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Adventure and Survival Stories

By Barbara A. Ward
 | Sep 25, 2017

Stories of adventure and survival get readers’ hearts pounding as they worry about whether the protagonist is going to make it out of a bad situation—or not. These books are hard to resist because they allow readers to live vicariously through unimaginable experiences, providing a chance to laugh in amusement or gasp in awe at the trouble in which the characters find themselves.

Ages 4–8

Claude on the Big Screen (Claude #7). Alex T. Smith. 2017. Peachtree.

Claude on the Big ScreenFans of curious canine explorer Claude will happily follow him and his sidekick, Sir Bobblysock, as they set off on another adventure. This time the two check out the movie being made on Waggy Avenue. Claude’s curiosity results in the film’s stars being wrapped up in the clothesline he has been dragging around. Claude and Sir Bobblysock prevent the shutdown of the movie set by channeling their inner thespians, of course, and even rescuing one character from a rooftop. Claude's human companions are in for a big surprise when they see what he drags home. It is entertaining to watch Claude in action and to wonder what his sidekick is thinking. Absurd situations, wrapped up with a wry sense of humor, make it all silly fun.

Out! Arree Chung. 2017. Henry Holt.

Out!What young child doesn’t resist winding down after being put to bed? In this case, Jo Jo, the family dog, tries to entertain the little one, but the child is determined to get out of his crib. Jo Jo sticks with him as they have the time of their lives, flying down the stairs, knocking a cake from the table, devouring it, and leaving tell-tale tracks all over the house. The parents follow the tracks upstairs and find the two culprits asleep in the crib. Although Jo Jo ends up in his kennel, he might not stay there for long since the boy knows how to climb out of his crib and can open the door to the kennel. With a spare text of only a few words in dialogue balloons and full-page and paneled illustrations, created with acrylics, found paper, and Adobe Photoshop, Out! could serve as an introduction to the graphic novel format for young children, who will also enjoy predicting what mischief the pair might get into next.

Rapunzel. Bethan Woollvin. 2017. Peachtree.

RapunzelAs she did in Little Red (2016), Woollvin chooses one color—bright marigold yellow—as the focal point in her fractured version of this classic fairy tale with a sly message of self-empowerment. Rapunzel is no damsel in distress, and no prince is needed in this imaginative retelling. Although she has been warned by the witch not to leave the tower with the threat of a terrible curse, Rapunzel is curious about what lies beyond the tower in which she’s been imprisoned. She cunningly fashions her long locks into a ladder and explores the natural world around her, and eventually comes up with a clever plan for escaping from the witch. Readers will enjoy finding Rapunzel’s animal friends, including a bunny and a chicken, and the scissors in the illustrations, as well as the witches peeking out from behind trees on the back endpaper, which highlights the delightful happily-ever-after ending Rapunzel makes for herself.

This Is a Book Full of Monsters. Guido van Genechten. 2017. Clavis.

MonstersAfter warning readers about how scary the monsters in this picture book will be, van Genechten takes readers on an increasingly frightening and somewhat gross journey filled with monsters. Readers are given every chance to stop reading at any time, and there’s even a diploma to be given out to anyone who survives the book unscathed. The book is both scary and funny, primarily because of the images of the ugly monsters, some oozing with slime and others uttering horrible sounds. The story is a good way for readers to overcome some of their fears of the dark and the unknown. After all, they have survived a book full of monsters. What could possibly be worse?

Ages 9–11

Danger at the Dinosaur Stomping Grounds (The Wild World of Buck Bray #2). Judy Young. 2017. Sleeping Bear.

Wild World of Buck BrayEleven-year-olds Buck Bray and Toni Shoop continue to travel with their fathers as part of a nature-themed TV reality show, The Wild World of Buck Bray. Having met at Denali National Park in Alaska, they now are exploring Canyonlands National Park in Utah. Buck is fascinated by the unique terrain of the canyons, but even more so by the dinosaur fossils nearby. To the youngsters’ dismay, the park’s pictographs have been vandalized by a most unlikely culprit. Although Buck’s impulsivity causes him to take foolish risks and make mistakes, usually his heart is in the right place. Curious-minded readers will appreciate the science snippets that introduce each chapter and are threaded through the dialogue in Buck's scripts.

How Could We Harness a Hurricane? Vicki Cobb. Ill. Theo Cobb. 2017. Seagrass.

HurricaneWith the arrival of hurricane season, this informational book that ponders whether humans might ever be able to stop, slow down, or even harness the hurricanes’ energy in a positive way. Complemented by colorful photographs provided by NASA and NOAA, the book imagines some possible solutions, but Cobb is careful to point out the disadvantages as well as the advantages. Readers will realize just how unlikely some of the ideas are. For instance, how much ice would a tug have to tow in order to cool an oncoming hurricane's path? The author also explains what a hurricane is and how it forms, and takes readers inside the eye of a storm. Several hands-on experiments for readers are included. The concluding section explores the role of humans in destroying the coastlines that act as barriers to hurricanes and slow them down as they approach land as well as our having built structures in vulnerable spaces. Back matter includes a glossary, a bibliography, an author’s note, and an index.

Ages 1214

Knife’s Edge (Four Points #2). Hope Larson. Ill. Rebecca Mock. 2017. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Knife's EdgePicking up right where Compass Point (2017) concluded, this graphic novel follows twelve-year-old twins Alexander and Cleopatra Dodge as they search for the treasure they are sure has been left for them. They hire Captain Tarboro to sail to the location and are grateful to have their adoptive father along as well. But the siblings argue over everything, and Cleo resents that only Alex gets to learn how to sail the ship. Even while things are unpleasant between the youngsters, the Dodges and their allies must keep an eye out for Felix Worley, the fierce pirate who is relentlessly seeking the same treasure. The book introduces some new characters and keeps readers on the edge of their seats as risks are taken, mistakes are made, and unwise alliances formed. There is a surprise reunion at the end, setting up more adventures. Middle school readers will be captivated by the story’s setting, its imperfect characters, and the realization that even heartless villains aren’t always without compassion.

The Last Panther. Todd Mitchell. 2017. Delacorte/Random House.

The Last PantherIn this grim, futuristic foretelling, eleven-year-old Kiri has strong connections with animals and is sad to realize that many species now exist only in captivity. Kiri spends her days helping her conservationist father as he tests ocean waters and watches over the native species in an unnamed jungle, but she also spends time with her best friend, Paulo, and her pet rat, Snowflake. Outsiders such as Kiri's father are considered to be wallers, and their interests clash with those of fugees, the jungle’s original inhabitants. Because Kiri's deceased mother was a fugee, Kiri is given some leeway in her actions, but there have always been conflicts between both sides. Differences are exacerbated after the villagers kill a large leatherback turtle for its meat. When Kiri happens upon a rare panther with three cubs, she is determined to save them. The hopeful ending points to a way to broker a compromise when it comes to environmental issues.

Ages 15+

Bang. Barry Lyga. 2017. Little, Brown.

BangFourteen-year-old Sebastian Cody has never recovered from accidentally killing his baby sister when he was four. His story is told through two different sections, one labeled "History" with details of the accident and another labeled "The Present.” Sebastian has long known that he will kill himself when he can bear the guilt no longer. His friendship with one classmate, Evan, helps stave off the demons as does his budding relationship with Aneesa, a Muslim girl whose family has recently moved into the neighborhood. While Evan is away, Sebastian and Aneesa spend the summer posting videos of Sebastian's delicious and original pizzas online, attracting followers. Sebastian vacillates between guilt and thinking he might actually have found a reason to live. Clearly, Sebastian must learn to forgive himself for something that he considers unforgiveable. Teen readers will race through the pages to see whether Sebastian decides to choose life. This is gritty territory for a young adult novel. The book may provoke conversations about trauma, healing, and forgiveness.

Odd & True. Cat Winters. 2017. Amulet/Abrams

Odd & TrueThis unusual tale of adventure follows Trudchen Grey and her older sister Odette. Trudchen (Tru) is living in Oregon in 1909 when her sister returns after two years' absence. During their formative years, Odette (called Od by her family) often entertained her little sister with wild tales of monsters and stories about their mother's job as a monster hunter. The girls are given to using various supernatural rituals to keep scary things at bay, but as it turns out, the monsters are nothing like what one might expect. After Od persuades Tru to leave home to hunt monsters with her, Tru learns the truth about their mother, their family, and where Od has been during the time she's been away. There is just enough mysticism and fantasy to entice readers, making them eager to spend more time with the sisters. Perhaps magic is in the eye of the beholder, talismans work if someone believes they work, and truth may be found by reading tea leaves. Then again, perhaps not.

Barbara A. Ward teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in literacy at Washington State University, Pullman. She spent 25 years teaching in the public schools of New Orleans, where she worked with students at every grade level, from kindergarten through high school as well as several ability levels. She is certified in elementary education, English education, and gifted education. She holds a bachelor’s in Communications and a master’s in English Education from the University of Tennessee and a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of New Orleans.

These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.

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