Are you looking for books for your middle grade reader to spice up their summer reading list? Consider including some survival stories! Survival stories keep readers on the edge of their seat with their dramatic twists and turns. Readers vicariously experience obstacles and witness the strength of the human spirit through the perspective of the characters involved in their struggle to survive. I have some recommendations from our children’s library below that will keep readers in suspense and anxious to find out what happens next.
Ground Zero by Alan Gratz
You will not be able to put this book down! The chapters in this book alternate between characters: 9 year old Brandon on September 11, 2001, and 11 year old Reshmina in 2019. Brandon is supposed to spend the day with his father while he works on the top floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center. Brandon winds up on a different floor of the tower from his father when the tower is hit by a plane, and he doesn’t initially understand what is happening. The full scope of what happened unfolds as Brandon tries to make his way through the building in an effort to get back to his father, but then realizes he must make his way out of the building in order to survive. Readers are introduced to Reshmina as she tries to convince her twin brother he shouldn’t join the Taliban, while living in their small village in Afghanistan. Events unfold that lead to Reshmina risking the safety of everyone in her village by taking in a wounded American soldier. Both Brandon and Reshmina experience extreme danger and witness horrific events, all in one day. Their stories, while absolutely riveting, seem to be unconnected at first. As the story progresses, readers uncover how connected they actually are. These are fictional characters, but their stories are based on true events. There is an author’s note at the end of the book that provides further information on the history of the WTC, details on the attacks occurring on that day, the terrorists involved, the war in Afghanistan, and the way life has changed in America as well.
96 Miles by J.L. Esplin
Something has happened to cause a widespread power outage while Stew and John’s dad is out of town. Their dad always insisted they learn to be self-reliant, and even stockpiled enough supplies for the family to survive for months in case they ever needed to. They should have been safe until their dad returned, but the boys are robbed by neighbors and must walk 96 miles through the desert for help. Something begins to happen to Stew during their trek that readers won’t immediately understand, but drives the urgency for John to get them to their destination. Stressful encounters with others during their trip add to the excitement and suspense, as readers wonder if the brothers will be able to travel the 96 miles in time to survive.
The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman
This is a heartbreaking and uplifting story of survival. Viji and her sister Rukku run away from their abusive home and wind up on the streets of Chennai, India. Viji hoped this choice would improve their situation, but finds out how vulnerable her sister really is and how difficult it will be to survive without money or shelter. The girls are able to find shelter on an abandoned bridge and befriend two homeless boys – Muthi and Arul. The four children become close and take care of each other. The boys teach the sisters how to earn money by scavenging through trash for reusable items to sell, and Rukku sells necklaces she makes. Each day is a serious struggle to survive, but the children have each other and work together. When they are forced to move to a new location, something happens to Rukku that changes the course of their lives. Who can they go to for help? This story will keep you on the edge of your seat, as you root for the survival of these children and wait to see what happens next.
A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Gerta’s family gets unexpectedly split apart when the Berlin wall goes up while her older brother and father are out of town. Years pass with Gerta, her mother, and her other brother stuck living in East Berlin. No one from their side of the wall can safely leave, but some try to unsuccessfully escape to West Berlin. Everything about their lives is controlled by the Soviets. The wall is guarded by German soldiers and if anyone even looks in that direction, they will find guns pointed at them. Those living on the eastern side of the wall are prisoners in their own city. One day, Gerta notices someone up on a platform on the other side of the wall doing a strange dance. She realizes it’s her father! Then she receives a bizarre drawing and realizes what he was trying to tell her. He wants her to dig a tunnel under the wall! How can she do this without being noticed? The thought of what would happen if she is caught, is absolutely terrifying. This story is so full of suspense and heart-stopping moments, you won’t be able to stop reading until you find out what happens next!
Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz
This is another exciting survival story written by Alan Gratz and is based on the real life experiences of Jack Gruener, a Holocaust survivor, with some extra liberties and events added in. The story takes us through Yanek’s (later known as Jack) experiences at eleven years old with the Nazi occupation of his home city of Krakow, through his teen years at numerous concentration camps. He experiences and witnesses unimaginable acts of horror. Everything he has and everyone he loves is ripped away from him, yet the desire to survive persists. The vivid details of his experiences allow readers to feel his pain, fear for his life, and hope for his survival. I highly recommend this story to anyone with interest in what life was like for a Jewish child during the Holocaust.