My son came home from school the other day and told me they are reading The Sign of the Beaver (by Elizabeth George Speare) in 4th grade right now. This is a great book! It's been a long time since I've read it--probably since I took a Children's Lit class in my undergraduate work?--but that got me thinking about great books for boys. In my experience working with 5th-8th graders, many boys especially enjoy survival stories. So here they are: my top four survival stories for boys. (This might become a series..."Books for Boys"...)
1. The Sign of the Beaver, by Elizabeth George Speare, tells the story of a young teen left to guard his family's homestead in colonial America while his father goes to bring his mother and siblings to their new home. He endures many hardships, until he is befriended by the local natives, whom he had been told were savages looking to kidnap young white people. He is charged with teaching the chief's grandson to read, beginning a friendship that crosses cultures. A great survival story, but also one of understanding the bonds of family and friendship, and loving your neighbor as you love yourself.
2. Hatchet is one of many great survival stories by Gary Paulsen. We are introduced to Brian, who lives with his divorced mother in New York, but is traveling into northern Canada to spend the summer with his father. Prior to taking off, his mother gives him a hatchet as a gift. Brian is the only passenger on the small aircraft, and when the pilot has a heart attack and dies, he tries to land the plane, but winds up crashing into a lake. Brian escapes with his life, and his hatchet, but the plane sinks into the lake. Thus begins a fight for survival in which Brian must learn to build fire, to find food, to devise shelter, and to keep himself from going over the edge in loneliness. An outstanding, action-packed adventure story about the will to overcome!
3. My Side of the Mountain, by Jean George might be my favorite pick of these four. Sam Gribley is sick of life in his crowded New York apartment with so many young siblings, so he decides to run away. He knows his family used to own some land in the Catskills mountains of upstate New York, so he hitches a ride that way, and finds his way to the old homestead. The buildings are gone, but that does not deter Sam, who has prepared for his adventure by reading up at the library. Sam fishes, hunts, makes his own clothes, hollows out a large tree to create a home for himself, and even manages to capture and train a peregrine falcon. The overarching theme of the book is one of self-reliance vs. interdependence: Sam is initially enthralled by his adventure, but finds himself creating a community among his animal neighbors, and eventually welcoming "outsiders" into his experience on the mountain. A well-told tale!
4. This one isn't for the younger readers; I wouldn't recommend it for kids younger than 6th grade...but Hugh Glass, Mountain Man by Robert McClung is one of the greatest survival stories ever told. Based on actual events from the early 1800's, the book tells the story of Hugh Glass, a fur trapper who is mauled by a grizzly bear and left for dead by his cowardly companions. Hugh is too tough to just go quietly; he crawls 200 miles back to civilization to begin his quest for revenge on the men who left him behind. This was one of those books that I could get any middle school boy to read, and without fail they reported that they enjoyed it--an absolutely engrossing story!
What other adventure-filled, action-packed survival stories would you recommend?