The best adventure stories for young readers

David Long Author Of Survivors: Extraordinary Tales from the Wild and Beyond
By David Long

Who am I?

Although as an adult I very much prefer true-life adventures to fictional ones – it’s why I wrote Heroes and Rescue, as well as Survivors – many of the most enjoyable books I read as a child were fictional accounts of daring and danger, mostly if not entirely centred on children with whom I could identify. I found them inspiring and still do, and can’t help feeling that if after nearly 50 years I can still remember so many of the details – and, trust me, I really can - the authors of these five must really have known what they were up to. I really hope no one will be put off them because of their age because I feel they have genuinely stood the test of time.

I wrote...

Survivors: Extraordinary Tales from the Wild and Beyond

By David Long, Kerry Hyndman (illustrator),

Book cover of Survivors: Extraordinary Tales from the Wild and Beyond

What is my book about?

When it comes to extreme stories of survival few can match these inspirational tales of genuine courage, heroism, and ingenuity. Ranging from Africa to the Antarctic, from classics such as Ernest Shackleton to the crew of Apollo 13 and the man who inspired the movie 127 Hours, these incredible real-life adventures describe how ordinary men, women, and children faced down dangers and were able to achieve extraordinary things by drawing on their strength, bravery, and self-belief. We can all accomplish more than we think can, and Survivors shows how it’s done.

The books I picked & why

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Emil and the Detectives

By Erich Kastner, Walter Trier (illustrator),

Book cover of Emil and the Detectives

Why this book?

Although I write mostly history books and only non-fiction, I loved adventure stories as a child and these five have all stuck with me into adulthood. That must say something. The fast pace of this particular one, and its very realistic setting (1920s Berlin, peopled by some fairly tough characters), was highly unusual for children’s fiction when it was written more than 90 years ago. Because of this, I’m sure that even now most readers will have no difficulty imagining themselves filling Emil’s shoes and would want to join in with his adventures if they could. It’s properly engaging, a really great read. 

The Far-Distant Oxus

By Katharine Hull, Pamela Whitlock,

Book cover of The Far-Distant Oxus

Why this book?

A personal favourite of Swallows and Amazons author Arthur Ransome, the book does for Devon and ponies what he did for the Suffolk, the Lakes, and sailing. The authors were teenagers themselves when they wrote it, which is still hard to believe, and they took turns writing alternate chapters. The result is a  classic tale of adventurous children on holiday, and one which draws the modern reader in immediately. Interestingly it was Ransome who found the girls their first publisher.

The Silver Sword: A BBC Radio Full-Cast Dramatisation

By Ian Serraillier,

Book cover of The Silver Sword: A BBC Radio Full-Cast Dramatisation

Why this book?

Another real thriller that I still find exciting and completely compelling. After losing their parents in the chaos of war, three children are left alone to fend for themselves. While hiding from the Nazis amid the rubble of a ruined city, they meet a ragged orphan who shows them his ‘treasure,’ an old paperknife. Clearly the silver sword of the title, this was entrusted to him by an escaped prisoner of war but the children recognise it and realise the escapee must be their father. Taking the ‘sword’ as a message that he is alive, they set out to search for him. As a historian, I always try to smuggle education into my own books by disguising it as entertainment, and this book does that brilliantly.

The Day of the Triffids

By John Wyndham,

Book cover of The Day of the Triffids

Why this book?

This thrilling post-apocalyptic novel explores what happens after nearly everyone in the world is blinded by some kind of meteor shower. The population then comes under attack from an aggressive species of walking, carnivorous plant which starts killing and eating humans. Combining horror with science fiction it is actually more believable than it sounds (!) and in the best possible way it poses many more questions than it answers. Older children only, perhaps.

The Sword in the Stone

By T. H. White,

Book cover of The Sword in the Stone

Why this book?

I love the medieval English setting, and the author clearly knew what he was talking about when it came to such energetic pursuits as archery, falconry, hunting, and jousting. The novel wasn’t terribly well-served by Disney’s cinematic retelling of it, but the idea of exploring King Arthur’s childhood is a fascinating one and the execution is terrific. The main character, Wart, is very well realised and White’s Merlyn is a brilliantly cunning and believable wizard.

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