If your child loves thrilling survival stories like Hatchet and the Brian's Saga series by Gary Paulsen, this book list is just what they need!
While your child may be eager to try their own hand at surviving against all odds in the wilderness, instead of giving them a flint, an axe and a can of tuna, send them off on their own to the library with this book list in hand.
The protagonists of these survival stories are all thrust into unfamiliar and dangerous worlds where they must draw upon all their inner and outer resources to survive. The settings range from medieval England to modern day India, from natural disasters to a reformatory school.
MORE: Does your kids have a favorite book? See our huge collection of read alike book lists.
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How to Stay Invisible by Maggy C. Rudd
This is an excellent choice for readers who enjoy survival stories like Hatchet. After his parents abandon him, 12-year-old Raymond heads to the woods, where he uses a hollowed out tree for shelter. Living alone with his dog, Raymond fishes and dumpster-dives for food and continues going to school. He keeps his secret from his new friends, the talkative Harlin, and an older man, Stigs, who has a sad history of his own. A compelling narrative and emotionally tense story that readers won't be able to put down.
The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts (series) by Avi
It's 1724 and Oliver's father has disappeared off to London to find Oliver's sister. To top it off the house is flooded and Oliver has no money. A series of events involving thieves, scoundrels, and very Dickensian characters sets Oliver on the road to London. The cliffhanger at the end of the first book will have your kids reaching desperately for the second. Both novels are fast paced, full of high suspense offer much food for thought.
Dog Driven by Terry Lynn Johnson
14-year-old McKenna has Stargardt disease (a juvenile form of macular degeneration) but she's kept this hidden from her family because her sister has already lost her sight to the disease and McKenna doesn't want to lose her autonomy. She's hoping to keep her secret long enough to compete in a days-long dog sled race that raises awareness for Stargardt disease. Needless to say, this is a risky endeavor and Johnson's fast-paced, suspenseful book highlights the challenges McKenna faces, not just in the race, but as a teen learning how to identify as someone with a disability.
Northwind by Gary Paulsen
Paulsen's final survival story is set in an unspecified northern location in an unspecified historical period, but the setting is evocative of Norway in a pre-modern age. When a deadly illness sweeps through a ship crew's camp, young Leif leaves in a canoe with a few supplies. Instructed by one of the elders to voyage northward, he does so. As he travels, he learns self-reliance and revels in the solitude and natural world. Paulsen's beautiful prose sets the reader on a journey of struggle and triumph. Glorious.
Wildfire by Rodman Philbrick
A heart-pounding adventure! A wildfire threatens the summer camp and when 12-year-old Sam runs back to get his phone, he is trapped by flames and smoke. In his quest to outrun the life-threatening flames, he gets lost and encounters Delphy, another lost teen. The two work must work together. Your kids will not put the book down until they have reached the end. Philbrick's The Wild Series includes, Wild River.
Alone by Megan E. Freeman
Maddie and her friends planned to meet for a sleepover. Her friends never show up and in the morning, Maddie finds her town has been entirely abandoned. Unable to communicate with anyone Maddie must learn to survive on her own. At first, there is running water and electricity, but when that goes she teaches herself to drive, finds supplies in neighboring homes and has only a dog for a companion. A suspenseful page-turner!
Freewater by Amina Luqman-Dawson
In this enthralling story, twelve-year-old Homer escapes the plantation where he is enslaved with his mother and sister. Lost and alone in the swamp, he is rescued by Suleman and taken to the maroon community of Freewater in the Great Dismal Swamp. Although he finds connection with the others in Freewater and learns about survival in the difficult landscape, he is haunted by the need to return to the plantation and free his mother and sister.
We Are Wolves by Katrina Nannestad
Nannestad wrote one of my favorite read aloud books, When Mischief Came to Town, and even though this thrilling story of survival, inspired by the Wolfskinder ("wolf children") during World War II couldn't be more different, it is just as good. In 1944, Liesl, Otto, and Mia live in East Prussia when their father is called to serve in the German army. When their village is attacked by Russians in winter, the trio are separated from their mother. 11-year-old Liesl takes charge of her younger siblings, determined to survive against all odds.
Running on the Roof of the World by Jess Butterworth
Find it: Amazon
How many books set in Tibet have your kids read? Well, here's the opportunity to change all that! 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 teachings of the Dali Lama. Terrific. Ages 10 and up.
The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming by J. Anderson Coats
After her father is killed in the Civil War, Jane, her stepmother and her brother set off to Washington Territory. They are part of a group led by a man who insists that it is a good place for widows and children. Jane worries that she doesn't have the strength to live in her new home. When her stepmother remarries, the new husband gives Jane the freedom to learn the skills she needs for the rough frontier and she gain a new confidence in herself and a contentment she didn't expect.
Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart
Scar Island will remind readers of Lord of the Flies, only with a less disturbing outcome. When a freak (and I mean freak!) accident leaves all the adults of Slabhenge Reformatory School for Troubled Boys dead, the boys look forward to finally getting away from the wretched place of misery. But some of the boys decide they would prefer a few days alone on the island before coming under the thumb of adults again. As you can imagine, things go awry in the power vacuum, and secrets previously kept hidden are revealed. It is a very compelling read and your child will have a hard time putting it down.
The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani
I could not put this book down! Nisha and her twin brother are half-Muslim, half-Hindu and live with their father in India just before the time of Partition. When word comes that their town is to become part of the new Pakistan state, Nisha, her brother, her Hindu father and grandmother must make the harrowing and dangerous journey to the Indian border. Each chapter is an entry in Nisha's diary as she leaves her comfortable life behind and struggles with her own questions of identity.
The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman
Viji and her sister Rukku run away from their abusive father and land on the streets of Chennai, in India. The two girls make friends with a pair of boys when they take shelter under a bridge. Together with a stray dog, the foursome survive by sorting through trash, making and selling beaded jewelry, and the kindness of a few adults. Although their life is clearly dangerous and tenuous, the four enjoy a freedom of sorts and gain confidence as they learn new skills. When Rukku falls ill, Viji seeks out help and the children find hope for a different kind of future. Venkatraman's masterful storytelling takes readers on a journey your kids won't soon forget.
Will Sparrow's Road by Karen Cushman
Cushman is a master at writing historical novels about the hard won survival of children who have been abandoned in one way or another by the adults who are supposed to take care of them. Will's father sold him to a local innkeeper but he runs away. He meets a group of people who are themselves outcast from society, people who make their living as a sort of carnival side-show. Cushman's vivid medieval world is a stunning backdrop as Will learns hard lessons about trust and appearances.
May B. by Caroline Rose Starr
If your child is a fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder, but turns up his nose at poetry, place May B. in his hands. 13 year old May and her family live on the frontier and in order to help out, May's parents find her a place working for another family fifteen few miles away. When the couple mysteriously disappear and leave May alone, she must find a way to survive the oncoming winter. A thoughtful touch is May's strong interest in learning and reading, even as she struggles with dyslexia (although, unlike modern readers, May doesn't know dyslexia is her problem).
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
Curtis is one 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.
Cast Off: The Strange Adventures of Petra de Winter and Bram Broen by Eve Yohalem
Find it: Amazon
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 Petra 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.
Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell
Ever since her mother's death when Wilhelmina Silver was five, Wilhelmina has run free on her father's farm in Zimbabwe. When her father dies she is put under the guardianship of the kindly Captain Browne, but his new wife has no patience for Wilhelmina and her wild ways so Wilhelmina is sent off to a boarding school in England where she is the epitome of a fish out of water. She runs away from the school and attempts to live on her own. Will is a tough and resilient girl but even she needs friends. Her resourcefulness and moral courage eventually lead her back to the school where she learns how to bridge the gap between her wild side and the formality of England. I loved this story for its wonderful sense of place—Zimbabwe and in Britain—and for the complex inner life of Will.
Journey of the Pale Bear by Susan Fletcher
I loved this book, and not just because of a penchant for all things Scandinavian. Arthur, a boy living in Norway, runs away from his abusive stepfather and stepbrothers. He has a letter from his Welsh cousins, which he assumes is asking him to return to Wales and claim his birthright. Unfortunately, he can't actually read the letter. In the port town of Bergen he encounters a caged polar bear and two ruffians shove him in the cage. When Arthur soothes the bear, he is enlisted to accompany the bear on a ship to England, for the bear is a gift from King Haakon to King Henry. Hair-raising, heart-searching and page-turning adventure follows. The story was inspired by a 13th century "pale bear" who lived in the Tower of London menagerie, a gift from Norway.
Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh
13-year-old Max, an American boy whose family has come to live for a year in Brussels, is resentful that he has to repeat a grade and go to a French-speaking school. Ahmed, a 14-year-old Syrian refugee was separated from his father on the water crossing to Greece. Ahmed was able to make his way to Belgium and hides out in Max's basement. When Max discovers him, the two become friends and hatch a plan to help Ahmed get out into the world again. A timely, sensitive book about friendship, family and taking charge of one's life.
Two Degrees by Alan Gratz
Gratz interweaves three narratives, set in distinct environments, about adolescents experiencing the dangerous effects of climate change. Akira Kristiansen is caught in a California forest fire, two boys living in northern Canada have a run-in with a polar bear, and Natalie Torres is swept from her home in a devastating Florida hurricane. Each part of the narrative ends on a heart-stopping cliffhanger and you'll have no choice but to continue reading.
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