Braving It: 14 Books That Teach Children to Be Adventurous
by James Campbell
When my daughter Aidan turned 15 we began a series of trips into the heart of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where we confronted grizzlies, polar bears, Class III and IV rapids, clouds of mosquitoes, howling winds from off the Arctic ice pack, temperatures that reached 40 below, and a profound sense of isolation. At first, Aidan was terrified. Gradually, as she became more comfortable, I could see a newborn hope spring up out of the fear. By the end of our last adventure, she was more confident and competent than I ever imagined she would be.
Aidan had wanted to go to Alaska with me since she was a little girl. When I worked on a book about one of Arctic Alaska’s last homesteading families, she was thrilled by the stories of my research. But the seed of adventure was planted even years earlier. When Aidan turned three I started reading to her every weekday morning. It became a tradition we observed for a decade.
The books we read, especially when she was young, were adventure stories. They usually starred boys or men as the protagonists, and Aidan often wondered why girls couldn’t build a raft and float down a river or survive in the wilderness. I told her that there was nothing stopping her from doing as much — or more — than any boy. It was a message she took to heart.
We read almost 100 books together in those ten years. Here are just a few of the tales that she loved — and that shaped her into the brave, adventurous person she is today.
The Jungle Book
Kipling brings the jungle and its animals to life as we follow the adventures of Mowgli, the man-cub.Available from:
The Wind in the Willows
A rollicking adventure story starring set on the Thames River Valley of England staring Rat, Mole, Badger, and Mr. Toad.
Where the Red Ferns Grows and Old Yeller
Where the Red Ferns Grows and Old Yeller are both tear-jerkers about man’s best friend.
The Call of the Wild and White Fang
London sets both stories in the Yukon with — you guessed it — two dogs as their central characters.
The friendship that develops between Rob Horton and the spirited Sistine Bailey as they contemplate setting lose a caged tiger warms the heart, but like many of DiCamillo’s tales — Because of Winn Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux, and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane — this one, too, explores themes of rejection and grief.
This Newbery Honor Winner starts with a boy from New York City going to visit his father in the Canadian wilderness. When the small plane that is transporting him crashes, the thrilling survival story begins. Fortunately, the boy has a hatchet, given to him by his mother — the tool becomes his lifeline.
Island of the Blue Dolphins
Another Newberry Medal winner, Island of the Blue Dolphins is based on the true story of a brave teenage Native American girl (Karana) living alone on one of the Channel Islands off the coast of California.
A heartbreaker set in the Florida scrub country about a boy and an orphaned fawn. Rawlings captures the dialect of the people and the rugged beauty of the land.
Tikta'liktak: An Inuit-Eskimo Legend
In this book Houston re-tells an Inuit-Eskimo tale about a young hunter who is carried out to sea on an ice floe. After many trials, and a long journey, he returns home. Houston’s drawings help to bring the story alive.
Little House in the Big Woods
Aidan loved the details of Wilder’s homesteading life on the Wisconsin frontier, especially because the Wilder girls are central to the stories.
Julie of the Wolves
In this the first book in the Julie trilogy (also a Newberry winner), 13-year-old Julie, or Miyax, as she is known in her Eskimo village on Alaska’s North Slope, flees an unhappy marriage and her husband’s parents’ house, bound for San Francisco. When she ends up lost, she must find a way to survive. But when she makes her way back to a small Eskimo village, she realizes it’s time to confront questions about her cultural identity.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Of course. This book delighted — and, because of its depictions of slavery, troubled — Aidan.
To follow the challenges and triumphs James and Aidan encountered on their Arctic adventures, check out James Campbell’s Braving It.