Books Like Island of the Blue Dolphins
May 23, 2017 5:13 PM   Subscribe

Mini McGee, who is 8, asks: "I loved Island of the Blue Dolphins, so I want more books similar to it. I like the adventure, the awesome surviving stuff, like wolf attacks and being alone, and it's one of the best books to me. Go ask MetaFilter, what are more books like it? Especially if they have modern things like vehicles."

He reads really well, comprehension is not a problem, and we're definitely looking for chapter books! However, age-wise he's not interested in lots of romance plots yet, and doesn't like when things are too intensely scary. He does like medieval things with castles, but also would really like some adventure stories with modern things -- I think either real-world technology (anything from steam trains on forward) or sci-fi would make him happy, and maybe even steampunk?

We've already added "My Side of the Mountain" to our list! I also thought maybe "Johnny Tremain."
posted by Eyebrows McGee to Writing & Language (85 answers total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
Julie of the Wolves
posted by Sassyfras at 5:15 PM on May 23, 2017 [20 favorites]

What about the Hardy Boys series?
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 5:16 PM on May 23, 2017

One last addition -- his teacher tells me he's read every Magic Treehouse in the library, and he's read a lot of kiddie Star Wars and Minecraft books. Part of what excited him about Blue Dolphins is that (I think) he's discovering the beauty of really gorgeously-written classic novels and he's really excited to read more "good" books and not just "series" books, as he put it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:19 PM on May 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Not modern, but a classic that was one of my favorite books: The Worry Week by Anne Lindbergh. Three girls put one over on their parents so they can stay alone in their Maine cottage. Lots of survival stuff and a search for treasure.
posted by lalex at 5:20 PM on May 23, 2017

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome. My absolute favourite book as a kid for many similar reasons, although there's not much alone time. Not sure if boats count as vehicles, they're no steam trains, but there are a lot of boats!
posted by carolr at 5:24 PM on May 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

Seconding Julie of the Wolves.

Maybe some Jules Verne?
posted by thomas j wise at 5:25 PM on May 23, 2017

The League of Seven is a novel (with two sequels) by Alan Gratz, with adventure and steampunk and great writing! It should be right for his age.
posted by rikschell at 5:25 PM on May 23, 2017

He does like medieval things with castles
Has he read Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books?
posted by Nerd of the North at 5:25 PM on May 23, 2017 [8 favorites]

I read Snow Dog like a million times starting around that age.
posted by rockindata at 5:26 PM on May 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

I haven't read this since I was a kid so YMMV, but I remember loving Treasure Island in much the same way I loved Island of the Blue Dolphins. I wanted to be Long John Silver's best mate! Around the same age I really liked the Jungle Book, and loved, loved, LOVED the Prydain novels (on preview, I see I'm actually seconding Nerd of the North on Prydian). No modern stuff in any of these, but they all scored high on my "adventure" scale.
posted by DingoMutt at 5:28 PM on May 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen, might fit the bill.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:28 PM on May 23, 2017 [26 favorites]

He had GOT to read Hatchet. Got to. It's so awesome. A boy travelling over the Canadian wilderness in a tiny plane, and the pilot has a heart attach. He has to land the plane and survive on his own with nothing but a hatchet he had with him.
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:29 PM on May 23, 2017 [9 favorites]

I was just about to recommend Hatchet!
posted by selfmedicating at 5:29 PM on May 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

"Has he read Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books?"

Yes, as a read-aloud with dad. The first couple Harry Potters, too, although they get too scary for now starting at Goblet of Fire. Also The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe but no sequels yet.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:32 PM on May 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yes, my side of the mountain! And the sequel. Also, the boxcar children - the first two books at least. Never read the others. Maybe half magic? It's not quite the right genre but it's clever and has a section about castles, and it's about kids figuring out things on their own.

I'll caution against Julie of the wolves though, for his age. I read it in fifth grade and I was completely unprepared for the scene where Daniel attacks Julie, but I was a really sensitive child.

Hatchet is great! There's a scary scene where he sees the pilot's dead body in the water, but it didn't traumatize me the way Julie of the wolves did.
posted by umwhat at 5:32 PM on May 23, 2017 [7 favorites]

The Boxcar Children is much older (1924), but I totally loved it also. "The Boxcar Children tells the story of four orphaned children, Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny. They create a home for themselves in an abandoned boxcar in the forest."

Seriously do not bother with the sequels.

Oh oh, and maybe From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, where the two kids survive on their own while hiding out in the Met.
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:33 PM on May 23, 2017 [16 favorites]

I think The Sign of the Beaver (by Speare) meets your criteria, except it doesn't contain modern gizmos but is historical.
posted by puddledork at 5:37 PM on May 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure if it would be too scary, but I read it when I was maybe 10 - The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. "The book chronicles the evolution of the title character as she is pushed outside her naive existence and learns about [super harsh] life aboard a sailing ship [in 1832]" - and when the crew eventually mutinies against the horrible captain, she winds up insisting on joining the crew, and at the end, after she gets home, she runs away back to sea. It's totally badass. (Woah, clearly I was very much on the same page as your son when I was a kid...)
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:39 PM on May 23, 2017 [14 favorites]

Also, may I say I freaking love that your 8 year old kid ordered you to go ask Metafilter about this?
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:42 PM on May 23, 2017 [20 favorites]

I recall reading Robinson Crusoe sometime around that age range. I'd recommend it.
posted by limeonaire at 5:47 PM on May 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

How about Swiss Family Robinson? It's on the preachy side but I loved all the stuff about how they fashioned this from that in order to survive. It scratches the same itch as the Martian does for me.
posted by peacheater at 5:49 PM on May 23, 2017 [7 favorites]

I read a lot of adventure survival type stories at that age! Nthing Hatchet, which is possibly the platonic ideal of such stories. Also, and this might be weird, but at that age I read the unabridged Swiss Family Robinson a lot. Like, a lot. I read it a lot of times. I haven't read it in over 15 years so I have no idea if, as a child, I totally missed out on some alarming subtext or other, but I loved that goddamn improbable island and all the crazy, likely implausible stuff the Robinsons did to fashion themselves a comfortable existence on it.
posted by yasaman at 5:49 PM on May 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

A Wrinkle in Time and Bridge to Terabithia.
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity at 5:54 PM on May 23, 2017 [7 favorites]

I was going to suggest The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle! Very much in the same vein.

He might in general enjoy the genre I like to call "runaway orphans," (which I loved as a kid), which includes The Whipping Boy, Thursday's Child (by the same person who wrote the shoes books, this one is about both boys and girls), and probably a lot of other books published after 1990!

Oh, there's also the Encyclopedia Brown books, which are not about kids on their own but are about kids outsmarting grownups!
posted by lunasol at 5:57 PM on May 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

In a neat reversal of your child asking you to go to Metafilter, I asked my child who loved Blue Dolphins what she would recommend for Metafilter, and after careful consideration she decided that book three of the Castle Glower series was a good match, Thursdays with the Crown. Apparently, the kids have adventures and survival skills that are similar. I know it's book three of a series, but her thoughtful consideration won me over!
posted by dawg-proud at 5:58 PM on May 23, 2017 [8 favorites]

Oh, there's also The Cay - though from what I vaguely remember of it, there may have been some weird/out-of-date race attitudes so you might want to screen for that.
posted by lunasol at 5:59 PM on May 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

Nation by Terry Pratchett meets all his requirements except that it might be a little too mature for him in its themes (one of the two child heros has to assist at a birth). It's way less violent than Treasure Island, though, which I enjoyed tremendously at that age.

Pratchett's The Wee Free Men is in a fantasy setting, not a quasi-historical one, but otherwise it seems right up his alley. A lot of fun to read aloud, too, so long as the chance to regularly bust into a terrible Scottish accent appeals to the adult story teller.

Another book that stuck with me when I was a kid and that seems bang on the money setting and content wise is Nightbirds on Nantucket. The opening scene --- a comatose stowaway is nursed back to health on the deck of a whaling ship as it travels the North Sea --- sticks with me many years later.
posted by Diablevert at 5:59 PM on May 23, 2017 [5 favorites]

I have fond memories at about that age of reading Ivan Southalls 'To the wild sky'. It looks like he has a few more about teens in survival situations as well. It definitely made a impression on me as survival tales go.
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 6:05 PM on May 23, 2017

Classic: Heidi
Series: Animorphs
posted by Night_owl at 6:08 PM on May 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

I remember The Cay as being more about a kid learning not to be racist but it's also true that my memories are close to 35 years old by now, so probably worth screening.

For sci fi, maybe The White Mountains and subsequent books?
posted by nickmark at 6:14 PM on May 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's not a survival story and might seem a little out-of-left-field, but I recommend a kids' book by William Sleator called Into the Dream. It's a sci-fi story about two kids who realize they're having the same recurring prophetic dream and have to team up to avert a disaster. It must be something about your son's mention of "being alone" that brought this book to mind—I remember being very strongly impressed by the way the protagonists are effectively living in a world from which their parents and any other adults are excluded, because they are the only two who understand the power of their nightmare and their (non-romantic, I hasten to add!) connection. It kind of scratched the same kind of itch in me, when I was a kid, as kids-on-their-own stories like Hatchet and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler did.
posted by honey wheat at 6:15 PM on May 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

I read this as a Scholastic book as a kid and it's still with me: High Country Adventure, by Marion Rumsey. A kid is flying to Alaska to meet up with his father. Their small plane crashes, the pilot is injured, and the kid has to figure out how to survive and rescue them both. Gripping and beautiful. Out of print, but findable.
posted by Miko at 6:16 PM on May 23, 2017

So you want to be a wizard series has a character in it that is attuned to modern technology. Really good stories, I think I read them at age 10.
posted by grinagog at 6:27 PM on May 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

The Ear, The Eye and The Arm by Nancy Farmer - a scifi novel set in future Zimbabwe following the adventures of three siblings after they run away from home.
posted by Geameade at 6:30 PM on May 23, 2017 [7 favorites]

The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper
The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
Books by Tamora Pierce
Dealing With Dragons series
Redwall series by Brian Jacques
The House with a clock in its walls or The Letter The Witch and The Ring by John Bellairs
posted by Geameade at 6:35 PM on May 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

I am assuming that your kid is in 2nd or 3rd grade? I teach 2nd grade and used to teach 4th grade. I would hesitate against some of these suggestions because of the themes in the books that are generally too much for kids of that age, even though they can understand the plot and read the words just fine. I've had a number of kids really love the Battle for the Castle books (there are 3 in the series) and The Tripod Trilogy (White mountains trilogy). I would also highly reccomend redwall, though they are very thick, if s/he loved blue dolphins (one of my favorite books!!!) they would probably really love redwall (plus it is a series with like 15 books). I would not recommend the cay, as it is technically an adventure, there are some very difficult scenes focused around race. It is a fabulous book, but better to be read with an adult, or by an older kid. I would also hold off on wrinkle in time, and from the mixed-up files. these are FABULOUS books and some of my favorite, but there are a lot of things that go right of the heads of younger ones. When I taught 4th grade we read island of the blue dolphins and other favorite books that we read together in class were Holes, Sideways stories from wayside school, because of winn dixie, and percy jackson. Some of these are less adventure, but they are all AMAZING books. Feel free to pm me if you want more suggestions, I love talking about books, especially middle grade (3-6) books, they are by far the best kind of children's literature!
posted by ruhroh at 6:42 PM on May 23, 2017 [10 favorites]

Robert Heinlein is problematic, but a lot of his juvenile-targeted novels push these buttons. I would especially recommend Tunnel in the Sky, though I would also recommend pre-reading any Heinlein book before giving it to your 8yo.

Oh and "My Side of the Mountain" is amazing!
posted by 256 at 6:44 PM on May 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Calvin and Hobbes. Adventure! Creativity! Fun pictures! Science inventions going boink!

I cannot for the life of me remember what age Jack London is appropriate for. Teen?
posted by Jacen at 6:45 PM on May 23, 2017

The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper

I was going to suggest this, and will second the Julie of the Wolves book also, along with Lloyd Alexander.

As a boy about that age I was reading and rereading classics like R.L. Stevenson's Kidnapped and Treasure Island; Robinson Crusoe and Swiss Family Robinson (neither of which I never liked as much, though I read each several times); most of Jack London's books; and a bunch of non-age-appropriate books like Lord of the Flies which I mostly enjoyed.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:48 PM on May 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Literally I came in to say Hatchet and The Dark Is Rising.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman features a resourceful heroine, as does The Graveyard Book. Well, a hero. Bod.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:51 PM on May 23, 2017

Assuming that they have mostly held up (problematic racial moments in both aside), I also have fond memories of the Doctor Doolittle books from that same age, as well as some of Kipling's stories.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:51 PM on May 23, 2017

How about The Island Keeper by Harry Mazer? It's about a young girl who accidentally strands herself on an island and has to survive a summer alone. Although with the caveat that I read it 25 years ago so it may need screening....
posted by Tandem Affinity at 6:53 PM on May 23, 2017

Books I remember from third grade:
James and the Giant Peach

(Also some of the Beverly Cleary books, which are excellent but don't answer the question.)

I also remember reading abridged/kids' versions of some Greek myths, Robin Hood, Ben-Hur, and Tom Sawyer. You may look for some of those, but you may want to preview them first. Tom's right across the river in Missouri, but I don't know if he's appropriate for this age (8, or 2017).

Some of the stories of Daniel Boone and/or Davy Crockett could also be winners.

The Boxcar Children became a series, but it was like 27 years between the first book and the next one, when she started to write sequels.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 6:57 PM on May 23, 2017

I teach kids this age, and I usually recommend Illustrated Classics, which Mini's school library probably has. They're abridged, obviously, but it allows younger kids to read books that are maybe too thematically mature or too advanced for them, then they can read the originals later.
posted by Huck500 at 6:58 PM on May 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Definite YES to Hatchet--and there are a couple of sequels. Brian's Winter and The River are two opposing sequels--one based on how Hatchet actually ends, the other based on an alternate ending. Brian's Return wraps up the saga. I used to read these aloud to my science classes over the course of a semester and even the kids who thought being read to was "babyish" were hooked after a couple of chapters.
posted by bookmammal at 7:01 PM on May 23, 2017

William Pene du Bois, The Twenty-One Balloons.
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 7:01 PM on May 23, 2017 [5 favorites]

Oh, and I'll just throw out Pippi Longstocking, which I read out loud to my 1st and 2nd graders, and they LOVE her. I got the old movies on Blu Ray, too, and they are just fascinated by them.
posted by Huck500 at 7:05 PM on May 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Not modern, but heavy on the danger and survival angles. Call it Courage is a great story about a young boy who overcomes his fear of the sea and sails an outrigger canoe to another island to prove his courage.
posted by cosmicbandito at 7:06 PM on May 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Older book, but he might try The Lion's Paw by Robb White.

Have you considered The Phantom Tollbooth?

When I was that age, I used to read one of my father's children's books. It is an adaptation of The Swiss Family Robinson told in words of one syllable. There are actually a few words like banana and such that are more than one syllable, and these words are hyphenated (!) I know it sounds kind of odd, but I think it works well as a version of that story for younger kids. It is off copyright and so it is available online.
posted by gudrun at 7:11 PM on May 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

OMG yes, The Twenty-One Balloons. It has diagrams! and math! Also, when I was around that age I had kid's/abridged editions of Jules Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth. I read those to bits.
posted by Daily Alice at 7:40 PM on May 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

The Black Stallion books
posted by brujita at 7:45 PM on May 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Someone recommended "Treasure Island" so I thought I'd mention that as a kid I always preferred "Kidnapped". I'm a really bad judge of what's age-appropriate for kids, however, as I was kind of unusual in my childhood reading habits. Possibly 8 is a bit young.

Oh, and on edit: "Captains Courageous".
posted by Nerd of the North at 7:51 PM on May 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Nthing Jack London - White Fang and Call of the Wild. They're like 100% wolf attacks! (to other wolves at least)
posted by roaring beast at 8:15 PM on May 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

Nthing Hatchet and other Paulsen books. Good Dog by Avi has dog characters but cool adventure/survival themes. Reading Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH to my class right now, and all the boys are hooked.

Also this is not a chapter book but you must buy him this book. Talk about adventure!
posted by raspberrE at 8:15 PM on May 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Lost in the Barrens by Farley Mowat is a survival story with two boys surviving in the arctic.
posted by aiglet at 8:18 PM on May 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yes yes yes to Hatchet, one of my favourites as a kid. I think there was even a Son of Hatchet or something, which I don't believe I read. But yes, Hatchet.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:33 PM on May 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

A HUGE ENTHUSIASTIC YES to The Phantom Tollbooth.

Read Bridge to Terabithia before you give it to him and make sure you think it's appropriate for him. I don't remember at which age I first read it, but it made one hell of a permanent impression and is ensconced in my memory as the saddest thing I ever read. I cried for days. This isn't necessarily a bad thing but he sounds like he might not be ready yet.

I think the Dark is Rising series might be a little down the road, but it (at least the first one) comes with Arthurian legend as a prerequisite for understanding it, so might be time to bust out some King Arthur! That's on the agenda at our house, though we haven't figured out what version(s).

Has he read the original Paddington Bear and Winnie the Pooh books? The My Father's Dragon trilogy? The Wizard of Oz? The Bunnicula series?

Also, I have fond memories of Harriet The Spy, The Great Brain, The Pushcart Wars, and Mr. Popper's Penguins. I can't guarantee whether those are appropriate now or whether they would be better in a couple of years, though.
posted by telepanda at 8:35 PM on May 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

At that age I started reading Eric Wilson's mysteries, although you might want to flip through them first. It's been awhile since I read them and can't remember how scary they were.

The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Five Children and It by E. Nesbit
posted by Lay Off The Books at 8:39 PM on May 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Swallows and Amazons, Julie of the Wolves, The Black Stallion (any horse book really, they all involve freakishly resourceful children- ex Billy and Blaze or National Velvet), Roald Dahl has great kids too check out: James and the Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr Fox, Danny the Champion of the World, maybe his memoir Boy but he might be too young for that one still. If he read the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe he might like The Horse and His Boy which is the other small kid friendly one in the series. I also loved the Swiss Family Robinson at that age as well as Gerald Durrell's books about collecting animals for his zoo. I read those at least 1000x each and I don't recall much scary stuff although some of it went over my head I'm sure. I also loved Willard Price's adventure series which was a fictional account of two brothers collecting animals for their parents zoo completely unchaperoned all over the world. There are some scary bits though so maybe next year.
posted by fshgrl at 8:41 PM on May 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Ronia the Robber's Daughter by Astrid Lindgren has adventure, danger and kids roaming and living alone outdoors, and it's a wonderful, well-written book, but it doesn't have modern things and it's not as realistic as Island of the Blue Dolphins.

The Silver Crown by Robert C. O'Brien has adventure, danger and kids traveling alone outdoors, modern stuff like vehicles, and some mysterious fantasy stuff. It could be too scary for some kids, but I don't think it's any worse than the first Harry Potter. The same author wrote Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, which is pretty different from Island of the Blue Dolphins but has plenty of danger and excitement.
posted by Redstart at 8:59 PM on May 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

He might be ready for Tamora Pierce, but not the Tortall books yet. Her other universe, Emelan aka The Circle of Magic, is a better fit for younger readers and one of the protagonists is male.

Heinlein's Tunnel in the Sky is great, but not for a few more years. If Goblet of Fire is too much, Tunnel in the Sky will be too much, and the characters are high school seniors. Heinlein Juveniles that would be better choices: The Star Beast, Red Planet, The Rolling Stones, and maybe Have Space Suit - Will Travel.

Nthing Ronia: The Robber's Daughter and Pippi Longstocking books. Also From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and other books by same author. If mice are ok, The Great Cheese Conspiracy is fun. If he wants a change of pace, by that I mean books that have nothing to do with what he is asking for, I loved at that age and still love The All-of-a-kind Family books by Sydney Taylor. Apparantly all I was reading at that age was Judy Bloom, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Noel Streatfeild. Maybe some Encyclopedia Brown.
posted by monopas at 9:44 PM on May 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Caddy Woodlawn. Gone-away Lake. Holes. A Series of Unfortunate Events might be too scary now. Little House on the Prairie. Running out of Time. Snow Treasure. Some of the Dear America books. Sarah Plain and Tall.
posted by oceano at 9:50 PM on May 23, 2017

Another vote for Gerald Durrell here! I devoured all of those, starting around that age. Excellent for kids who like adventure and wonderful language. My Family and Other Animals features Durrell wandering a Greek island searching for animals as a child and may work particularly well. (It also made me *very* jealous). It does have hilarious elements about his bizarre family that he may not pick up on - but I simply enjoyed "getting it" upon re-reading when I was older.

Durrell's Amateur Naturalist is an excellent, extensive guidebook for kids with an interest in nature and tinkering. Out of print but find-able.
posted by faineg at 9:55 PM on May 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

This may be too oldfashioned now, but I loved Enid Blyton's Adventure series when I was that age. The kids are all recognisable character types, easy to care about when you're eight, and all the adventures are exciting without being scary.
posted by Aravis76 at 9:57 PM on May 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

Oh yeah, one more: The Mouse and the Motorcycle.
posted by Diablevert at 10:32 PM on May 23, 2017 [5 favorites]

Rooftoppers by Katherine rundell. Nthing mixed up files. Chasing Vermeer by blue balliet though it may have a bit too much danger for 8 but ymmv.
posted by azalea_chant at 1:22 AM on May 24, 2017

Fly by night by Frances Hardinge. The Saturdays by Elizabeth enright I think.
posted by azalea_chant at 1:25 AM on May 24, 2017

Seconding the Enid Blyton adventure stories!
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 2:52 AM on May 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Maybe Joan Aiken's The Wolves of Willoughby Chase?
posted by paduasoy at 3:11 AM on May 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Kids around 8-9 either love the Warriors series by Erin Hunter, or they don't see the point of them at all. No vehicles, but lots of adventure.
posted by BibiRose at 6:41 AM on May 24, 2017

I will third the Enid Blyton recs - I really enjoyed The Secret Island, where four runaways survive on an island.

If he likes castles, I really liked Knight's Castle by Edward Eager, which plays clear homage to E. Nesbit's books.
posted by saturngirl at 9:12 AM on May 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Island of the Blue Dolphins was one of my favorite books when I was a kid. I was going to recommend Hatchet, but many already beat me to it! What about The Indian in the Cupboard series? Or the Trixie Belden series (very old series, but good!) or the Encyclopedia Brown series?
posted by TurquoiseZebra at 9:32 AM on May 24, 2017

Anne of Green Gables? Harriet The Spy? Little House on the Prairie? The Secret Garden? Heidi?

Anne McCaffrey's YA Harper Hall trilogy from her Dragonriders of Pern series gets a little into romance, but I'd highly recommend all three, especially the first which might be right up his alley.
posted by jillithd at 10:41 AM on May 24, 2017

I'll recommend "Call Me Mr. Tucket" and the sequels.
posted by TomFoolery at 11:32 AM on May 24, 2017

Gary Paulson has written many adventure stories. Hatchet is the one that got everyone's attention, and there are sequels to it. I really liked The River best of all the followup books. I teach 5th and I read Hatchet aloud every year to my kids. Another Paulson book I like is Voyage of the Frog. Very much like Hatchet but set on the ocean in a small sailboat.

While there are mature themes in almost all the stories mentioned above, they all have great merit. It just depends on the maturity of your child and how much you are involved with their recreational reading.
posted by OkTwigs at 12:31 PM on May 24, 2017

I also came in to suggest Hatchet and The Black Stallion.

I'm going to add Danger on Panther Peak. It's not exactly a survival situation in the way that the above two stories are, but there's tons of solo outdoorsy adventures and mischief-making, and the story's climax is when a young boy is essentially stranded during a severe winter storm and has to make a series of critical life-saving decisions. (All the while being stalked by a murderous panther...if he liked wolf attacks, he might love this!) I never read any other books by the same author, Bill Wallace, but a quick skim on Amazon suggests that he wrote several more that have a similar feel and content.
posted by anderjen at 1:22 PM on May 24, 2017

The Girl Who Owned a City might fit the "kids surviving" and "modern things like vehicles" criteria: after a plague wipes out everyone on earth over the age of 12, the main character and a group of other children have to figure out how to fend for themselves, including teaching themselves how to drive and transforming a school building into, essentially, a fortified city in which they set up their own little society. It *is* a bit ... grittier, I guess, than Island of the Blue Dolphins, so possibly it's still a little above his age level.

One caveat: I didn't realize at the time I was reading it, but it's basically a little Objectivist fairy tale for kids. All that totally went over my head, though; young me just thought the main character was kind of a jerk sometimes. But my mom (who would much later describe herself as "relieved" when high-school me expressed similar sentiments about Ayn Rand) read it and thought it was OK for me to read as a kid, and I grew up to be a bleeding-heart liberal anyways, so, you know, use your own best judgment. :)
posted by Meow Face at 9:13 PM on May 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Where the Red Fern Grows. No wolves -- but there is a mountain lion. Might be a bit much for a couple years, though, given the amount of animal violence. Summer of the Monkeys, also by Wilson Rawls, is less intense.
posted by rewil at 9:50 PM on May 24, 2017

Naya Nuki, Shoshoni Girl Who Ran is similar in a lot of ways and I remember loving it at that age. And enthusiastic second to all the Little House books (deeply problematic race and gender treatment notwithstanding), there's a lot of nuts and bolts about daily life and the adventures of life in there.
posted by EmilyFlew at 8:10 AM on May 25, 2017

Would he appreciate Adrift: Seventy-six Days Lost at Sea?

It's very much an adventure - a true survival story of a man lost at sea in a rubber life raft.
posted by bendy at 3:58 PM on May 26, 2017

I think Mini McGee would enjoy Z For Zachariah. I think it is exactly what they are looking for. Author is Robert C Obrian who wrote Mrs. Frisby and the Rats Of NIMH (also highly recommended). I do not recommend watching the movies. The books are far, FAR better.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:47 PM on May 27, 2017

We just finished reading The Night Fairy and it ticks many of your boxes. The text is literary, not babyish. There is action, adventure, survival, and suspense, but at an age appropriate level. Don't get fooled by the title - this is no SaccharinePinkCandyFairy - she's a badass.
posted by telepanda at 6:45 AM on June 1, 2017

I was this kid, to a T. Definitely co-signing My Side of the Mountain (and sequels), Hatchet (and Paulson's other books), Swiss Family Robinson. I would also add: The Mysterious Benedict Society series; The Blackthorn Key & Mark of the Plague; A Wizard of Earthsea; Juniper; The Secret Garden; Little House on the Prairie; the Narnia books; From the Mixed-Up Files of Miss Basil E Frankweiler.
posted by SassHat at 9:46 AM on June 4, 2017

Update: He has been working his way through some of these suggestions this summer! My Side of the Mountain was a huge hit. Mixed-Up Files he hasn't gotten into, but we'll try again in six months. He also really enjoyed "Haroun and the Sea of Stories" by Salman Rushdie which has something of a Neil Gaiman/China Mieville vibe.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:20 PM on July 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

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