Books that can help readers survive summer

Published 3:00 am Saturday, July 1, 2023


Contributing columnist

During the summer, we have fairly lax rules in the Snyder household. There are always swimsuits and wet towels draped on furniture, bedtime is a moving target and my children have been known to eat cookies for breakfast. We try to enforce daily reading, but I’ll admit that it can be a challenge, and it only works if the kids are excited about their chosen book.

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If you’re struggling to find books your kids will read this summer without complaining, I have a recommendation: try survival stories.

I have noticed that a lot of middle grade readers – and in the publishing world, that term refers to kids roughly ages 8 to 12 – are keenly interested in real-life stories, as one child described them to me. As much as they voraciously consume fantasy epics with dragons and magic, kids also connect deeply with stories that feel like they could be true (even if they are fiction). The wild popularity of the “I Survived” series by Lauren Tarshis is a great example of this.

Here are three great options for “kids surviving dangerous, mostly-real-world situations” to add to your summer reading list. I would generally recommend these for readers ages 10 and up. Not surprisingly, there can be some fraught moments, although all three books have happy endings.

Across the Desert

by Dusti Bowling

Twelve-year-old Jolene spends every day she can at the library watching her favorite livestream: The Desert Aviator, where 12-year-old “Addie Earhart” shares her adventures flying an ultralight plane over the desert. But one day, Addie’s plan crashes mid-broadcast, prompting Jolene to set out on a journey across the treacherous Arizona desert to rescue her friend. Jolene’s mother’s struggles with addiction are a poignant and timely secondary storyline.

Fire on Headless Mountain

by Iain Lawrence

Eleven-year-old Virgil and his older siblings are making a solo trek to a mountain lake in the family’s camper van. But when a forest fire is sparked by a bolt of lightning at the exact moment when their van breaks down, the journey quickly turns to disaster. Virgil must find a way to survive using only his wits and the lessons his late mother taught him about the wilderness.


by Megan Freeman

This is my favorite on the list! When twelve-year-old Maddie hatches a scheme for a secret sleepover with her two best friends, she ends up waking up to a nightmare. She’s alone – left behind in a town that has been mysteriously evacuated and abandoned. With no one to rely on, no power, and no working phone lines or internet access, Maddie slowly learns to survive on her own. “Alone” is a novel in verse. This format can be very appealing to reluctant readers because they aren’t confronted by a wall of text on each page.

Kate Snyder is a Danville resident, mother of three and owner and founder of Plaid Elephant Books – Central Kentucky’s only independent children’s bookstore. For more information, or visit the store at 116 N. 3rd St. in Danville.