We’re back, with another batch of book recommendations for your camping, travel, or winter fireside reading pleasure! Last year, we revealed some of our favorite outdoor adventure reads. (Check out our post – The Best of Camp Reads: Edition One.) This year, we got even more specific and settled on “epic journey featuring a boat” for our book recommendation theme.
Read on to see if you agree with our recommendations and definitely let us know if we missed an obviously epic (boat) adventure or two.
Paddle-to-the-Sea, by Holling Clancy Holling
Holling Clancy Holling wrote numerous children’s books in the mid-2oth century with an educational slant, often focused on American geography. His most famous work, Paddle-to-the-Sea is a beloved piece of North Shore elementary school curriculum and is responsible for thousands of canoe figurines bobbing around Lake Superior. A young boy in the Nipigon region of Ontario carves a figurine of a man in a canoe and sets the figurine, named Paddle-to-the-Sea, adrift in Lake Nipigon hoping the figurine will eventually make his way to the Atlantic Ocean via the Great Lakes waterway. As Paddle moves through the Great Lakes, he provides a firsthand look at the geography and industries that shape the region. Perhaps the most literary feat Holling pulls off is making you truly care about the fate of an inanimate object.
La Belle Sauvage, by Philip Pullman
I hesitated to put La Belle Sauvage (Book One in The Book Of Dust trilogy which builds off the story started in Pullman’s extraordinary His Dark Materials trilogy) in the “young readers” recommendation slot, but since it’s the only book included in this post that’s officially classified as “young adult literature,” here it lies. Just know that if you’d prefer to not have your child exposed to the F-bomb or themes of sexual abuse, don’t give your kid this book. In fact, a couple of the books recommended below for adult readers would actually be better choices for middle-school age readers.
At any rate . . .
If you’re already familiar with Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass), La Belle Sauvage continues Pullman’s exploration of metaphysical themes and the story of Lyra Belacqua, but picks up the narrative thread at the time of Lyra’s birth. La Belle Sauvage is the name of main character Malcolm Polstead’s beloved canoe and the canoe plays an important role as Malcolm paddles epic floods to carry baby Lyra to safety as the world around him turns towards war.
The Odyssey, by Homer
If you haven’t read The Odyssey since you were assigned it in middle-school English class, it might be time to give it another go. One of the oldest adventure stories in Western Civilization, Homer’s The Odyssey tells of Odysseus’s ten years lost at sea with his crew after the Trojan War. During their decade of epic adventures (and misadventures), Odysseus and his men survive storms, cannibals, mythical creatures, and enchantresses. The English translations of The Odyssey are very readable so don’t let the story’s classification as a “classic” scare you off.
Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, by Alfred Lansing
This is another “adult” book that could double as a “young reader” book for anyone in middle school and up. What started as just another early 20th century Antarctic expedition, quickly became one of the most epic true stories of survival and human resilience. When Sir Ernest Shackleton’s aptly named boat The Endurance becomes encased in ice in the Weddell Sea in early December 1914, Shackleton marched his crew of 27 men across the shifting ice shelf to sail to Elephant Island in lifeboats. From there, Shackleton must sail one of those open boats 650 nautical miles with minimal navigation tools to reached South Georgia Island where he can get help for the men remaining on Elephant Island. Incredible really is the only word to sum up this tale.
Life of Pi, by Yann Martel
Who doesn’t like a good shipwreck story? Life of Pi focuses on the childhood of Pi Patel, but primarily focuses on what happens to Pi after the boat he’s traveling to Canada on with his family and a bunch of zoo animals sinks, leaving Pi alone on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. In a journey somewhat reminiscent of the Kon-Tiki, Pi and Richard Parker drift across the Pacific Ocean. The story of Pi and Richard Parker’s survival on the lifeboat is interesting in and of itself, but the novel’s larger exploration of “the truth about truth” makes the book particularly compelling and also provides some interesting plot twists.
Although I do enjoy the work of Ang Lee, I liked the book so well, I probably won’t ever watch the movie. If you watched the movie, but didn’t read the book, this is an easy and thought-provoking read.
Undaunted Courage, by Stephen Ambrose
The Lewis and Clark expedition is the ultimate American adventure story, as evidenced by the ubiquitous signage about their voyage any time you drive out West and come within 20 miles of the expedition’s path. Although I always think of Lewis and Clark trekking over the Rocky Mountains, a large portion of their multi-year expedition took place in boats on the Missouri River. Undaunted Courage provides an interesting and in-depth look into a truly impressive journey.