A “gateway book” is my name for any book you read completely on your own (maybe around 3rd or 4th grade) that really turns you on to reading. Island of the Blue Dolphins and My Side of the Mountain are two of my gateway books. My gateway books are the old school survival books where the main character is alone in the wild and must use creativity, ingenuity, and problem solving to survive. I wanted to be one of these characters. I wanted to build my own shelter, figure out how to hunt for food, and make clothing. Maybe I did not want to do the food hunting thing, but I definitely wanted to get a peek inside Sam’s tree and Karana’s whale bone home.
In my experience, kids love reading about young characters who are completely self-reliant and can take care of themselves with little adult help. Most of the books on this list are better suited to 5th grade and up.
Classic Survival Books
These are the books people name when discussing survival books. Most of these follow the classic story of a main character who has to survive alone in the wild with very few resources– my favorite plot line.
- Far North by Will Hobbs (and others by this author)
- Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (and sequels)
- Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
- Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
- Kavik the Wolf Dog by Walt Morey
- My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George (and sequels)
- The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
- Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen
Alternate Survival Books
These books stray a little from the kid on his own against the elements. There might be a group fighting together to survive, or the characters are in a populated area rather than stranded in an isolated location. They are good but not quite as magical for me.
- The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich
- Conspiracy 365 series by Gabrielle Lord
- Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
- Getting Air by Dan Gutman (my students like this book; I think the writing is poor.)
- The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
- The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford
- Journey into Terror by Bill Wallace
- Life as We Knew It by Susan Pfeffer
- The Lion’s Paw by Robb White
- The Maze Runner by James Dashner (and sequels)
- The Music of Dolphins by Karen Hesse
- Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World by Jennifer Armstrong (non-fiction)
- Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
- The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
- A Week in the Woods by Andrew Clements
- The White Mountains by John Christopher (and sequels)
Do you have a gateway book, and if so, was it a survival story of some kind?