Skip to Content

Great Wilderness Adventure Books for Ages 9 – 12

With the first official day of summer coming this week, I sat down to review our summer reading list.

Since I know first hand that it can be somewhat challenging to get those older kids reading during the summer months (or reading something OUTSIDE of their normal ‘book type’), I always like to have some go-to chapter books on hand.

One of our favorite genres during the summer are outdoor adventure books — stories where kids are up against nature and must do some quick thinking and use their survival skills to get through a tough situation.

Those books where kids think “Man, I wish I could have an adventure like that!”

So today’s book list is for all those adventurous spirits out there — both boys & girls — who wonder what it would be like to be lost in the woods or shipwrecked alone on an island.

Stories like these help our kids to think about how they might ‘step up’ and handle a challenging situation when there are no adults to lead the way. 

And they’re sure to entice and capture the attention of even the most reluctant of readers!


Wilderness Adventure Chapter Books & Read Alouds

Before we even go any further, let me address the age range for our list because someone will always ask me …

Will the books be too old for my 8-year-old who loves this type of things?” or

Would my 14-year-old enjoy the story?

My rule of thumb for adventure books is that if kids are younger than 9 years old, you’ll probably want to read the book aloud or pre-read some of it.  Many of these stories will include situations such as the death of a pet or family member or other life experiences (lauguage, mature discussions, etc) that younger kids may not be able to understand on their own.

I’m sure LOTS of older readers will enjoy these books and I would HIGHLY recommend them for kids ages 12+ but I have learned that older readers are more likely to enjoy stories where the main character is older than the readers current age.  So to that end, I’ve tried to include an approximate age for the main characters in each book.

I’m also including affiliate links so you can click over and learn more about each of the titles on our list too.

Ok, now for the list!


Nature Girl by Jane Kelley

I was trying to find a good adventure book for my daughter a few summers ago and this turned out to be the perfect read!  It’s a laugh-out-loud story about Meghan, an 11-year-old, who’s stuck with her family at the summer house — no internet, no tv and no best friend!  When her parents and sister leave for the day, Meghan decides she’s going to head out to see her best friend Lucy by following the Appalachian Trail which runs close to both her summer place and where Lucy is vacationing that summer.

Needless to say this not-so-nature girl underestimates the distance, doesn’t pack very well before leaving and encounters all types of obstacles.  But I love her tenacity — her family always tells her that she never finishes anything so she is determined to reach her destination!


Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Jack, an 11-year-old, and his Mom are on a camping trip in Acadia National Park when Jack wakes up to find his Mom is gone!  She’s always been unpredictible but Jack never thought she would just leave him at a campground. 

Jack thinks that if he calls the police (or even asks others for help), he’ll be taken away from his Mom by the Dept. of Social Services.  So he decides to head home on his own — from Maine to Boston — without telling anyone what’s happened.  Without any money or food, Jack must use his wits to “travel under the radar” and keep himself alive so he can find out what happened to his mother and keep them together.


Leepike Ridge by N. D. Wilson

Thomas has always lived near Leepike Ridge with his mother.  When he falls asleep on a make-shift raft one night while floating in the stream near his home, Thomas is pulled into an underground into a series of caves that his family never knew existed!  Plunged into total darkness and tossed around in the rapids, Thomas comes up on shore.  With no idea where he entered or how to climb out, he begins an underground trek that will change his life forever. 

This is an awesome read!  It’s very quick-moving and introduces quite a few plot twists that tie the story together nicely.


A Week in the Woods by Andrew Clements

One of the few books that actually includes an adult in the adventure, A Week in the Woods tells the story of what happens to Mark and his teacher (Mr. Maxwell) on their 5th grade camp-out.

While camping with classmates, Mark is blamed for something he didn’t do and Mr. Maxwell is assigned to bring him home.  When his teacher pulls over the truck to talk to a ranger, Mark jumps out and runs into the woods.  The twist to this story is that Mark is pretty good at surviving in the woods — however, Mr. Maxwell (who runs after Mark) gets hurt and now needs Mark’s help. 

Kids will be reminded that’s it’s important to not jump to conclusions and judge others before you get to know them — one of the best lessons in story!


Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

When their island home is being evacuated, Karana jumps off the boat to find her younger brother who she notices is not on the boat.  She is now left behind and grows up for eighteen years on the island waiting for another ship to return for her. 

During her stay, she builds shelters, makes weapons, finds food and protects herself using what she learned from her parents before they were separated.

What I love about this book — it’s based on the true story of Juana Maria who was left alone for 18 years on San Nicolas Island in the 19th century!  Parents may also remember this story as it’s a classic survival tale that’s often used in classrooms and was published in 1960.


Night of the Howling Dogs by Graham Salisbury

We’ve had trails, woods and islands — now it’s time for surviving a volcano!

Dylan’s scout troop is camping below the volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii.  This rag-tag group of 8th graders doesn’t always get along either.  After a long trek to their camping spot, the island is hit by an earthquake which causes a tsunami that engulfs their entire area!

Dylan and his friends must learn how to think outside the box and use their scouting skills to help not only themselves but others who were caught in the natural disaster.


Abel’s Island by William Steig

Abel is a mouse who is very comfortable with his life, enjoys his security and loves his wife.  Than one night, he is swept away by flood waters and stranded on a deserted island.  Now he must find a way to save himself and return to his family.

While he makes many attempts to find a way to return home, he must also learn how to live in the wilderness far away from the conveniences he once knew at home.  

Abel’s Island is one of the few on our list that would be a good read for younger kids (ages 7 – 9 years) too!


Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George

Julie, also known in her Alaskan village as Miyax, is a 14-year-old who is trapped in an arranged marriage.  When her husband becomes abusive, Julie runs away and is lost on the Alaskan tundra.  When her food runs low, she works to become part of a nearby wolf pack who she believes will take care of her if she is accepted.

I really loved this book especially reading about how Julie worked to be accepted by the wolves.  But I will caution that there are some mature themes in the story that would lend to a good parent/child discussion when read.

Another great wilderness survival tale by the same author is My Side of the Mountain!


Kensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo

Michael’s family is sailing half way around the world on their new yacht.  One night, the 11-year-old and his dog Stella are swept overboard and washed up on an island in the Pacific Ocean.  When he finds fresh water and food waiting for him one morning, he realizes he’s not alone on the island and soon comes face-to-face with Kensuke, an old Japanese soldier, who does not want others to find his island.  A great story about compassion, working together and learning to respect others.


Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Brian, who is 13-years-old, is flying to see his father when his plane crashes.  He finds himself stranded alone in the Canadian wilderness with nothing but a windbreaker and the hatchet his mother has given him as a gift.  In order to survive, he must learn to hunt, find shelter, become adept at building fire and learn to respect nature.

This book is one of the more advanced ones on our list.  There’s also quite a bit of the story that focuses on Brian’s knowledge of his parents impending divorce.  Another childhood classic for many parents who may remember reading this when they were younger.


The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann D. Wyss

Probably one of the most well known family survival stories ever, Swiss Family Robinson shares what a family can do when they pull together and get creative.  When a Pastor, his wife and four sons are thrown off course in a storm, their ship lands on a tropical island.  Having no way off, they must build a home, search for food and decide how they will survive together.

The book is somewhat different from the Disney movie by the same name (movie: Swiss Family Robinson) however both are really enjoyable!  Entice the kids to read the book first and then watch the movie together.


Are you a book lover? Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks




15 Classic Summer Stories for Kids

50 Memorable Chapter Books for Kids

15 Marvelous Mystery Books