The most recommended self reliance books

Who picked these books? Meet our 28 experts.

28 authors created a book list connected to self reliance, and here are their favorite self reliance books.
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Book cover of Small as an Elephant

Dana VanderLugt Author Of Enemies in the Orchard: A World War 2 Novel in Verse

From my list on middle grade written that tackle grief.

Who am I?

When I worked as a middle school teacher, I surveyed more than 200 students how they felt about books that included sadness and grief. The overwhelming answer from the students was that while adults too often minimize their feelings and dismiss the validity of their heartache, books do not. Many young readers want books that are honest and raw enough not to shield them from the world, but to pay enough attention to its pain to light a path, knowing that they can keep moving forward in the dark when they feel less alone and less afraid.

Dana's book list on middle grade written that tackle grief

Dana VanderLugt Why did Dana love this book?

Small as an Elephant is a book that I read aloud to my sons, but I needed as much as they did.

This story of 11-year-old Jack who is abandoned by his bipolar single mother and left to fend for himself in Acadia National Park is totally accessible and captivates young readers because of its emphasis on survival, but also delves into hard issues like mental illness and abandonment. I first learned about the book during a middle school English teachers’ discussion of “favorite books ever.”

By Jennifer Richard Jacobson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Small as an Elephant as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

"A deeply perceptive look at the universal fear of abandonment." — Booklist (starred review)

Ever since Jack can remember, his mom has been unpredictable, sometimes loving and fun, other times caught in a whirlwind of energy and “spinning” wildly until it’s over. But now she is gone, leaving him all alone on a campsite in Maine. Can he find his way back to Boston before the authorities realize what happened? With nothing but a small toy elephant to keep him company, Jack begins a journey that will test his wits and his loyalties — and his trust that he may…

Book cover of The Disaster Days

Frances Greenslade Author Of Red Fox Road

From my list on survival for young readers.

Who am I?

I’m a Canadian writer living in southern British Columbia. When I was young, most people thought I was too small and frail to do awesome things. It wasn’t until I got older that I began to understand that my love for wild places and adventures was at the heart of who I was, and I began to see that I was much stronger than I thought. These days, I hike, climb, kayak, cross-country ski, and snowshoe – anything that gets me outside in nature. And I've done some awesome things out there! I want to change the way people see nature, not as something to be conquered, but to be treated with affection and respect.

Frances' book list on survival for young readers

Frances Greenslade Why did Frances love this book?

In my search for a survival novel with a young female protagonist, I came across this gem set on a fictional island in the Pacific Northwest, close to where I live.

Thirteen-year-old Hannah is new to babysitting when disaster in the form of an earthquake strikes. I appreciated the way the protagonist constantly evaluates her situation, finding resilience and strength when there are no adults to turn to. 

By Rebecca Behrens,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Disaster Days as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

Hatchet meets The Babysitters Club in this epic and thrilling survival story about pushing oneself to the limit in the face of a crisis.
We were all alone, in a shaken and shattered house, in the dark. And I was in charge.
Hannah Steele loves living on Pelling, a tiny island near Seattle. She's always felt totally safe there.
So when she's asked to babysit after school one day, it's no big deal. Zoe and Oscar are her next-door neighbors, and Hannah just took a babysitting class, which she's pretty sure makes her an expert. She isn't even worried that…

Book cover of The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times

Anna Hess Author Of The Ultimate Guide to Soil

From my list on for beyond-organic gardeners.

Who am I?

If I'm honest, I became a gardener because I like getting dirty. Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Tom Kitten is the story of my childhood (and my adulthood too, only now I don't have to pretend I'm going to stay clean). Of course, high-quality soil leads to high-quality produce, and I deeply adore the flavors of strawberries growing in deep, dark soil. Biting into a juicy, homegrown tomato still warm from the summer sun is bliss.

Anna's book list on for beyond-organic gardeners

Anna Hess Why did Anna love this book?

I have a love/hate relationship with permaculture. I adore the concept...and when I put most authors' assertions into practice, I find that I get a much lower yield than doing things the old way. That's why I enjoy books like this one from gardeners who walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Warning: You will be sorely tempted to buy ducks. Resist, resist!

By Carol Deppe,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Scientist/gardener Carol Deppe combines her passion for organic gardening with newly emerging scientific information from many fields - resilience science, climatology, climate change, ecology, anthropology, paleontology, sustainable agriculture, nutrition, health, and medicine. In the last half of The Resilient Gardener, Deppe extends and illustrates these principles with detailed information about growing and using five key crops: potatoes, corn, beans, squash, and eggs.

In this book you'll learn how to:

*Garden in an era of unpredictable weather and climate change

*Grow, store, and use more of your own staple crops

*Garden efficiently and comfortably (even if you have a bad back)…

Book cover of Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie

Kathryn Holmes Author Of Tally Tuttle Turns into a Turtle (Class Critters #1)

From my list on early chapter books about big feelings.

Who am I?

I’ve always loved books that take me on an emotional journey. Whether the story is realistic or fantastical, set firmly in the here and now or on another planet centuries in the future, I want to ride the roller coaster as the characters experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. That’s also one of my focuses as a writer for children. Little kids can have very big feelings, and stories for young readers can validate those feelings—without skimping on the fun. After all, joy can be a big feeling too. 

Kathryn's book list on early chapter books about big feelings

Kathryn Holmes Why did Kathryn love this book?

Eight-year-old Eleanor has only ever had one babysitter. Bibi is the person who makes Eleanor soup when she’s sick, sews up her pants when they don’t fit right, and keeps track of her lost baby teeth. When Bibi has to move away, Eleanor’s heart feels like “a mirror that fell and shattered in a million pieces.” This gentle book about losing people you love, missing them terribly, and moving forward is ideal for helping kids travel that same tough path. A novel-in-verse, it’s also a quick read without sacrificing an inch of depth.    

By Julie Sternberg, Matthew Cordell (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 6, 7, 8, and 9.

What is this book about?

I had a bad August. A very bad August. As bad as pickle juice on a cookie.
Eleanor's beloved babysitter, Bibi, is moving away. Suddenly, the things she used to enjoy aren't fun anymore-everything reminds her of Bibi. To make matters worse, Eleanor has a new babysitter, who just isn't the same. But as the new school year looms ahead, so do new beginnings. And Eleanor is about to learn some special things about herself, friendship, and the bittersweet process of growing up.

Book cover of Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children

Linda Åkeson McGurk Author Of There's No Such Thing as Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom's Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids (from Friluftsliv to Hygge)

From my list on parenting secrets from other cultures.

Who am I?

I’m a Swedish American journalist, blogger, and author whose writings about Scandinavian parenting culture have appeared in newspapers, magazines, and online publications across the world, including,, and Green Child Magazine. I’m particularly interested in the role of nature in childhood and believe the best memories are created outside, while jumping in puddles, digging in dirt, catching bugs and climbing trees. In 2013, I started the blog Rain or Shine Mamma to inspire other parents and caregivers to get outside with their children every day, regardless of the weather. I’m currently working on my second book, about the Nordic outdoor tradition friluftsliv, which will be published by Tarcher Perigee in 2022.

Linda's book list on parenting secrets from other cultures

Linda Åkeson McGurk Why did Linda love this book?

Preschoolers who wield knives and start fires? Kids riding by themselves on the subway? Welcome to Germany, where “free range parenting” is the norm and free play takes priority over academic learning in the early years. Zaske’s journey as an American mom in Berlin is a fascinating and thought-provoking read that turns many of our preconceived notions about German culture and parenting on their head. Parents looking to raise confident, self-reliant children will likely take Zaske’s book to heart. 

By Sara Zaske,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An entertaining, enlightening look at the art of raising self-reliant, independent children based on one Mum's experiences in Germany.

'Warm and companionable . . . I closed Achtung Baby feeling more relaxed and confident. While both my kids were up a tree.' - Helen Brown, Daily Mail

When Sara Zaske moved from Oregon to Berlin with her husband and toddler, she was surprised to discover that German parents give their children a great deal of freedom. In Berlin, kids walk to school by themselves, ride the subway alone, cut food with sharp knives and even play with fire. German parents…

Book cover of All by Myself

Margo Steines Author Of Brutalities: A Love Story

From Margo's 3-year-old's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Writer Athlete Mom New Yorker

Margo's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Plus, Margo's 3-year-old's favorite books.

Margo Steines Why did Margo's 3-year-old love this book?

We are deeply in the No Me Just Me All by Myself phase of toddlerhood, so the loud assertions of autonomy are resonant.

It is so validating to see your feelings on the page, no matter how old you are. The older and younger sibling dynamic is also very familiar from our house, which we like to laugh about (particularly the bigger sibling pouring juice for the baby and dumping it on the floor).

By Mercer Mayer,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked All by Myself as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 4, 5, 6, and 7.

What is this book about?

Mercer Mayer’s Little Critter wants to show you all the things he can do for himself in this classic, funny, and heartwarming book. Whether he’s tying his shoes, coloring a picture, or riding his bike, both parents and children alike will relate to this beloved story. A perfect way to teach children about independence!

Book cover of Teacup

Kao Kalia Yang Author Of From the Tops of the Trees

From my list on learning about refugees.

Who am I?

I was born in a refugee camp in Thailand. I lived there until I was six. I was a child from America’s Secret War in Laos, a child who knew very little of the outside world before my family sought refuge in America. Much of my life’s work has been devoted to a search for peace, to understand the forces that put families in situations like mine. I have published widely on the topic, written of it in books for both adults and children.

Kao's book list on learning about refugees

Kao Kalia Yang Why did Kao love this book?

In the space where our fears and our hopes live, there is the landscape of our dreams and nightmares. This book lushly carries a boy's search for home to readers everywhere. It's a magical book for it carries a great deal of room for the reader to step into the words and images within. 

By Rebecca Young, Matt Ottley (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Teacup as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 4, 5, 6, and 7.

What is this book about?

A stunning picture book that addresses life’s big journeys with hope, beauty, and reassurance

School Library Journal [STARRED REVIEW!]  
“[A] moving, allegorical tale… inspiring reflection and empathy”
Kirkus Reviews [STARRED REVIEW!] 
“A potent discussion starter… Enchanting, beautiful, and full of hope. “
Booklist [STARRED REVIEW!]  
“A lyrical tale of leaving home and finding a new one…Thought-provoking and arrestingly beautiful.”

A boy must leave his home and find another. He brings with him a teacup full of earth from the place where he grew up, and sets off to sea. Some days, the journey is peaceful, and the skies are cloudless…

Book cover of My Side of the Mountain

Jennie Liu Author Of Enly and the Buskin' Blues

From my list on boys for middle graders whose reading is falling off.

Who am I?

My boys greedily consumed books until middle school when screens began to pull them away. I still brought home piles of books, especially stories that stirred empathy, hoping they would pick them up (especially during enforced no-screen times). My then-5th grader complained that I brought home too many “sad books about kids having a really hard time,” and that’s when I realized I was choosing titles I liked and wanted them to read. The novels I had written thus far were heavy stories for teens, but after this little episode with my boy, I decided to pay attention to what they really wanted to read. And to write one they might like.  

Jennie's book list on boys for middle graders whose reading is falling off

Jennie Liu Why did Jennie love this book?

This story of a 12-year-old boy who runs away from his New York City home to live alone in the Catskills is a comfort read in my house.

The detailed description of how Sam survives—foraging, building traps, hollowing out a tree—and the theme of independence are catnip to the introverts in my family. The book is read on repeat with my boys.

By Jean Craighead George,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked My Side of the Mountain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

"Should appeal to all rugged individualists who dream of escape to the forest."-The New York Times Book Review

Sam Gribley is terribly unhappy living in New York City with his family, so he runs away to the Catskill Mountains to live in the woods-all by himself. With only a penknife, a ball of cord, forty dollars, and some flint and steel, he intends to survive on his own. Sam learns about courage, danger, and independence during his year in the wilderness, a year that changes his life forever.

"An extraordinary book . . . It will be read year after…

Book cover of The Disaster Diaries: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Apocalypse

Christopher J. Lynch Author Of Dark State

From my list on electrical grid vulnerabilities and our survival.

Who am I?

I worked as an industrial electrician for over two decades. At one point during a meeting to discuss an upcoming project, a question was posed about the delivery time of a specific piece of equipment. When the answer was given that it would be about a year away, it got me thinking: what if a specialized piece of equipment—critical to the grid and with an equally long lead time—was destroyed, how would the grid survive? More importantly; how would we survive? That single statement was the spark that ignited the fire in me to learn all about the grid, and to write Dark State.   

Christopher's book list on electrical grid vulnerabilities and our survival

Christopher J. Lynch Why did Christopher love this book?

I first heard of The Disaster Diaries from an interview with author Sam Sheridan. While not a book strictly related to a grid failure, it was still about disaster and surviving the breakdown of societal norms. 

What was so amazing about the book—and something that endeared the author to me, was his humility regarding his own lack of preparedness. Here was a man who had been an EMT, a mixed martial arts fighter, a fire-fighter, and a cowboy, and yet he still didn’t feel prepared enough to survive a disaster!

What follows is a unique journey as he learns stunt driving, knife fighting, even how to steal a car, all to help him prepare for “The Big One.” 

By Sam Sheridan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Sam Sheridan has been an amateur boxer, mixed-martial-arts fighter, professional wilderness firefighter, EMT, sailor, and cowboy, and has worked in construction at the South Pole. If he isn't ready for the apocalypse, we're all in a lot of trouble.

Despite an arsenal of skills that would put most of us to shame, when Sam had his son and settled down, he was beset with nightmares about being unable to protect him. Apocalyptic images filled his head. If a rogue wave hit his beach community, could he get out? If he was forced outside the city, could he survive in the…

Book cover of The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives

Thomas Lickona Author Of How to Raise Kind Kids: And Get Respect, Gratitude, and a Happier Family in the Bargain

From my list on raising good children.

Who am I?

I’m a developmental psychologist and former professor of education. My life’s work and 10 books have focused on helping families and schools foster good character in kids. Educating for Character: How Our Schools Can Teach Respect and Responsibility is credited with helping launch the national character education movement. My first book for parents, Raising Good Children, described how to guide kids through the stages of moral development from birth through adulthood. My focus these days is kindness and its supporting virtues. My wife Judith and I have two grown sons and 15 grandchildren, and with William Boudreau, MD, co-authored Sex, Love, and You: Making the Right Decision, a book for teens.

Thomas' book list on raising good children

Thomas Lickona Why did Thomas love this book?

This thought-provoking book by Bill Stixrud (a clinical neuropsychologist) and Ned Johnson (an SAT tutor) pops up on other “best books” lists on parenting. It deserves to be there. But it’s not, as the title might suggest, a prescription for “hands-off” parenting. On the contrary, it shows us how to actively help our kids become better decision-makers by giving them lots of guided practice in making decisions they’re capable of handling, such as: “Should I take on the challenge of moving to the next grade in school, or spend another year learning the important skills I didn’t learn very well this year?” (but definitely not decisions where, for example, danger is involved—like going to an unsupervised party).

In short, raising a “self-driven” child means doing more of a different kind of parenting—in a collaborative, mutually respectful relationship that’s more rewarding for both parent and child. It means looking for opportunities…

By William Stixrud, Ned Johnson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Instead of trusting kids with choices . . . many parents insist on micromanaging everything from homework to friendships. For these parents, Stixrud and Johnson have a simple message: Stop." -NPR

"This humane, thoughtful book turns the latest brain science into valuable practical advice for parents." -Paul Tough, New York Times bestselling author of How Children Succeed

A few years ago, Bill Stixrud and Ned Johnson started noticing the same problem from different angles: Even high-performing kids were coming to them acutely stressed and lacking motivation. Many complained they had no control over their lives. Some stumbled in high school…