The best books about islands

12 authors have picked their favorite books about islands and why they recommend each book.

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The Magus

By John Fowles,

Book cover of The Magus

Like most people, I love a good scary story. Ironically, I consider this non-horror novel to be the scariest book ever written. That alone is an extraordinary accomplishment.

The Magus centers on a young teacher who moves to an isolated Greek island where he becomes so manipulated by a Svengali-type character that he loses his sense of self and even of reality.

For me, it did something else. Something personal. It got to me. It totally wigged me out. It triggered my own instinctive fears and apprehension about losing control to malicious mental trickery. Now that is scary.

The Magus

By John Fowles,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Magus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Magus is the story of Nicholas Urfe, a young Englishman who accepts a teaching assignment on a remote Greek island. There his friendship with a local millionaire evolves into a deadly game, one in which reality and fantasy are deliberately manipulated, and Nicholas must fight for his sanity and his very survival.

Who am I?

I believe all writers must have curious minds and be avid readers. I read my first real novel at age 11: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Conan Doyle. In retrospect, I realize that it sparked a love of novels that do more than simply tell a story. I crave narratives about coping with this thing called life, and about characters that do so with resilience and tenacious grit – usually against steep odds. As Hamlet put it: “I could be bound in a nutshell and count myself king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.” For me, this quote is the soul of every great story.


I wrote...

Flight of the Fox

By Gray Basnight,

Book cover of Flight of the Fox

What is my book about?

A run-for-your-life thriller with a key difference. Sam Teagarden is not a macho secret agent or former Green Beret. He knows next to nothing about guns, and does not have a black belt in karate. He is a middle-aged man who works as a university math professor and cryptologist.   

Suddenly forced to flee his home with nothing but the clothes on his back, he uses his natural intelligence and will to survive while trying to learn who wants to kill him and why. He eventually learns there’s a connection with an encoded file in his inbox. When decrypted, he uncovers historic crimes committed by the FBI that, if released to the public, will forever alter American history.   

The Teatime Islands

By Ben Fogle,

Book cover of The Teatime Islands: Adventures in Britain's Faraway Outposts

As an Englishman, I’m very taken by books which combine travel with English history. Ben Fogle takes us through the last remnants of the British Empire, tiny islands that have refused independence and resolutely fly the Union Jack. His adventures in Tristan da Cunha, Diego Garcia, and St Helena took me to three places I had never been to. Like me, Fogle is an islandophile and I recommend this for anyone wanting to know about these islands that are in many ways more British than Britain.

The Teatime Islands

By Ben Fogle,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Teatime Islands as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Welcomed with open arms, derided as a pig-ignorant tourist and occasionally mocked mercilessly for his trouble, Ben Fogle visited the last flag-flying outposts of the British Empire. With caution, dignity and a spare pair of pants thrown to the wind, he set out to discover just exactly who would choose to live on islands as remote as these and - more importantly - tried to figure out exactly why. Landing himself on islands so isolated, wind-swept, barren and just damned peculiar that they might have Robinson Crusoe thinking twice, Fogle: almost becomes lunch on the appropriately named Carcass Island; gets…

Who am I?

Simon Michael Prior loves small islands, and has travelled to remote countries in search of unique island experiences. He inflicts all aspects of life on himself so that readers can enjoy learning about his latest exploits. During his forty-year adolescence, he’s lived on two boats, sunk one of them; sold houses, street signs, Indian food, and paper bags; visited fifty countries, lived in three; qualified as a scuba diving instructor; learnt to wakeboard; trained as a Marine Rescue skipper, and built his own house without the benefit of an instruction manual.


I wrote...

The Coconut Wireless: A Travel Adventure in Search of The Queen of Tonga

By Simon Michael Prior,

Book cover of The Coconut Wireless: A Travel Adventure in Search of The Queen of Tonga

What is my book about?

A fun true story with romance, travel and adventure. When Simon and Fiona embark on a quest to track down the Queen of Tonga, they have no idea they’ll end up marooned on a desert island. No idea they’ll encounter an undiscovered tribe, rescue a drowning actress, learn jungle survival from a commando, and attend cultural ceremonies few Westerners have seen. 

As they find out who hooks up, who breaks up, who cracks up, and who throws up, will they fulfill Simon’s ambition to see the queen, or will they be distracted by insomniac chickens, grunting wild piglets, and the easy-going Tongan lifestyle?

The Little Island

By Margaret Wise Brown, Leonard Weisgard (illustrator),

Book cover of The Little Island: (Caldecott Medal Winner)

This beautiful picturebook won the Caldecott Medal in 1947, but it’s as timeless as they come. It’s a shame you don’t see it around that much these days. It tells the story of an island throughout the four seasons, including crabs, seals and a visiting cat who can’t handle the island’s deepest secret. It seems like a simple book, but there’s a whole lot going on beneath the surface. The way the world appears is all to do with who’s looking at it.

The Little Island

By Margaret Wise Brown, Leonard Weisgard (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Little Island as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

Reading allows us to climb inside other people’s heads, to think their thoughts and feel their feelings. For children, in particular, books can be a way to understand new emotions. To name them and start to think about where they come from. As my son started to grow up, I wanted to write a story that helped him think about other people’s feelings. And that’s what The Hug and its follow-ups are all about.


I wrote...

The Hug

By Eoin McLaughlin, Polly Dunbar (illustrator),

Book cover of The Hug

What is my book about?

This book has two covers. From one side, it’s the story of a hedgehog and from the other it’s the story of a tortoise. They’re both looking for a hug. They ask all the other animals they come across but for some reason, no one will hug them. Until a wise owl explains: Hedgehog is too spiky; Tortoise is too hard. But don’t worry (SPOILER ALERT) they meet each other in the middle.


Eoin and Polly’s Hug books have twice been named ‘Books of the Year’ by The Guardian, called “an important historical record of the time” by The Times, and been nominated for the Kate Greenaway Medal.

Fog Island

By Tomi Ungerer,

Book cover of Fog Island

I was a friend of Tomi Ungerer since he used to answer metaphysical or philosophical questions asked by children in Philosophie Magazine, each month, in a special chronicle. Fog Island is less famous than Otto or the Three Robbers, but it’s an ode to Ireland where he used to live. The magic island in his story actually exists: Tomi Ungerer has drawn the rocky “Evil’s Tooth” that was planted in the ocean, just in front of his house. A beautiful tale with a realistic background.

Fog Island

By Tomi Ungerer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fog Island as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A timeless story about a brother and a sister whose boat drifts onto a doomed and mysterious island

Who am I?

I’m the happy father of five children, born between 2000 and 2017. So in my adult years, I have quite constantly lived in the company of young children, and I’ve started inventing stories for them. I have now six albums published in France, all of which were originally imagined for my kids just before we switch off the light for sleeping. Born in 1975, I live in Paris, I’m the chief editor of Philosophie magazine (a monthly publication with 50 000 readers), and I’ve published twenty novels and essays alas not available in English. I’m the president and co-founder of a creative writing school located in Paris, Les Mots.


I wrote...

Dragons in Love

By Alexandre Lacroix, Ronan Badel (illustrator),

Book cover of Dragons in Love

What is my book about?

Strokkur is a little dragon, living alone with his daddy. Then, he’s got a problem: when a charming little girl grants him a kiss on his cheek, he feels his fire burning inside… He’s terrified, a dragon shouldn’t be in love, otherwise, he may hurt the one he loves with his flames… Like in his previous adventure, Dragons. Father and Son, also illustrated by Ronan Badel, Strokkur we’ll have to solve a moral dilemma.

Moominpappa at Sea

By Tove Jansson, Kingsley Hart (translator),

Book cover of Moominpappa at Sea

To be truthful, I would list all the Moomin books as top of my list and am only choosing one because I can’t pick them all. In Moominvalley and its enduring characters, its seasons, snowstorms, comets, floods, and finally its absences, we find lifes’ psychological dramas, doubts, and triumphs perfectly embedded in and drawn from the tempestuous and consoling presence of the natural world. I read all these books to my daughter and relished the emergence of a conjured world that was deep and familiar, yet also distant and magical, as is whatever realm of nature you most find yourself close to. I remember Moompapa at sea for its particularly philosophical and slightly wistful tone and because who doesn’t wonder about the wildness and loneliness of life inside a lighthouse. 

Moominpappa at Sea

By Tove Jansson, Kingsley Hart (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Moominpappa at Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Soon to be MOOMINVALLEY, a MAJOR ANIMATED SERIES on SKY ONE starring Taron Egerton and Rosamund Pike!

Moominpappa is feeling at a loss. He has no idea what to do with himself - it seems everything has already been done!

So he takes his family off to start a new life in a lighthouse on a tiny, rocky island far out to sea. It's rather lonely at first, but it isn't long before the Moomins discover some funny and surprising new things about themselves.


Who am I?

I credit my overactive imagination to a childhood in which our parents left us to run wild. There I developed a very alive and personal relationship to the living world which I've continued to both plunder and nourish in order to write novels. In these times of ecological devastation, it’s telling that so many children’s lives have migrated towards the virtual. I believe it’s the interpenetration of our own imagination into what is mysterious, enduring and alive in the natural world that shows us why we must strive to hold it sacred. I encourage all kids to get off their screens and to go outside. There you will find life’s unbridled magic.


I wrote...

Molly & Pim and the Millions of Stars

By Martine Murray,

Book cover of Molly & Pim and the Millions of Stars

What is my book about?

All Molly wants is to be normal like her friend Ellen Palmer. Ellen, with her neat braids and a tidy house and a mother and father who are home for dinner every night. But Molly's mom spends her mornings tramping through the woods, looking for ingredients for her potions. Their rooster, the Gentleman, runs wild in their yard, angering their grumpy neighbors, the Grimshaws. So Molly's mom makes a potion that will grow a tree between their houses.

When Molly's mom accidentally drinks the potion and turns into the tree, Molly is determined to get her back. But the Grimshaws plan to cut down the tree branches that reach onto their property. Molly sets out to save her mother and discovers the wonder that lies in the ordinary.

The Mysterious Island

By Jules Verne,

Book cover of The Mysterious Island

Verne has written many books about survival, exploration, and technical innovation. In many aspects, he was far ahead of his time, a nineteen century Sci-Fi wonder boy. He was a masterful storyteller, providing an expert rhythm of action scenes followed by contemplative paragraphs. The Mysterious Island deals with a group of people that has landed in an impossible situation: they are castaways on a deserted island. In most books of this genre, the subjects will succumb or barely manage to survive, but not so for Verne’s engineer and his companions. Through the combination of scientific knowledge, the sheer power of man’s muscles, and unwavering optimism, they quickly turn nature to their benefit and remodel the island to their liking. A thrilling adventure story!

The Mysterious Island

By Jules Verne,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Mysterious Island as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With an Introduction by Alex Dolby.

Translation by W.H.G. Kingston.

Jules Verne (1828-1905) is internationally famous as the author of a distinctive series of adventure stories describing new travel technologies which opened up the world and provided means to escape from it. The collective enthusiasm of generations of readers of his 'extraordinary voyages' was a key factor in the rise of modern science fiction.

In The Mysterious Island a group of men escape imprisonment during the American Civil War by stealing a balloon. Blown across the world, they are air-wrecked on a remote desert island. In a manner reminiscent of…


Who am I?

Clemens P. Suter is an author of adventure novels. His books deal with people that overcome impossible, life-changing situations. These are entertaining adventure books, with dystopian, post-apocalyptic, and Scifi elements.


I wrote...

Rebound

By Clemens P. Suter,

Book cover of Rebound

What is my book about?

Together with his three dogs, Alan, the adventurer travels the lonely roads of Armageddon. A deadly pandemic has caused a societal collapse after billions have died. He is soon joined by Imani, a young woman, and a victim of gang violence. Together they set out to discover the truth about the cause of the catastrophe. During their travels from San Francisco to the European Alps, they soon discover a danger that could wipe out the final remnants of humanity. In a world ruled by anarchy, with the last humans fighting for control, Alan’s and Imani’s chances of success or even survival look bleak. Can they save humankind from ultimate disaster?

Dinotopia

By James Gurney,

Book cover of Dinotopia

Another first book in a consistently-lovely series, Dinotopia delivers on exactly what its title promises: a lush utopia full of immaculately rendered dinosaurs (and their costumed human companions!) It’s no surprise that the breathtaking scenery of Dinotopia feels so real and immersive; author-illustrator James Gurney previously illustrated reconstructions of ancient civilizations for National Geographic. His illustrations pack so much worldbuilding into such a small space; from the actually-translatable dinosaur footprint language on all the signage to the consideration of the minutiae of Dinotopian life (where and how do sentient dinosaurs poop?), it’s no wonder this travelogue-style book has swept away both adults and children alike.

Dinotopia

By James Gurney,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dinotopia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

When I fall in love with a fantasy world, I want to consume as much of that world as possible. That’s why I’m drawn to illustration that is so dense with worldbuilding elements. In my own work, I started indulging this obsession by creating tiny one-by-three-inch books that contained fully-illustrated alien worlds before eventually moving on to bigger books like A is for Another Rabbit, a book crammed so full of hidden jokes, Easter eggs, and thousand-rabbit-wide crowd scenes that my hand hurt by the end of it. Extreme detail is a way of prolonging the delight and discovery inherent in reading picture books, and I intend to keep pushing it to the limit!


I wrote...

A is for Another Rabbit

By Hannah Batsel,

Book cover of A is for Another Rabbit

What is my book about?

In A is for Another Rabbit, a rabbit-obsessed narrator makes an owl increasingly irate by refusing to play by the rules of a conventional alphabet book. Every entry is about bunnies, from "delightful, dynamic, daredevil rabbits" to "xylophone rabbits and rabbits on drums!" Readers will pore over scenes of bunnies at the circus, in a tiny town, at the museum, even in a motorcycle gang. Author-illustrator Hannah Batsel takes readers on a delightful romp through the alphabet and keeps them laughing all the way to the ridiculously fun conclusion.

The Girl of Ink & Stars

By Kiran Millwood Hargrave,

Book cover of The Girl of Ink & Stars

The magic in this story is all about stars and maps. These are things that are very close to my heart. When I was a little girl growing up on our family farm close to the Himalayan mountains stars were an ever-present backdrop to the nights. We loved sitting beneath them and telling stories. Even though I was too young to remember these times, when my family moved to the UK we kept the magic alive by remembering those times. This is the sort of feeling I get when I read this book. It’s filled with magic and possibility.

The Girl of Ink & Stars

By Kiran Millwood Hargrave,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Girl of Ink & Stars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I was born in a stable close to the Himalayas in India. The family farm was buzzing with animals and one of the most wonderful was a wild monkey called Oma who adopted our family and insisted on living with us. This is where the magic in my life began. My Grandmother was the storyteller in my family, so even after we emigrated to England when I was only 18 months old, our house was filled with magical stories, many with roots in India. So when I became a children’s author it was this magic that I wanted to bring to my stories and it was this magic that drew me to reading.


I wrote...

Asha and the Spirit Bird

By Jasbinder Bilan,

Book cover of Asha and the Spirit Bird

What is my book about?

Asha lives on the family farm with her mother in rural India. Her father is away working in the city, and when the money he sends stops suddenly, a wicked debt collector arrives. She’s determined to seize the property – and the treasure rumoured to be hidden on the land. Guided by a majestic bird which Asha believes to be the spirit of her grandmother, she and her best friend Jeevan embark on a journey to the city, across the Himalayas, to find her father and save her home. 

Three words to describe this book: Magical - Indian - Adventure.

Robinson Crusoe

By Daniel Defoe,

Book cover of Robinson Crusoe

This book was the granddaddy of the adventure genre. Writing in the 1700s, Defoe provided all the touch-points that have dominated the genre to the present day – desert island, castaway, man Friday, fear of man-eating beasts – almost all of which I have used in a book written in the 2020s (although my Alix did not find a man Friday). As possibly the first fictional story of human survival it created a template for all that followed. Each of the books I have mentioned, including my own, have to deal with endless problems from the mundane (what can I eat?) to the sublime (what am I here for?) and despite some occasional sermonising, Defoe showed us how to do it. I have just reread it for the fourth time, and yes, I skipped some passages, but nonetheless, it’s a rollicking good read.

You may be shocked by some of…

Robinson Crusoe

By Daniel Defoe,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Robinson Crusoe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Robinson Crusoe has a universal appeal, a story that goes right to the core of existence' Simon Armitage

Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, regarded by many to be first novel in English, is also the original tale of a castaway struggling to survive on a remote desert island.

The sole survivor of a shipwreck, Robinson Crusoe is washed up on a desert island. In his journal he chronicles his daily battle to stay alive, as he conquers isolation, fashions shelter and clothes, enlists the help of a native islander who he names 'Friday', and fights off cannibals and mutineers. Written in…


Who am I?

Elizabeth Flann is a history and literature major who worked for over twenty years in the publishing industry in England and Australia before moving into teaching literature, scriptwriting and editing to postgraduate students at Deakin University, Melbourne. She is a co-author of The Australian Editing Handbook and was awarded a PhD in 2001 for her thesis entitled Celluloid Dreaming: Cultural Myths and Landscape in Australian Film. Now retired, she is able to give full rein to her true love—writing fiction. Her first novel, Beware of Dogs, was awarded the Harper Collins Banjo Prize for a Fiction Manuscript. She now lives in a peaceful rural setting in Victoria, Australia, close to extended family and nature.


I wrote...

Beware of Dogs

By Elizabeth Flann,

Book cover of Beware of Dogs

What is my book about?

"Not much daylight left now," begins the field diary of Alix Verhoeven, whose acceptance of an offer to spend Easter on a remote island has turned into a terrifying ordeal. Hiding in a tiny cave, she carefully rations her diminishing supplies, while desperately trying to escape the men hunting her. By day disciplined and living by the strict rules necessary for survival, at night she finds herself haunted by questions about her life that she has never wanted to face. And time is running out.

Writing this book was very much influenced by the adventure books I have been reading since I was eight years old. It was equally as much based on the reading and research I've done about the ways humans manage to survive against the odds.

Book cover of Island of the Blue Dolphins

This winner of the Newbury Medal is another book that gave me the courage to write a book that includes my own invented tribe. The author, Scott O'Dell, also spent his early years in Southern Calif. as did I and much of the described island flora and fauna is reminiscent of Santa Catalina Island. After hunting for otters Karina's tribe misses the first boat that was to take them back to the mainland. When she misses the second one because of an act of bravery, she is fated to survive many years alone which she does with unimaginable courage and tenacity.

Island of the Blue Dolphins

By Scott O’Dell,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Island of the Blue Dolphins as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Twelve-year-old Karana escapes death at the hands of treacherous hunters, only to find herself totally alone on a harsh desolate island. How she survives in the face of all sorts of dangers makes gripping and inspiring reading.

Based on a true story.

Who am I?

The books I've recommended are all skillfully told by someone who is not of the race or sexual orientation of the protagonist. Though I believe in the importance of people telling their own stories, I also think there should be room for writers to write from viewpoints other than their own. The past is where many of my characters live, but I still have to deal with the quandry of authenticity. Daughter of Winter is placed in Essex, MA, in 1949, at the height of the shipbuilding industry and features a mixed-race child and a Wapanoag grandmother. To make certain of my characterizations, I hired a chief of that tribe to read the finished manuscript.


I wrote...

Daughter of Winter

By Pat Lowery Collins,

Book cover of Daughter of Winter

What is my book about?

For years, I often drove past an old school house in the middle of a historic graveyard in Essex, Massachusetts. I imagined how children must have played amongst the headstones and ultimately decided that this place and shipbuilding town would be a unique setting for a novel. When I learned that many schooners from the numerous shipyards at mid-century had set sail for the gold fields, I knew I’d found the time in which to set my story of a young girl’s coming of age, the separations and deaths she must endure, and her brave search for a self that had always confounded her.  

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