Take Five: Middle Grade Survival Stories
As part of our Mind the Middle project focusing on middle grade books, I’m going to try to do weekly Take Five lists, which is to say, five books on a certain theme.
These Take Five lists can help you with collection development, displays, reading lists, and more. I have a pretty giant list of potential Take Five themes, but if there’s something you’re desperate for a list for, let me know! All descriptions come from the publishers.
Today’s list is books about survival. The simplistic way to think about survival books is to think “survival” meaning outdoors/wilderness. And most of these books hit that note, sure. But when I think of survival stories, I expand that in my mind to kids surviving their circumstances, whatever they may be. Kids surviving adversity. Kids surviving in spite of their lives, in spite of the adults, in spite of the lack of resources. It is not just “how do I survive this outdoors situation?” but “how do I survive, period?”
Brother’s Keeper by Julie Lee (ISBN-13: 9780823444946 Publisher: Holiday House Publication date: 07/21/2020, Ages 8-12)
With war looming on the horizon and winter setting in, can two children escape North Korea on their own?
Winner of the Freeman Book Award!
North Korea. December, 1950.
Twelve-year-old Sora and her family live under an iron set of rules: No travel without a permit. No criticism of the government. No absences from Communist meetings. Wear red. Hang pictures of the Great Leader. Don’t trust your neighbors. Don’t speak your mind. You are being watched.
But war is coming, war between North and South Korea, between the Soviets and the Americans. War causes chaos—and war is the perfect time to escape. The plan is simple: Sora and her family will walk hundreds of miles to the South Korean city of Busan from their tiny mountain village. They just need to avoid napalm, frostbite, border guards, and enemy soldiers.
But they can’t. And when an incendiary bombing changes everything, Sora and her little brother Young will have to get to Busan on their own. Can a twelve-year-old girl and her eight-year-old brother survive three hundred miles of warzone in winter?
Haunting, timely, and beautiful, this harrowing novel from a searing new talent offers readers a glimpse into a vanished time and a closed nation.
Born Behind Bars by Padma Venkatraman (ISBN-13: 9780593112472 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 09/07/2021, Ages 10-14)
“Venkatraman has never met a heavy theme she did not like….Borrowing elements of fable, it’s told with a recurring sense of awe by a boy whom the world, for most of his life, has existed only in stories.”—New York Times Book Review
The author of the award-winning The Bridge Home brings readers another gripping novel set in Chennai, India, featuring a boy who’s unexpectedly released into the world after spending his whole life in jail with his mom.
Kabir has been in jail since the day he was born, because his mom is serving time for a crime she didn’t commit. He’s never met his dad, so the only family he’s got are their cellmates, and the only place he feels the least bit free is in the classroom, where his kind teacher regales him with stories of the wonders of the outside world. Then one day a new warden arrives and announces Kabir is too old to stay. He gets handed over to a long-lost “uncle” who unfortunately turns out to be a fraud, and intends to sell Kabir. So Kabir does the only thing he can—run away as fast as his legs will take him. How does a boy with nowhere to go and no connections make his way? Fortunately, he befriends Rani, another street kid, and she takes him under her wing. But plotting their next move is hard—and fraught with danger—in a world that cares little for homeless, low caste children. This is not the world Kabir dreamed of—but he’s discovered he’s not the type to give up. Kabir is ready to show the world that he—and his mother—deserve a place in it.
Paradise on Fire by Jewell Parker Rhodes (ISBN-13: 9780316493833 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 09/14/2021, Ages 10-14)
From award-winning and bestselling author Jewell Parker Rhodes comes a powerful coming-of-age survival tale exploring issues of race, class, and climate change.
Addy is haunted by the tragic fire that killed her parents, leaving her to be raised by her grandmother. Years later, Addy’s grandmother has enrolled her in a summer wilderness program. There, Addy joins five other Black city kids—each with their own troubles—to spend a summer out west.
Deep in the forest the kids learn new (and to them) strange skills: camping, hiking, rock climbing, and how to start and safely put out campfires. Most important, they learn to depend upon each other for companionship and survival.
But then comes a devastating forest fire…
Addy is face-to-face with her destiny and haunting past. Developing her courage and resiliency against the raging fire, it’s up to Addy to lead her friends to safety. Not all are saved. But remembering her origins and grandmother’s teachings, she’s able to use street smarts, wilderness skills, and her spiritual intuition to survive.
Gabe in the After by Shannon Doleski (ISBN-13: 9781419754388 Publisher: Amulet Books Publication date: 06/28/2022, Ages 10-14)
Shannon Doleski’s Gabe in the After is a post-apocalyptic upper middle-grade adventure with a first-crush romance, perfect for fans of Rebecca Stead and Shannon Hale.
It’s 14-year-old Gabe Sweeney’s day to check for survivors . . .
Two years after a global pandemic, 20 survivors (most of them children) have relocated from their coastal Maine island full of sad memories to a mansion on a small, neighboring island where they have school and farm chores. When Gabe and his dog, Mud, find Relle Douglas alone in the woods on the mainland, they take the strange new girl across the channel to live with them.
Relle changes the island with her hopeful attitude. She tells big stories and makes plans for activities like talent shows. Despite a growing crush, Gabe doesn’t quite understand the point of it all; why have a talent show at the end of the world? But when tragedy strikes, Gabe sets out on a dangerous journey to try and find other survivors where the world might be normal. Like Before.
Lightly inspired by Anne of Green Gables, Gabe in the After is a moving and heartfelt story about the end of the world—and what perseveres through it.
How to Stay Invisible by Maggie C. Rudd (ISBN-13: 9780374390334 Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publication date: 06/27/2023, Ages 10-14)
My Side of the Mountain meets How to Steal a Dog in this high-stakes and heartfelt middle-grade story of a young boy and his dog surviving on their own in the woods.
Being alone is something Raymond is used to.
Twelve-year-old Raymond Hurley has never had a place to call home. His free-wheeling parents move their family from town to town, and he’s living in a trailer in a brand-new state when one day, they just up and abandon him. All alone with nothing but a duffle bag full of clothes and his reliable pup, Rosie, he is forced to live in the woods behind his middle school.
With a fishing pole in hand and survival guide checked out from the library, Raymond scrapes by and doesn’t tell anyone his secret. This isn’t the first time he’s had to rely on himself. However, when winter days get colder and finding food becomes nearly impossible, Raymond makes new friends, including a curious coyote, in unexpected places. Soon, he learns that his fate will depend not just on his wilderness skills, but on the people and animals he chooses to trust.
In How to Stay Invisible, Maggie C. Rudd takes readers on a journey of survival that speaks to friendship, adventure, and the everyday wonders of nature. In middle school, blending in is easy but sometimes the braver thing is being seen.
Filed under: Take 5
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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