From the Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876, by Mark Twain) and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884, by Mark Twain) to the enterprise of The Swiss Family Robinson (1812, by Johann David Wyss), from Where The Red Fern Grows (1961, by Wilson Rawls) to The Jungle Book (1894), stories of adventure and man versus nature have always been a draw for the young and the old. Here’s a lesser-known selection of books that promises excitement, adrenaline rush and a very good time:
As a Sunday school teacher, American author Gertrude Chandler Warner (1890-1979) discovered that her young wards all aspired for independence and dreamed of adventures of their own. Warner herself had always aspired to be a writer and she saw in this an opportunity to both fulfill her dream and that of her students. She wrote The Boxcar Children (1924, appropriate for 7+), a story about four orphaned siblings who have a hardscrabble life and take shelter in an abandoned boxcar. They have an estranged grandfather, but the children are loathed to take his help, choosing instead to find work to survive. Their adventures and subsequent union with their grandfather went on to become so successful that Warner wrote another 18 books in the series, each taking the children on exciting adventures of their own. The success of the franchise ensured that the series was taken forward even after Warner’s death, though the original 19 books still remain the best of the lot.
Everyone knows of E Nesbit’s The Railway Children (1906), but not many are aware of her other books that are equally engaging. In The Story of The Treasure Seekers (1899, appropriate for 8+), the six Bastable children have to find means to restore the family fortunes. After their mother’s death, and their father’s prolonged ill-health, his business fails. The only way they can return to their old way of life, the children conclude, is to find some treasure. For all the other options they consider — becoming Highwaymen or bandits seem unethical, and, even rescuing old men from real Highwaymen — does not seem to bright a prospect to earn themselves the kind of money they need to bail their father out. They set out on many adventures, most of which end in failure, until one of them turns out to be a proper adventure, with very favourable results.
Before she wrote the heartwarming story of Hal and his pet in One Dog and his Boy (2011), Eva Ibbotson also gave children a whole bunch of books that promised them fantasies, mysteries and tons of adventures. In the Carnegie Medal-shortlisted The Star of Kazan (2004, appropriate for 8+), a little girl, Annika, is abandoned as a baby on the church steps of an Alpine village, Pettelsdorf. With her is a note with a request: that the baby be taken to a nunnery in Vienna. When Ellie and Sigrid, two helps, find her, they take her to their workplace — the home of three eccentric professors — and decide to raise her as their own. Annika grows up to be a happy child and lives with Ellie and Sigrid, working as a domestic help, but she often wonders about her mother and what led her to abandon her. How Annika finds who her mother is and the adventures that follow thereafter, with a treasure thrown in to add weight to the narrative, is the riveting story of The Star of Kazan.
The 1988 Newbery award-winning book, Hatchet (appropriate for 10+), by Gary Paulsen is a Robinson Crusoe-esque story of teenager Brian Robeson, whose flight crashes into the Canadian wilderness when he is on his way to visit his father. How Brian survives, and how the only weapon he carries — a hatchet given to him by his mother — becomes his survival tool forms the crux of the story. A plane wreck and survival in a dystopia is a popular trope in children’s fiction (remember William Golding’s Lord of the Flies?). Paulsen wrote four more novels in the series after the success of the book.
Two runaway children, one of them a feisty 12-year-old girl, the Met Museum in New York City as a hideaway and an eccentric, rich old lady — EL Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1968, appropriate for 10+) is another unmissable romp that is both a coming-of-age tale and a treasure hunt with delightful results.