Strength in the Face of Adversity: Survival Stories

There’s one genre that just never gets old: survival stories. No matter what age you are, there’s something thrilling about stories of people who have overcome all odds to make it through extreme situations. Survival stories are exciting, they’re suspenseful, and they are often inspiring, encouraging readers to search for a strength inside themselves that perhaps they didn’t know was there.

If you have a middle grade reader in your life, the genre of survival stories is one you must explore. These books can be especially great for reluctant or hard-to-please readers, who will be unable to resist knowing the answer to the question, “OK, how is he/she going to get out of this?” The protagonists of these stories are also kids, around the same age as your young readers, which adds another level of interest.

We’ve compiled a list of some of our all-time favorite survival stories for middle readers. All are tales of courage, bravery, and hope; but with a diverse array of characters, settings, and plot lines, there is something new to be found in each book.

I Survived books

I Survived Series by Lauren Tarshis

This is the place to be if your reader likes history. Tarshis takes real catastrophes, disasters, and major events from history and tells each story through the eyes of a main character who lived to tell the tale. Not only is this series exciting, it’s based on events that actually occurred, like the Joplin Tornado, the Great Chicago Fire, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and more.

Island Books

Island Trilogy by Gordon Korman

When six troubled kids are sent on a trip as part of a juvenile delinquent program, they don’t expect this. A shipwreck. A lost captain. Marooned on a deserted island. A plane landing soon inspires hope–until the group realizes that the men that have arrived are not to be trusted. Korman’s trilogyShipwreck, Survival, and Escape–takes your typical “survival on a desert island” plot and cranks it up a notch with a hint of conspiracy and a dash of… murder? Kids won’t be able to read it fast enough!


Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

* A 1987 Newbery Honor Book – An old favorite, Hatchet opens as 13-year-old Brian Robeson travels by plane to visit his father. However, the pilot suffers a heart attack, and Brian crash lands the plane in the middle of the wilderness. Armed with nothing but his hatchet, Brian learns how to survive on his own, wrestling some demons from his past along the way. A classic survival story, Hatchet continues to captivate young readers again and again.


Julie of the Wolves

Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George

*A 1973 Newbery Medal Winner – Miyax, or Julie, is an Eskimo girl who runs away from home in order to escape an arranged marriage. She withstands the harsh Alaskan tundra by learning to communicate with wolves, who provide her with food, shelter, & companionship. But when an opportunity arises for Miyax to return home, she is torn between the old life and the new. A compelling story both for Miyax’s unique mode of survival as well as for its Arctic setting.

My Side of the Mountain

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

* A 1960 Newbery Honor Book – What can we say; JCG has a knack for writing survival stories! In My Side of the Mountain, the main character is Sam Gribley, a 12-year-old boy who dislikes living in a tiny New York apartment (with his parents and 8 siblings) so much that he decides to run away and live by himself in the Catskill Mountains. With companions that include a peregrine falcon and a weasel, Sam slowly learns how to survive alone in the mountains. Kids will love Sam and his adventures so much, make sure you have the sequel ready!

Island of Blue Dolphins

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

*A 1961 Newbery Medal Winner – Are you sensing a trend yet? (Hint: It involves many of these books and the Newbery Medal!) Prepare yourself for the unbelievable story of Karana, a Native American girl left alone on her home island after invaders arrive and take the people of her village away. Based on the true story of a woman left alone on San Nicolas Island for 18 years, Karana’s story is one of courage, tenacity, and strength in the face of adversity.

Call It Courage

Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry

*A 1941 Newbery Medal Winner – Set in the Pacific Islands, Sperry tells the story of Mafatu, the son of an island chief. After witnessing the death of his mother, Mafatu has a fear of the sea, but this fear disgraces him in the eyes of his father and his tribe. To overcome his fear, Mafatu sets out alone in a canoe, only to be caught in a storm and marooned on an island. As Mafatu encounters one obstacle after another, he gains courage, overcomes his fears, and learns to rely on himself.

Do you have any other favorite survival books? Tell us in the comments below!

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