When you step into the library looking for survival stories, I have a number I would recommend. Some are from my own childhood and have stood that long test of time. Some I read in my early years in youth services for Calgary Public Library, some I read because kids I worked with told me they were must reads. So let’s step into the stacks!
Jean Craighead George’s MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN. Terribly unhappy in his family’s crowded New York City apartment, Sam Gribley runs away to the solitude–and danger–of the mountains, where he finds a side of himself he never knew.
This was my all time favorite childhood read. I was fascinated with Sam, who survived in the wilderness, made a home inside a tree and befriended a hawk. Of course, I’d also give you the four sequels Craighead George wrote and round that out with her equally famous JULIE OF THE WOLVES.
To her small Eskimo village, she is known as Miyax; to her friend in San Francisco, she is Julie. When her life in the village becomes dangerous, Miyax runs away, only to find herself lost in the Alaskan wilderness. Without food and time running out, Miyax tries to survive by copying the ways of a pack of wolves. Accepted by their leader and befriended by a feisty pup named Kapu, she soon grows to love her new wolf family. Life in the wilderness is a struggle, but when she finds her way back to civilization, Miyax is torn between her old a new lives. Is she Miyax of the Eskimos — or Julie of the wolves?
THE SIGN OF THE BEAVER by Elizabeth George Speare. Twelve-year-old Matt is left on his own in the Maine wilderness while his father leaves to bring the rest of the family to their new settlement. When he befriends Attean, an Indian chief’s grandson, he is invited to join the Beaver tribe and move north. Should Matt abandon his hopes of ever seeing his family again and go on to a new life?
LOST IN THE BARRENS by Farley Mowat. Awasin, a Cree Indian boy, and Jamie, a Canadian orphan living with his uncle, the trapper Angus Macnair, are enchanted by the magic of the great Arctic wastes. They set out on an adventure that proves longer and more dangerous than they could have imagined. Drawing on his knowledge of the ways of the wilderness and the implacable northern elements, Farley Mowat has created a memorable tale of daring and adventure.
THE CAY by Theodore Taylor Phillip is excited when the Germans invade the small island of Curaçao. War has always been a game to him, and he’s eager to glimpse it firsthand–until the freighter he and his mother are traveling to the United States on is torpedoed. When Phillip comes to, he is on a small raft in the middle of the sea. Besides Stew Cat, his only companion is an old West Indian, Timothy. Phillip remembers his mother’s warning about black people: “They are different, and they live differently.” But by the time the castaways arrive on a small island, Phillip’s head injury has made him blind and dependent on Timothy.
ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS by Scott O’Dell In the Pacific, there is an island that looks like a big fish sunning itself in the sea. Around it blue dolphins swim, otters play, and sea birds abound. Karana is the Indian girl who lived alone for years on the Island of the Blue Dolphins. Hers is not only an unusual adventure of survival, but also a tale of natural beauty and personal discovery.
I AM DAVID by Ann Holm David’s entire twelve-year life has been spent in a grisly prison camp in Eastern Europe. He knows nothing of the outside world. But when he is given the chance to escape, he seizes it. With his vengeful enemies hot on his heels, David struggles to cope in this strange new world, where his only resources are a compass, a few crusts of bread, his two aching feet, and some vague advice to seek refuge in Denmark. Is that enough to survive? David’s extraordinary odyssey is dramatically chronicled in Anne Holm’s classic about the meaning of freedom and the power of hope.
HATCHET by Gary Paulsen Thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson is on his way to visit his father when the single-engine plane in which he is flying crashes. Suddenly, Brian finds himself alone in the Canadian wilderness with nothing but a tattered Windbreaker and the hatchet his mother gave him as a present — and the dreadful secret that has been tearing him apart since his parent’s divorce. But now Brian has no time for anger, self pity, or despair — it will take all his know-how and determination, and more courage than he knew he possessed, to survive.
Now, because I work with a group of 8-13 year olds on a weekly basis, they’ve shared a favorite or two when it comes to survival stories, including THE ISLAND, Book One : Shipwreck by Gordon Korman They didn’t want to be on the boat in the first place. They didn’t want to be stuck at sea with a bunch of strangers. But when you’re in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, there’s no easy way out. And when a terrifying storm hits, there’s no way to fully prepare. It’s all about survival.
The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis is another read that comes highly recommended from them. Not wilderness survival, but survival in a war torn country. It shows the spirit and incredible strength of children. This is a series kids love and recommend it time and time again. You can get them separately or read them all in THE BREADWINNER Trilogy.
Two more I would add are HATTIE BIG SKY by Kirby Larson and BUD NOT BUDDY by Christopher Paul Curtis. Both capture the spirit of young people striving to survive while discovering themselves and a strength they didn’t know they possessed. Both of these titles are also kid recommended.
Now, it often happens when talking books and recommendations you get suggestions for books to read and find more you want to add to that read list. The following two are on my to read list.
ALABAMA MOON by Watt Key. For as long as ten-year-old Moon can remember, he has lived out in the forest in a shelter with his father. They keep to themselves, their only contact with other human beings an occasional trip to the nearest general store. When Moon’s father dies, Moon follows his father’s last instructions: to travel to Alaska to find others like themselves. But Moon is soon caught and entangled in a world he doesn’t know or understand, apparent property of the government he has been avoiding all his life. As the spirited and resourceful Moon encounters constables, jails, institutions, lawyers, true friends, and true enemies, he adapts his wilderness survival skills and learns to survive in the outside world, and even, perhaps, make his home there.
So, let’s put the book talking out to you. We’ll talk Survival Stories for the middle grade readers in the comments! Any you would recommend?
Deb Marshall blogs and talks books at Just Deb. When she’s not doing that she’s at the library seeking out the next great reads for her book club kids. She looks forward to the day when one of those reads include her middle grade novels. Although not wilderness survival type stories they do include kids who have to figure out ways to survive themselves!
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