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Friday 29 May 2020

ISO Stories: Favourite heroes and heroines who have been there before us

Isolation and the associated focus of survival are common, long standing and popular themes in children’s and young adult literature and are under the spotlight due to social distancing and enforced lock downs. The stories explored in this week’s post by Felicity Sly are sure to spark memories and resonate with readers.
Our COVID-19 life had me recalling books I’ve read about surviving in isolation. Robinson Crusoe (Daniel Defoe), The Swiss Family Robinson (Johann David Wyss) and Lord of the Flies (William Golding) are all well-known classics. They present different perspectives on surviving in total or part isolation.
There are some survival/isolation stories that I remember fondly, and have stored themselves on my ‘mental favourites’ shelf. The first of these books was Ivan Southall’s Hills End. I believe it was read to me by a teacher (a nun) who no doubt would have made a career in entertainment as her back-up plan. Hill’s End tells the story of a group of students and one adult, who become isolated for a period of time by floodwaters. Ash Road (Ivan Southall) was read next, and as a child affected by the 1967 southern Tasmania bushfires, it didn’t take much imagination to picture their situation.
I am David (Anne Holm) and The Silver Sword (Ian Serraillier) were read about the same time, and tell the tale of young boys with a quest to reunite with families torn apart by war. These quests require them to travel great distances, decide who to trust, and then achieve some resolution of their plight. Morris Gleitzman’s Once series are a contemporary authors approach to these topics.
Island of the Blue Dolphins (Scott O’Dell) and The Cay (Theodore Taylor) set these survival/isolation stories on islands, with the main characters having to also cope with the death of a companion…so from being in this together, to  having to do it solo.
Hatchet (Gary Paulsen) and My Side of the Mountain (Jean Craighead George) set the survival in the wilderness. My Side of the Mountain is unusual in the isolation/survival stories mentioned here, in that Sam chooses isolation. He has the means to return to family/civilisation; he is prepared having studied survival techniques; and he is enjoying his lifestyle.

The book that had the greatest impact as a survival story was Z for Zachariah (Robert C. O’Brien). Perhaps because it was set in an alternative future, and one that had the potential to be our future. Ann must survival after a nuclear war impacts the area around her family’s valley. I believe that it was the first I had read to explicitly cover potential for sexual predation of a character.
The Life of Pi (Yann Martel) and The Road (Cormac McCarthy) also address survival in very different ways. My memory of reading The Road was more akin to reading a horror story than a survival/isolation story!
I was excited to discover that these books that I read between the 1960s and 1980s are all still in print.
Felicity Sly
Felicity is a teacher librarian at Don College & the CBCA Tasmania Treasurer
Editor’s Note: What a timely post – with so many titles that jogged memories of my own reading including the shortlisted Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble. Hatchet reminded me of the more recent I am Still Alive by Kate Alice Marshall and Lord of the Flies resonated with Geraldine McCaughrean’s fabulous and heartbreaking historical tale Where the World Ends. If you have some further examples - from the past and/or recent - please share as a comment.

1 comment:

  1. I Just found this list of novels about survival that may be of interesting - most look to be targetting teens.
    https://imaginationsoup.net/survival-books-kids/ Jennie