by Mindy McGinnis
Survivor tales are big right now, dystopian in particular. But I learned to speak this language a long time ago, and some of the books that helped shaped my taste for strong characters persevering against the odds were written before I was even born. You can walk into a bookstore and grab a popular title anytime - in fact, please do! But don’t overlook some classic tales that were exploring these same themes thirty years before it was the popular thing to do.
Z for Zachariah - Robert C. O’Brien: What’s not to love about this story? A teen girl survives nuclear fallout because of the geologic structure of the remote valley she lives in. Her older brothers leave to look for help and never come back. Ann wrestles with the thought of being the last person on Earth… then finds out there are worse things when a man with radiation sickness discovers her home. Bonus: There’s a dog.
The Incredible Journey - Sheila Burnford: Yes, the movie is awesome. Who doesn’t tear up in the last five minutes when children and pets presumed dead are running towards each other through a meadow? But you should definitely give the book a fair shake, too. It’s an amazing feat of writing that gives depth and emotion to animals without forcing human qualities upon them, or (shudder) making them talk. Three domesticated animals cross the Canadian wilderness to reunite with the family they love. Cue “awwwww.” Bonus: They are dogs. Double Prizes: There’s a cat.
The Black Stallion - Walter Farley: Think Life of Pi with a horse. Alec and Black meet on an ill-fated ship, and find themselves the only survivors on an empty island. Their bond is a huge part of Alex’s will to live even though the odds are stacked wildly against him. Yes, there’s really awesome romanticized things like riding a huge horse bareback through the surf, but there’s also wonderful messages about life, and the primal forces of nature. Bonus: As the title indicates, there’s a horse.
So take some time to rediscover a few classics and you’ll see why these three in particular have continued to be household titles in homes with young readers.
mindymcginnis is the author of Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust, and an assistant YA librarian who lives in Ohio. She cans her own food and graduated from Otterbein University magna cum laude with a BA in English literature and religion. Mindy has a pond in her backyard but has never shot anyone.