This list is broken into three parts, each focusing on different elements of the Hatchet story that I find compelling.
First of all, it’s a survival story. If the popularity of the reality TV show Survivor is any indication, battling the elements and living off the land is a challenge worth witnessing.
The survival books on this list include fiction and non-fiction written for adults and mature teens.
It’s also a story about courage and self-discovery. Victory over adversity is empowering. Dire circumstances can serve as a catalyst to unearth inner courage. The section of the list that highlights courage are also written for kids. One of the best thing about books is that we can borrow the courage of our heroes, fictional or real, and wield it in our every day lives.
Finally, there’s a section of adventure stories, appealing and apropriate for all ages.
In my list of top picks some are stories of surviving alone on an island, but there’s also courage, adventure or survival in other settings as well.
My top six picks for Books Like Hatchet
- Island of the Blue Dolphins
- Project Hail Mary
- Robinson Crusoe
- Swiss Family Robinson
- Peace Like a River
Books Like Hatchet for Adults: Survival
If you enjoy adventure stories that defy death by overcoming the odds this is your place. Some are true, some invented, all contain the epic battle of man and survival, battling the elements, fighting nature and winning. Modern life doesn’t often pit us against the elements since we tend to live a more temperature controlled life. But there is something compelling about survivor stories.
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Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
“Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission—and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.
Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.
All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.
His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, Ryland realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Hurtling through space on this tiny ship, it’s up to him to puzzle out an impossible scientific mystery—and conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.
And with the clock ticking down and the nearest human being light-years away, he’s got to do it all alone.
Or does he?”–from Amazon
All the elements of a great survival story as well as science fiction at it’s best. I loved it.
Endurance by Alfred Lansing
The story of Ernest Shackleton’s leadership to bring his whole crew out alive after their vessel is lost in the South Pole Seas is inspiring.
It’s a good study in leadership and teamwork. It’s an amazing triumph over the elements, even though the primary mission wasn’t accomplished. The feat was bringing back everyone alive.
The difficult decisions faced, the feats of survival, the human interaction: these are the elements of the story that draw you in and keep you turning pages.
In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick
Tracing the journey of the the captain and crew of the the whaling ship, Essex, the author employs extensive research of the mostly Quaker community on Nantucket, to whaling in the 1700s and background on the 20 men aboard the Essex.
Interesting from a leadership and psychological standpoint, it chronicles the different choices man makes in his most desperate hours.
The journey was supposed to take 2 to 3 years, so the community wasn’t alarmed but they didn’t know the turn of events that faced the captain during his first command and a partially green crew.
The writing style moved the story along even while providing informative comparisons to others in similar situations. Another interesting tie in was the influence this journey had on Herman Melville as an inspiration to write Moby Dick.
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
In 1996, eight mountain climbers lost their lives while attempting to summit Everest. Jon Krakauer is a journalist and climber who survived and wrote about it.
There’s a lot of competing forces at play: people who spent a lot of money to summit, the commercialization of summiting, magazines that would pay a lot for the story, advertisers looking for heroes.
No one seemed to know that there was a storm blowing in.
One of the critical factors in the deaths was the enforcement of the turn around time. Hall, the team leader, had been so strict about that for other teams, but with this one, he wasn’t. He didn’t communicate clearly whether the turn around time was one o clock or two clock. On the actual summit day, people were summiting at 4 and 5 o clock.
Should a leader be making decisions that are unquestioned? Does that actually put his team at greater risk because they don’t follow their own wisdom? Actually, the genius of Hall’s leadership was to make the decisions ahead of time, not in the heat of the moment. And the actual breakdown came in not following through with those wise decisions.
The safety net wasn’t there when it needed to be.
Touching the Void by Joe Simpson
“The true story of one man’s miraculous survival after a mountaineering mishap high in the Andes of South America.” (from Amazon)
I’ve been on the prowl for another great family read aloud, along the lines of Endurance and Unbroken.
There’s a lot of climbing terms and concepts that I didn’t understand and it took a while before the story became compelling. If I hadn’t known what was coming, I’m not sure I would have stuck with it. The account is a testimony to the human will to survive. Although it was only given a passing reference, it’s also a testimony to the prayers of Joe’s mother.
It’s fascinating to me to analyze the decisions you make in the face of death. What motivates you to keep going when it’s hopeless and what motivates you to give up?
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
“Robinson Crusoe is a novel by Daniel Defoe, first published on 25 April 1719. The first edition credited the work’s protagonist Robinson Crusoe as its author, leading many readers to believe he was a real person and the book a travelogue of true incidents. Epistolary, confessional, and didactic in form, the book is presented as an autobiography of the title character (whose birth name is Robinson Kreutznaer)—a castaway who spends twenty-eight years on a remote tropical desert island near Trinidad, encountering cannibals, captives, and mutineers, before ultimately being rescued. The story has since been thought to be based on the life of Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish castaway who lived for four years on a Pacific island called “Más a Tierra”, now part of Chile, which was renamed Robinson Crusoe Island in 1966, but various literary sources have also been suggested.”– from Amazon
I was impressed by the spiritual themes explored in this book that you don’t see in modern literature. That is our culture’s loss.
To Build a Fire by Jack London
A novella with the classic story of man against the elements. No one can paint the great white north like Jack London. This story intrigued me as kid and I never forgot the impact a simple story can make. Even though it’s short it packs a punch.
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand tells the fascinating, incredible life story of Louis Zamperini. Starting with his early years striving for Olympic fame as a runner, then all the twists and turns of his military career in the South Pacific and finally his return to civilian life and redemption.
Books Like Hatchet for Kids: Courage
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
“The Newberry Medal-winning story of a 12-year old girl who lives alone on a Pacific island after she leaps from a rescue ship. Isolated on the island for eighteen years, Karana forages for food, builds weapons to fight predators, clothes herself in a cormorant feathered skirt, and finds strength and peace in her seclusion. A classic tale of discovery and solitude returns to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for its 50th anniversary, with a new introduction by Lois Lowry.” –from Amazon
Much like Hatchet, Karana faces the challenge of survival alone on an island. Unlike Hatchet, this story is based on the true events of a real person.
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
“Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.
So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?” — from GoodReads
A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus
William, Edmund and Anna are siblings who are evacuated from London to the country during World War II. Their deep desire for home and family drive the story, even while they aim to be family to each other.
A love of literature is integral to the story and revisiting my childhood favorites was fun. There’s echoes of Narnia throughout as well as nods to other classic children’s lit.
I wish I hadn’t read the story synopsis before reading this sweet, heart-warming story.
Don’t read the reviews. Just dive in.
Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt
” Doug struggles to be more than the “skinny thug” that some people think him to be. He finds an unlikely ally in Lil Spicer, who gives him the strength to endure an abusive father, the suspicions of a town, and the return of his oldest brother, forever scarred, from Vietnam. Schmidt expertly weaves multiple themes of loss and recovery in a story teeming with distinctive, unusual characters and invaluable lessons about love, creativity, and survival.”– from Amazon
Excellent book. LOVED it.
Deals with so many important themes.
Abusive parent. War veterans. Learning disabilities. Young love. Poverty. Predjudice.
Recommended for older kids, beginning about age 10.
Holes by Louis Sachar
Stanley Yelnats has been unfairly sentenced to juvenile work camp at Green Lake. The boys are required to dig holes in the desert sun.
But there’s something mysterious going on connected to a decades old events that transpired before the lake dried out. Can Stanley and his friends get to the bottom of it before the perpetrators take revenge?
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
What a great book! Highly recommended for all ages.
I love the way it tackles head on mega topics: embarrassment, shame, discouragement, rising above difficult circumstances, the elements of a true friendship.
August Pullman is a likable fellow. If he were a jerk, this story wouldn’t have worked.
It strikes at the very heart of what it means to be a person. Where do you fit into society. How does society react to you?
It’s not just an overcomer story. It’s a family systems story. Our family of origin matters so much when it comes to what we believe about ourselves.
I love the middle school principal in this story. I love the way he has such a deep understanding of kids. I love how he can see what is happening beneath the surface. A great book for teachers, administrators, youth pastors, everyone who deals with kids as well as kids, themselves.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Another well-known classic that is still loved today. Jim Hawkins stumbles into the world of Pirates and buried treasure. Treasure maps marked with an X, one legged pirates with parrots on their shoulders and other pirate lore can be traced back to the masterful story telling in Treasure Island.
Books Like Hatchet for All Ages: Adventure
Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss
What if you were marooned on an island with your wife and family of four boys? How would you survive? What would you do for food and shelter? Maybe stories of survival intrigue us because we’re all ultimately on a survival track.
The Hobbit by J.R.R.Tolkien
One of literature’s ultimate hero’s journeys, the story of Bilbo Baggins resonates deeply, even if you’re not a homebody. Bilbo certainly wasn’t out looking for adventure, because hobbits are fond of regular meals and the comforts of home.
But, if there’s a wizard and a dragon, a quest, danger, travel companions to help and hinder, a magic ring and some treasure, it all adds up to a satisfying tale with uncanny parallels to life as we know it.
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
“Fantastic creatures, heroic deeds, epic battles in the war between good and evil, and unforgettable adventures come together in this world where magic meets reality, which has been enchanting readers of all ages for over sixty years. The Chronicles of Narnia has transcended the fantasy genre to become a part of the canon of classic literature.”– from GoodReads
In my opinion, it doesn’t get any better than Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia for middle grade.
But, not only middle grade. Narnia appeals to every age.
Lewis tells compelling stories with an amazing economy of words. He weaves timeless truths into tales that highlight the classic conflict between good and evil.
I can’t recommend them highly enough.
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
No one can make the great white north come alive like Jack London. Buck is a kidnapped dog taken from California to the Yukon during the the Klondike Rush of the 1890’s. Man and beast fight agains the elements, greed and each other.
Peace Like a River by Lief Enger
One of my lifetime favorite is told through the eyes of an eleven year old boy. The novel doesn’t cover a long span of time, mostly just a year.
Rueben is the eleven year old, Swede, his younger sister, and Davy their older brother. They live with their father out west, growing up in a modest
Circumstances dictate a quest to the west, search for answers to a reality that doesn’t add up.
Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne
Phineas Fogg is a man of precise ritual. All his days look the same until he makes a bet that he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days. In the 1800s, travel by ship and steam engine and even elephant is fraught with disaster and delays.
Are he and his trusty valet up to the challenge? Can they escape the dangers and beat the clock?