Does your tween or teen crave adventure and danger? I’ve never quite outgrown my fascination with survival stories, partly because I know I need all the help I can to survive. However, I also love survival stories because they can teach us so much about ourselves and human nature. How would we handle that much stress? What are we doing today to hone our inner strength and determination? So here is a list of epic true survival stories for tweens and teens.
20 Epic True Survival Stories for Tweens and Teens
All of these books, I have personally enjoyed. I give a brief description plus an age level to help you choose the perfect true survival book or two for your middle schooler or young adult!
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True Survival Book Lists for Tweens and Teenagers
Lost on a Mountain in Maine by Donn Fendler – A young boy becomes lost in the woods, after being separated from his scout troop. Great true story for all ages told from the boy’s perspective. The book is written in the boy’s dialect which makes it feel authentic but can make it a bit tricky to read at times. 4th grade- 7th grade
Rescues! By Sandra Markle- Great juvenile book filled with actual rescue stories. Rescues! also has information about devices & techniques used in rescuing people. Ms. Markle has written several animal rescue stories too. 4th-8th grade.
Lost!: A Ranger’s Journal of Search and Rescue by Dwight McCarter – A fascinating look from a Smoky Mountain ranger’s years doing search and rescue. Though this book may not look like much, tweens will learn a lot about the importance of shelter and staying warm. 6th grade+
I Survived: True Stories by Lauren Tarshis – These are historical fiction, but I had to list them. Tarshis brings true events alive from the viewpoint of the children. I love these books and enjoyed reading them myself! 4th-8th grade
Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters by Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. Captain Sully recounts the miraculous landing of critically damaged US Airways 1579 on the Hudson River. This is one of my favorite true survival books as it details all the life and career lessons that led up to this moment. Captain Sullenberger shows how the things he learned throughout his life came together to help him at that crucial moment. 6th grade+
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Thunder Dog: A True Story of a Blind Man, His Dog, and the Triumph of Trust by Michael Hingson – This book is centered on the events of September 11, 2001, but is it so much more. It describes the author’s struggle living with blindness and the trust between man and his dog on that fateful day. 8th grade+
Unshaken: Rising from the Ruins of Haiti’s Hotel Montana by Dan Woolley – In Haiti when the 2010 earthquake hits, Mr. Woolley becomes trapped in his collapsed hotel. As a Christian, Mr. Woolley talks about his faith and what really matters when you are in a fight for survival. 7th grade+
Elle and Coach: Diabetes, the Fight for My Daughter’s Life and the Dog who Changes Everything by Stefany Shaheen – I could not put this book down. Elle and Coach is about one mom’s journey to stabilize her daughter’s health against the ravage of diabetes and the surprising answer that came in the form of a dog! Readers will also learn a wealth of information about diabetes and the unique dog training programs that are out there. One of the core themes is about endurance when you have a fight mentally or physically on your hands. It also highlights the strength of family. 7th grade+
Day of Infamy by Walter Lord – The classic book about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I enjoyed this true survival book as it gave snippets of information and thoughts from so many that were actually there. Appropriate for all ages as Lord gives a lot of historical information without graphic details. It does have military jargon, but I think history buffs will appreciate Walter Lord’s details. 6th grade+
The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder – This book is historical fiction, but it is based on the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder. If you have never read this book then this is your opportunity. As you read about the Ingalls family enduring the great South Dakota blizzard of 1880-1881, you realize how close they came to death. The town survived in part due to two young men, barely out of their teens, who were willing to risk it all. A wonderful read as well as a story of the strength of family on the American frontier. 4th-8th grade
Called for Life: How Loving Our Neighbor Led Us into the Heart of the Ebola Epidemic by Kent & Amber Brantly – Many of you heard about the Samaritian’s Purse doctor who contracted Ebola while serving. But this book will take you behind the headlines to the true danger that Dr. Brantly was in and the circumstance that tested his faith. 6th grade+
Into the Mist: Tales of Death and Disaster, Mishaps and Misdeeds, Misfortune and Mayhem in Great Smoky Mountains National Park by David Brill – Growing up in the Midwest, I spent many a summer hiking in the Smoky Mountains National Park. So I gobbled this true adventure book in one summer vacation. Relish a behind scene look at the mishaps in the Smoky Mountains with this true adventure book! 8th grade+
Unthinkable: Who Survives when Disaster Strikes and Why by Amanda Ripley – This is THE definitive book if you love a good survival/ rescue story. The author discusses so many historical events, what went wrong and why some survived when others did not. The September 11th stories had me riveted! Unthinkable is part research, but flows easily with all the survival stories interwoven. So if you are truly curious about the psychology of WHY people react certain ways you will love this book! 9th grade+
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In the Presence of My Enemy by Gracia Burnham – Christian missionaries are kidnapped and held for over a year in the Philippine jungles. The book details how they survived in the jungle and the crazy men who held their lives in their hands. This book made me appreciate all the daily comforts of life! 9th grade +
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilence and Redemption by Lauren Hillenbrand – Probably one of the best books I have ever read. Unbroken has now been made into a pretty good movie, but the book will enthrall you. Hillenbrand does an amazing amount of research for her books so if you enjoy history and aviation, the book is a feast! There are scenes about torture so it is for a more mature reader (I was able to skim those pages and still follow story). 9th grade+
Impossible Odds: The Kidnapping of Jessica Buchanan and Her Dramatic Rescue by SEAL Team Six by Jessica Buchanan – A relief worker in Africa is kidnapped and struggles to hang on until she can be rescued. With her medical condition and the emotional instability of her captures, it is a race against time! 9th grade+
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Frozen in Time: an Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II by Michael Zuckoff – Did you know the United States had a military station in the Arctic during World War II? Mr. Zuckoff gives you a sense of the harshness of the territory and the incredible will it took for the men to survive. If you like a good man vs. nature story then you will enjoy this book. Grab a blanket…it’s going to get cold! 9th grade+
Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II by Michael Zuckoff – Mr. Zuckoff again takes his readers beyond civilization, this time to the jungle. A fun day trip turns into a fight for survival in the jungle, during World War II. 9th grade+
A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II – Another great World War II story that is unlike others. In this true survival book, we learn of a chance encounter between two pilots. Each is fighting for a different side, but what happens next is amazing! (it has been a while since I read this so I am making it 9th grade in case I forgot any language). 9th grade +
When Disaster Strikes: A Comprehensive Guide for Emergency Planning and Crisis Survival by Mathew Stein – I loved this informative book so much that I purchased a copy for my home. It is a how-to manual that has specific sections, but it has so many epic true stories that it also makes for a great survival book. Did you know that most Americans live without 50 miles of a nuclear power plant? What would you do if a nuclear cloud is headed your way? 9th grade+
20 Epic True Survival Stories for Tweens and Teens
Hope you found a couple new books for your and your kids to buy and read!
There is something amazing about being taken to a new place in a book, wondering if the hero or heroine will be able to overcome the odds. Every survival story is more than just overcoming nature or the enemy. True survival books take you into the mind of a survivor, revealing the true battleground! Would you be able to survive?
What true survival books have your middle schoolers or young adults enjoyed? Drop your recommendations below!:)
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melanie studer says
I just finished The Librarian of Auschwitz, cannot remember the author. It was so good. About a teenage girl who survives more than one concentration camp. It was based on interviews of survivors of the camps including the girl who actually managed the tiniest library in the world! There is also a young adult version of Unbroken which I used in my middle school classroom! That movie is wonderful as well. I will have to read the books on this list that are new to me!
Melanie, Thanks for the recommendation! I have not read the book on the Librarian of Auschwitz, but reading about the Holocuast is actually how I first started reading true survival stories. I will check out that book! I wondered how the young adult version of the book Unbroken was. Thanks for the reviews!