Recommended for ages 8-12
Five stories of survival against all odds: Antarctic explorer Ted Shackleton and his men, fighting for their lives in the ice; legendary Mutiny on the Bounty Captain William Bligh and his men, set adrift in the Pacific Ocean; a young man and his companions struggle to travel through Death Valley to reach California during the gold rush; a young girl is one of the survivors of a shipwreck and then a trek through the Sahara Desert; and young Eliza Donner, one of the survivors of the Donner party’s fateful journey to the American West. Five stories, all terrifying, and all true.
If it’s pirates ye be wantin’, pirates you’ll get here! Stories of the unlucky crew of the Betsey, shipwrecked and met by pirates; the 1857 recovery mission to discover what happened to an Arctic expedition that never came home; the story of Mary Read, one of the bloodthirstiest pirates ever to set sail – and a female!; the crews of two shipwrecks try to stay alive in a land populated by cannibal tribes, and the story of Barbarossa, the most feared pirate in the Mediterranean. There are five stories of pirates and shipwrecks here, all true. Pirate fans, brandish your cutlasses, put on your eyepatch, and have a seat; these are the stories of the real Pirates of the Caribbean (and then some)!
These books read like the adventure and scary true tales I read when I was a kid. Does anyone else remember Dynamite Magazine’s book series? They had ghost stories and stories about famous disappearances (like Amelia Earhart and Judge Crater), and I devoured them. They gave me just enough of a jump scare, without venturing (too much) into “sleep with your lights on” territory. Kids who love Lauren Tarshis’ I Survived series will be all over these, but again – my brilliant nonfiction choices go unnoticed, so I’d have to display them, loud and proud, with the I Survived books and make sure the kids know where they are.
The beginning of each story in each book provides a map with details on the story’s location, and each story ends with a look at other events that took place in the same year as the current adventure. While Barbarossa was terrorizing the seas in 1504, for instance, Leonardo da Vinci was hard at work, painting the Mona Lisa, and Michelangelo’s famous statue, David, was displayed in Florence. In 1849 – the same year that William Lewis Manly led his companions out of Death Valley – Elizabeth Blackwell became the first female doctor in the United States, and Minnesota became a territory of the USA! Glossaries and resources complete each book.
While each book carries a Guided Reading level of V, the text skews a bit younger, which makes this a good series to introduce struggling and reluctant readers to. You can also suggest further reading, including Mystery in the Frozen Lands, a Hi-Lo reader from Lorimer, with Pirates and Shipwrecks: Mystery in the Frozen Lands is the full story of the Arctic mission to discover the fate of the Franklin expedition 12 years previous.
These are a fun series that will appeal to adventure readers. I’ve got a few fourth grade class visits booked for October (already!), so I may see how a read-aloud from one of these books goes.