are total opposites. When Gertrude goes off one day to find a prince and instead gets captured, her sister heads out to rescue her. Don't miss the sequel!
Samantha Spinner and the Super-Secret Plans by Russell Ginns. When Samantha's uncle leaves her a red umbrella with a mysterious message, she is convinced that her uncle is in danger and she sets out to find him. Like many other adventure books, this one is filled with curious secret passage ways, dangerous people and white-knuckle suspense. It is also filled with humor and a strange trash-covered ninja.
The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom. (series) Christopher Healy's series is best for kids who like a lot of humor in their reading. Four bumbling princes are thrown out by their respective fairy tale princesses. The princesses have their own personality quirks, but all together they battle the less savory creatures in the kingdom and have their own versions of happy, mediocre and not-so happy endings. Very funny and hilariously tongue in cheek.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car. My son loved this book, too. This humorous tale by the author of James Bond is great fun. The crazy Pott family purchases a car that can fly as well at catch bumbling criminals.
Realism and Historical Adventure Books
Running on the Roof of the World by Jess Butterworth. How many books set in Chinese-controlled Tibet have your kids read? Well, here's the opportunity to change all that! and Tash and her family live their lives, hiding their Buddhist faith from the Chinese soldiers that occupy her village in Tibet. But one day, the startling actions of a man disrupts the peace and Tash's parents are taken away. Tash, disguised as a boy and her friend, Sam, along with two goats, flee the village, making a harrowing journey across snow covered mountains. Intertwined with this page-turning adventure are questions about freedom, courage and the teaching of the Dali Lama. Terrific.
The Cross of Lead by Avi. Set in the 14th century, this award-winning book is a page-turning adventure! Asta's Son doesn't have a real name, and he doesn't know who is father is. When his mother dies, he comes under the guardianship of Father Quinel, who gives him a cross of lead owned by his mother. But before Father Quinel tell him his paternity, the boy (now Crispin) must flee. He goes on the run from the wicked lord who owns the village and a hair-raising adventure begins.
Bud, Not Buddy. Christopher Paul Curtis is one of my favorite middle grade authors. 10 year old Buddy runs away from a series of unpleasant foster homes and sets out to find his father, whom he believes to be a jazz musician. Set in the depression, Curtis’ writing is filled with humor as well as serious truths. Ultimately, it’s an optimistic book, full of laughs and one cannot help but fall in love with Buddy. Winner of the 2000 Newbery Medal and Coretta Scott King Award.
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi. Set in 1832, this Newbery Honor book tells the absolutely riveting story of Charlotte, who sets out on a sea voyage from England to Rhode Island. Instead of being chaperoned by other families on the journey, she unexpectedly finds herself alone with the crew and becomes entangled in a nail-biting and dangerous adventure.
Treasure Island. It is safe to say that the characters in this book are not all virtuous, hard working and self-sacrificing, but it is loads of fun. Youngster Jim goes to look for treasure and gets mixed-up with pirates like the ruthless Long John Silver.
The Left-Handed Fate by Kate Milford. Lucy and Max are trying to put an end to the War of 1812 by assembling a mysterious and ancient engine. While on a ship, The Left-Handed Fate, the ship is captured by the Americans and put under the command of a 12 year old, Oliver who must wrestle with the moral decision of becoming a traitor or putting the lives of others in jeopardy. Full of high adventure, treacherous journeys and suspenseful action, this book will keep your tween on the edge of his seat.
Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome. (1930) Be prepared to Google a lot of boating terms when you begin to read this book with your kids! However, once you get over the hump you will no doubt love this English classic about a group of siblings who set out on an independent camping adventure.
My Side of the Mountain. My 10 year old came home from school singing the praises of this book and I asked him if he would be interested in listening to me read it to him and his brother. As a kid, I read this book about a boy who runs away from New York City to live in the wilderness, and remember being fascinated by it.
When parents tell me their kids have trouble finishing books, I like to recommend The Whipping Boy. It's a short novel, but just as entertaining and fulfilling as longer books. The vain and snobbish Prince Brat and Jemmy, his whipping boy, are kidnapped by a pair of thieves. A case of mistaken identity is the catalyst for lots of action, humor and interesting plot twists. Plus, it's a classic from the 1980s and a Newbery winner so you can feel quite satisfied about getting your kid to read it.
Hatchet (series) by Gary Paulsen is a survival story. After his plane crashes, 13 year old Brian uses his hatchet, his instincts and his clever brain to survive 54 days in the wilderness.
Cast Off: The Strange Adventures of Petra de Winter and Bram Broen by Eve Yohalem. In 17th Century Holland, Petra runs away from her abusive father and accidentally ends up as a stowaway on a merchant vessel headed towards the Dutch Indies. A mulatto boy, Bram, helps her to disguise herself as a boy and Petra uses her healing knowledge to help the ship's surgeon. She gains the trust of the crew but when they discover she is a girl at the same time a mutiny takes hold, both she and Bram find themselves in grave danger. This is an extremely suspenseful novel with vivid descriptions of life on a 17th century ship.
Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus. I started reading this book but it was snatched from my hands by my son who gives it a big thumbs up. It is an adventure story, inspired by historical events. In 1841, 14 year old Manjiro and 3 other men are stranded on an island off Japan during a fishing trip. Eventually they are rescued by an American whaling vessel but instead of returning to Japan, Manjiro travels with the Captain, attends school in America - dealing with the prejudice that comes with being an outsider - and heads to California during the gold rush. At the time, Japan was cut off from the world, and no one was allowed back into the country after leaving, but Manjiro risks his life to return.
Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne. Jules Verne's classic is pretty exciting but kids may not be familiar with the context. Get out a map and have them track Phileas Fogg's journey as they read. Or better yet, turn it into a read aloud and open up family discussions about the historical setting. Before reading classic books that may contain problematic cultural stereotypes and images, read these tips.
Animal Adventure Books
Carbonel: The King of Cats. Young Rosemary buys a second hand broom and a cat at the market. At first it seems like it was a foolish purchase, but things are not always as they seem! The new cat turns out to be royalty! Rosemary and her friend, John, get caught up in an adventure and mystery in their quest to break the witch’s spell. I discovered this book as an adult, thanks to the New York Review Children’s Collection, which republishes lesser known classic gems. I would have adored it as a kid.
Catlantis by Anna Starobinets. Originally published in Russian, this feline adventure is kooky,funny and endearing, and totally unique. I read it out loud to my then-8 year old and he loved it. Baguette the cat must perform a heroic feat in order to get Purrina to agree to marry him. Baguette's grandmother is an oracle who reveals that he is part of a long line of special time-traveling cats. Baguette must travel back in time, find and bring back the Catlantic flower so every cat might again, have nine lives.
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien is a classic for every kid, not just for Warriors fans! This story centers around Mrs. Frisby who must move her family in order to survive and in doing so encounters a group of mice bred for intelligence. It is such an engrossing story, and I've been considering it as a read aloud, but I'm going to offer it to him as an independent read instead. Winner of the 1972 Newbery Medal.
Blue Mountain is the story of Tuk, a bighorn sheep who has a vision of a blue mountain. When the valley where his tribe feeds in winter grows bare and domesticated sheep bring disease, Tuk decides to lead his fellow bighorn to the blue mountain. Some are doubtful of Tuk's promise of success and stay behind, but the small group of travelers set out and traverse a path beset with predators and dangers. Tuk manages to outwit bears and wolves and lead his followers in his hero's quest. When they arrive at the blue mountain, Tuk turns back to fetch the rest of the herd. With its poetical text and interesting characters, Blue Mountain is a great read aloud.
Dominic. I can't sing the praises of this book enough. It has easily become one of our best read aloud chapter books of 2015 . My 6 year old adored it. It was such a good read aloud that we finished it in one day! (We are very dedicated readers.) I am embarrassed to admit, I didn't even realize Steig wrote chapter books. Dominic is a dog who sets out for adventure. Along the way he meets the Doomsday Gang, a band of ne'er-do-wells who are spreading havoc among the local population. Dominic easily foils the greedy gang and earns everyone's awe and respect. His kindness towards towards others earns him a reward, which he spreads around to the less fortunate as he continues on his journey. Dominic has such a positive attitude towards life, you and your kids can't help but smile throughout the book.
Redwall (series) by Brian Jacques. In the first book a group of mice must defend themselves against the marauding rats. Our hero, Matthias, prefers peace. There is a quest for a mythical weapon, riddles to solve and journeys to go on. All the stuff that goes into a rollicking fantasy adventure.
Graphic Novel Adventures
Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Raul the Third. You might not think that a space adventure would easily combine with Mexican car culture. Well, you'd be wrong! Lowriders is great fun and has a good message about working together and friendship. Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack, and Elirio Malaria are a great team when it comes to fixing cars. Together they enter a contest to turn a hunk of junk into the best car in the solar system. This was a great one for my son who is starting to learn Spanish. A glossary in the back helps kids with the Spanish words sprinkled throughout the text.
Compass South by Hope Larson (series). My 9 year old loves this graphic novel (and its sequel) In 1860, 12 year old twins get caught while pulling off a heist. They are sent to New Orleans where Alex is kidnapped and put to work on a ship headed towards San Francisco. His sister, Cleo, stows away, hoping to find him. Like any good adventure at sea, there are pirates and treasure and battles. Great fun. Be sure to catch the sequel, Knife's Edge.
Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869 by Alex Alice. (series) What if someone went to space in 1869? A year ago, Claire Dulac took a hot air balloon to the very edge of the stratosphere and disappeared. Now her husband and son have clue that she may have survived. They go to see the King of Bavaria who wants to know more about aether, the substance that Claire was looking for. A little bit of steampunk and historical fantasy coupled with outstanding illustrations.
Cleopatra in Space (series) by Mike Maihack. I had heard a few good things about this series, so I took a leap and ordered it sight unseen for my son to keep him occupied during a trip. He loved it! The historical Cleopatra learns of a prophecy in which she is destined to save the galaxy. She is transported to a planet, far into the future and enrolls in school. She is a bit of a troublemaker, there is lots of action, a few laughs and extra amounts of fun.
Giants Beware (Chronicles of Claudette series) by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado. Claudette dreams of being a courageous knight and slaying a dragon. Her surly father, a blacksmith who lost his legs in a dangerous quest, doesn't want her to leave the village. With the companionship of her friend Marie and her brother Gaston, she defies his wishes and heads out for adventure. The cast of characters in this series is incredibly lovable and quirky.
Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale. This was one of the first graphic novels I read. I read it several years ago, before I was really aware of the explosion of graphic novels as a children’s book genre. I picked it up because I love Shannon Hale’s novels. It is quite unlike the traditional fairy tale. Rapunzel takes ownership of her hair, frees herself, rejects the prince and goes on a quest to save her mother in the Wild, Wild West. Her sidekick is Jack—of beanstalk fame. Also by the same team: Calamity Jack
Fairy Tale Adventure Books
Storybound. In the land of Story, kids go to school in order to learn their rôle, such as hero, or villain, or sidekick. But their way of life is disturbed when Una, a seemingly ordinary girl from the ordinary world drops -- or rather, she is written in -- into Story. Una, her new friends, Peter and Snow, must unravel the plot twists of the mystery of why she is there.
The Runaway Princess (series) by Kate Coombs. Princess Margaret does not want to be married off. Her parents have set up a contest in which they will bestow her hand to the hero who defeats a dragon, witch and band of bandits. “Meg” will have nothing to do with this so she escapes her tower and sets off to warn the impending victims, who are actually harmless. Be sure to pick up the sequel, The Runaway Dragon.
Half Upon a Time is the first book in a clever trilogy staring Jack, the son of "Jack of the Beanstalk" fame. Jack, firmly rooted in fairy tale world is trying to restore his family's good name when suddenly May, a "punk princess" with a cell phone falls from the sky. It turns out May's grandmother is Snow White and the two pair up to rescue the kidnapped grandma. Riley brings in material from several familiar fairy tales to create a story that is more of a fractured fairy tale than a retelling per se. But all three books are tons of fun, with humor, and clever plot twists.
Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell. Aspiring author Princess Tilda is an independent-minded princess who has never even considered slaying dragons because of her disfigured foot. However, her cousin, Ivo, wishes to steal her kingdom and she ends up fleeing her kingdom. Her ensuing adventure involves magic, capture, a menacing Blue-beard character, and (of course) dragon slaying.
Frogged by Vivian Vande Velde. Princess Imogene's mother is making her read a horrid book titled, The Art of Being a Princess. When she wanders down to a pond, a frog convinces her to kiss him. The frog, however, not only does not turn into a prince (he turns into smart-aleck peasant), but the spell reverses and Imogene turns into a frog! The only way to turn back into a princess is to dupe someone into kissing her, thus casting the frog spell on another unsuspecting person. But Imogen worries about the ethics of that! As a theater nerd I loved the way Imogene the frog gets taken on a hilarious adventure with a theater troupe, and the memorable and not-a-little bit crazy characters will keep you reading to the end. This would make a great read aloud.
I read The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles out loud to the kids and both boys (then ages 9 and 5) absolutely loved it. Three siblings travel to a magical land with the help of their "scrappy caps" and a wise Professor. Along the way they meet fantastical creatures, some of whom do not want them to arrive at their destination. As in HP, there is a villain who turns out to be not quite villainous after all.
If you've reached the end of list of adventure books for kids, then your kids must really love a good page-turning, white knuckle adventure! Try these lists next: