So you child has just finished reading Hatchet by Gary Paulsen and is itching for some more good survival stories. Here’s a new list for your read alike book list collection! There are five more books in the Hatchet series, (known as “Brian’s Saga) so they can start with those, and when they are done reading, 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.
This list of books for kids who loved reading Hatchet will fill their need for more harrowing tales of survival, both of the wilderness variety and that strange wonderland known as the urban jungle. The settings range from historical medieval England to modern day India, to an reformatory school. The connecting theme in this list which I am calling “books like Hatchet” is that the protagonists are thrust into unfamiliar worlds and they must learn to survive by the skin of their teeth!
The books on this list are all contemporary novels, but you can always try a classic tale like Robinson Crusoe! Also, let’s remember, survival stories are not just for boys! There are plenty of strong girls on this book list, too! (Note: book covers and titles are affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)
The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts: Being an Absolutely Accurate Autobiographical Account of My Follies, Fortune, and Fate by Avi. If your child reads no other book on this list, let it be this one and the sequel, The End of the World and Beyond! 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.
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.
Fort by Cynthia DeFelice. One summer, free-ranging friends, Wyatt and Augie, decide to build a fort in the woods. Encouraged by family members who give them food, building supplies and more, they fashion a shelter that any kid would envy. A pair of bullies target Gerald, a mentally disabled boy, so Wyatt and Augie launch “Operation Doom.” This book has a lot of laughs, a great deal of compassion, and an extremely satisfying ending.
Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart 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 a few 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 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 the freedom of sorts they have 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.
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 Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani. I could not put this book down! Nisha and her twin brother are half-Muslim, half-Hindu siblings living with their father in India just before the time of Partition. When the 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.
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 Starr Rose. 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 many modern readers, May doesn’t know dyslexia is her problem). Written in verse, this book will captivate fans of survival stories like Hatchet.
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve recommended this book! Ten 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. 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
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.
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. He is 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.
The Journey of Pale Bear by Susan Fletcher. I absolutely loved this book! 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.
The Bears on Hemlock Mountain by Alice Dalgliesh is a very short novel. It tells the story of Jonathan who crosses a snowy mountain to fetch a pot from his aunt. Crossing the mountain, he repeats the mantra “there are no bears at all.” When he does meet a bear, he manages to hide in a rather clever way. This is a simple story which kids may be able to read in one sitting. It has received a lot of criticism as being not worth of its Newberry – I won’t comment on that except to say that, considering its woodcut illustrations and the emphasis on familial relationships, I found it a nice, if tame, book.
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. 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.
More lists with titles similar to Hatchet, and for kids looking for adventure:
- The big, epic list of adventure novels
- Nonfiction books about explorers
- Diverse Middle Grade Historical Fiction