I attempted to join a virtual book club for upper elementary grades with other teacher bloggers, and we were supposed to read The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by the beginning of May. I got distracted by other projects and did not read it until this weekend. I think the book would frustrate many readers today because it is a slower pace with more difficult vocabulary, but I liked it. The language and sentence structure is more sophisticated than books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and it has more substance.
Calpurnia lives in a rural area in Texas and spends much of the book with her grandfather pursuing her interest in nature and Darwin’s theory of evolution. I would classify the book as historical fiction and group it with other books about life on the prairie or frontier. Some of these titles are my favorites from when I was growing up. I read the Little House books repeatedly. I always loved stories where the characters had to grow their own food, build their own homes, and live off the land. When I started building a list of other books that fall in this genre, I realized that the majority have girl main characters– hmmm.
1700s (Settlers and The American Revolution)
- The Cabin Faced West by Jean Fritz
- The Courage of Sarah Noble by Alice Dalgliesh
- Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
1800s (Westward Expansion)
- Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
- Little House on the Prairie series Laura Ingalls Wilder
- May B. by Caroline Starr Rose
- My Antonia by Willa Cather (middle and high school readers)
- Sarah, Plain and Tall series by Patricia MacLachlan
1900s (Mostly Around The Great Depression)
- The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
- Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner
- Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski
- Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright
- Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
- The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rowlings
Do you have a favorite read that is this style of book? It is a type of survival book, but the characters usually have resources and family or friends, and they work together to succeed.
For some more book recommendations, visit the Let’s Talk About Books link up.
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.
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 (6th grade+)
- Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson (6th grade+)
- Getting Air by Dan Gutman (my students like this book; I think the writing is poor.)
- The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (6th grade+)
- The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford
- Journey into Terror by Bill Wallace
- Life as We Knew It by Susan Pfeffer (7th grade+)
- The Lion’s Paw by Robb White
- The Maze Runner and sequels by James Dashner (6th grade+)
- 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 (6th grade+)
- 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?