The best kids’ books about girls with the skills to survive

Elizabeth Doyle Carey Author Of Summer Lifeguards
By Elizabeth Doyle Carey

Who am I?

I’ve been in the children’s book publishing industry for more than twenty-five years, as an editor, bookseller, author, library volunteer, school visit coordinator for authors, and more! I love connecting readers with great books, especially if the readers are middle schoolers, which is my favorite reading level. I see book searches as scavenger hunts—give me a small clue and I’ll find you the book!—and I find it especially gratifying to pair a reader with a book they’ve never heard of before. I’m also good at pairing books with ice cream flavors (Anne of Green Gables + Cinnamon Apple, Little House In the Big Woods with Maple Sugar, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with Darkest Fudge, and so on!), but that’s a story for another time.


I wrote...

Summer Lifeguards

By Elizabeth Doyle Carey,

Book cover of Summer Lifeguards

What is my book about?

The Babysitter's Club meets Sunny Side Up—in the first of the Summer Lifeguards series, four best friends make a splash in a summer full of wholesome beach adventures! It's been a busy summer on Cape Cod for four best friends, Jenna, Selena, Piper, and Ziggy. They can't wait to become summer lifeguards like the teens they see patrolling the beaches. But will the girls be able to provide the lifeguards the help they need when a hurricane threatens to strike? 

Summer Lifeguards is about tween girls learning life skills and facing their fears, but it’s also about cute boys, ice cream, long beach days, and hilarious rounds of mini golf. Join the squad!

The books I picked & why

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The Secret Island (Secret Series)

By Enid Blyton, Dudley Wynne (illustrator),

Book cover of The Secret Island (Secret Series)

Why this book?

A larder full of dry goods, a dense thicket of gorse protecting a carefully hidden homestead, heather and pine needles for bedding, dry caves for winter shelter, natural tinctures and salves for injuries and illnesses, small brooks for bathing and cold creeks that preserved fresh milk and sweet butter…Four brave, skilled and industrious children run away from abusive situations in this vintage British book, and manage to care for and support themselves with farming and homesteading skills that were exotic to me as an over-supervised hothouse flower growing up in New York City in the 1970s. Outdoor living and childhood independence were completely foreign to me, and the resourcefulness and nerve of the protagonists created my lasting love for Enid Blyton’s The Secret Island that remains to this day. 


The Boxcar Children

By Gertrude Chandler Warner, L. Kate Deal (illustrator),

Book cover of The Boxcar Children

Why this book?

In The Boxcar Children, four siblings run away from an abusive home and live by their wits and skills in an abandoned boxcar in the woods. As a young reader, I loved this book because the kids seemed magic to me. How did they know how to sew and cook and get jobs and build things? As a parent, I loved this book because it modeled great values (honesty, hard work, loyalty) for my kids. I say to my sons now as we teach them to make bread or sew on a button or catch a fish: you never know when these skills will come in handy. Some skills just add dimension to your life, but others may turn out to be skills you need in a pinch. 


Bayou Magic

By Jewell Parker Rhodes,

Book cover of Bayou Magic

Why this book?

Maddy is a city kid spending her first summer alone at her Grandmère’s house on the bayou in Louisiana. Her grandmother is a little bit strange, but she and Maddy get along perfectly and can even read each other’s minds. At Grandmère’s side, Maddy learns to cook, to care for her chickens, to make healing potions, study the weather and tides, but she also learns not to stare, not to mumble, not to be quick to judge. And when an environmental and emotional disaster occurs, Maddy is called on to lead and to heal all on her own. Her triumph is thanks to what she learned from Grandmère. This multigenerational story, gorgeously written by Coretta Scott King award-winner Rhodes, is heartwarming and exciting and Maddy’s survival skills are impressive.


Prairie Lotus

By Linda Sue Park,

Book cover of Prairie Lotus

Why this book?

I was a nut for the Little House on the Prairie books growing up (I even convinced my mom to name my littlest sister Laura, after author Laura Ingalls Wilder), so I love vintage farm stories. Prairie Lotus covers the same ground—rural life on the plains in the 1880s-- but with an Asian-American lead character, during a very anti-Asian chapter in our nation’s history. Main character Hanna has moved with her white father (her mother, who was Asian, has died) to a small town where prejudice is rampant. To make a living and build a life, Hanna must draw on the dressmaking skills her mother left her. Hanna’s resilience and resourcefulness, the way she saves her family and their dignity, is inspiring and gripping reading from this Newbery-winning author. 


Island of the Blue Dolphins

By Scott O’Dell,

Book cover of Island of the Blue Dolphins

Why this book?

Karana is a twelve-year-old girl when she leaps from a ship that has kidnapped her from the only home she has ever known, the Island of the Blue Dolphins. Back on the island, she is alone, and must fend for herself to survive. This is the classic, Newbery-winning girls’ survival tale, and it packs a punch. Karana’s skills in fishing, hunting, and shelter-building are incredible, but her mental fortitude and bravery are her superpowers, and they inspire all who read about them. Author Scot O’Dell’s factual and plain prose are poetically understated and this—along with the fact that it’s based on a true story-- makes the high stakes even more gripping. A must-read!


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in survival, Louisiana, and adventure?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about survival, Louisiana, and adventure.

Survival Explore 112 books about survival
Louisiana Explore 52 books about Louisiana
Adventure Explore 95 books about adventure

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Anne of Green Gables, This One Summer, and Memoirs of a Geisha if you like this list.