Last Sunday Amusing Artist and I were walking back from a run and we decided to walk by the Little Free Library in front of the local elementary school. I love Little Free Libraries, and this one is always packed with kids books that never seem to stand up. I decided to open up the door and straighten the shelf of titles – and lo and behold, instant good karma. Into my hand fell an out of print favorite of mine, Scott O’Dell’s Sarah Bishop, which I had been looking for, partly because it was an old friend, partly so my daughters can read it.
This story is about a girl during the British Revolution whose father is tarred and feathered (and hence, dies – this was very educational in a weirdly grisly way) because he hadn’t chosen the side the rest of the town was on, so, seeing the writing on the wall, Sarah decides to flee into the wilderness. She has to live on her own, making shelter, finding food, and keeping warm. Eventually she meets someone in a similar situation – in times of war, there are always going to be people fleeing from society, for a number of reasons.
I remember being fascinated with Sarah Bishop – she was a worthy idol for a 12 year old girl, and her self-reliance send a terrific and unusual message to the reader – if society is running amok, just deal with the basics and wait for civilization to come to it’s senses. Plus, girls can hunt just fine, thanks.
Telling Amusing Artist about the book made me think about survival stories for teens and older kids. There are some great ones out there, and many of these have become classics.
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
Sarah Bishops wasn’t his only story of self-sufficient heroines, but this Newbury Medal winner is stocked in every bookstore you’ll find. An Indian girl is forgotten when the rest of her tribe leaves an island and has to survive on her own.
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
Julie is an Inuit, and not settling in well to life in the city, so she runs back to the Alaskan Wilderness and learns to survive the winter by watching a pack of wolves. Particularly good for animal lovers.
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
So this author is clearly fascinated with the concept of running away to the wilderness. In this one, a teenaged boy is fed up with life in the city and chooses to go to the wilderness. Not always plausible in today’s world, but a beautiful, meditative Walden for kids.
The Black Stallion by Walter Farley
Not just a ‘horse book’, the first half of this is about Alec Ramsay, who is shipwrecked on a desert island with an untamed Arabian horse. He and the horse save each other and develop quite a bond before they are rescued from the island and have to learn to adjust to their new surroundings – 1940’s suburbia.
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
Brian is flying in a private plane over the Canadian wilderness when his pilot has a heart attack and he has to land the plane on his own. All he has is the hatchet his mother gave him before his journey north to visit his estranged father. Many a boy scout has credited this book with their desire to learn survival skills and spend time in the wilderness.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
If you set aside the fact that there is a kill-or-be-killed theme here which many a parent has objected to, you can still see that Katniss Everdeen has to survive in the wilderness – the stakes are just higher. My two cents: if teenagers would rather fantasize about finding yourself competent in a terrible situation rather than, say, being rescued over and over by a vampire who sparkles in the sun, that is fine by me.
The Martian by Andy Weir
There is profanity in this story – just enough to worry helicopter parents intrigue the average 13 year old – but this story of an astronaut stranded on Mars, trying to use his physics, chemistry, math, and botany skills to survive until the next research crew is scheduled to arrive is unique in the fact that Mark Watney has a great attitude. He is going to get back to Earth or die trying, and hence, is probably the most likeable castaway in fiction in decades.
The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank
Yes, this should arguably fall under a category not called Survival Stories but Trying to Survive Stories, but despite what most of us know the ending to be, Anne had an amazing attitude despite months of deprivation and despair. Reading this is also the perfect conversation starter if you want to talk with your teen about how fortunate we are, the holocaust, history, or persecution.
The best thing about survival stories for teens? As a parent who really wants her kids to grow up self-sufficient, I think if teenagers would rather fantasize about finding yourself competent in a terrible situation rather than, say, being rescued over and over by a vampire who sparkles in the sun, that is fine by me.
While these were the ones that popped into my mind as great reads, I know there must be more. Care to share?