We love exciting adventure books here at Kids of the Wild, especially those with child heroes and heroines in the stories – in fact I notice a huge amount of recent adventure stories in the 8-12 age range portraying strong, willful and fierce female characters, great to inspire our little women (and men) to love reading as well as get outdoors to try wild adventures of their own!
Read on to find out which characters from some of these adventures we’ve actually met in real life…
However, creating outdoor time isn’t always straightforward. Caroline’s exhausted at the moment. We recently discovered that, due to radiotherapy damage to her pituitary gland during cancer treatment, she doesn’t produce enough growth hormone (at 10.5 years old her bone age is only 7 years 9 months, indicating very little growth since her cancer treatment ended in 2017). She consequently started on growth hormones at the end of January 2020, leaving her more tired than ever. It’s a psychologically stressful daily ‘transjection’ with a needle-free pen that forces the dose into the skin using pressure.
It’s been a struggle and Caroline’s managed a couple of walking adventures with friends but on low days she’s doing a lot of reading at home!
All kids need indoor downtime too and what better way to fill it than with action-packed, vicarious reading adventures to whet their wild appetites and have them raring to get outdoors again as soon as they can?!
Indoor Downtime for Outdoor Kids
Without fail, the stories Caroline and I enjoy are a mixture of humour, sadness, great adventure – some believeable, some not! – animals, wildlife and of course awesome adventuring kids.
We also like books to inspire us to try new things outdoors, learn new skills such as whittling with wood, and learn more about nature and the world around us.
If your children enjoy similar books (or if they don’t) check out this list and read our personal summaries and evaluations of these adventure-inducing, outdoor-exploring, action-inspiring reading books for all 8-12 year olds (and adults!)
Kids of the Wild’s Brilliant Outdoor Adventure Reading Guide
These outdoor book suggestions are from Caroline’s (and my) list of favourites. They’re for girls AND boys, all are fun as well as educational, including outdoor adventures, historical novels, poetry, recipes and outdoor activities to try at home as well as a meditation book for post-adventure calm time – perfect for all wildlings to spend their book tokens on!
- Huntress trilogy – Sarah Driver
- Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series – Michelle Paver
- 2020 Nature Almanac – David Wilson & Ely Johns
- Journey to the River Sea (& all books by) – Eva Ibbotson
- Secrets of a Sun King (and all books by) – Emma Carroll
- I am the Seed That Grew The Tree – anthology
- The Hobbit – JRR Tolkein
- The Famous Five series – Enid Blyton
- Jolly Good Food – Allegra McEvedy
- The Wizards of Once quartet – Cressida Cowell
- How to Train Your Dragon series – Cressida Cowell
- Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
- The Cursed Child – JK Rowling
- Forest Craft – Richard Irvine
- Forest School Adventure – Naomi Walmsley & Dan Westall
- 100 Outdoor Activities – Laura Minter & Tia Williams
- Teach Your Child Meditation – Lisa Roberts
Reading Book Suggestions for 8-12 Year-Olds
[NB: This is a part-collaborative children’s book guide – some books were sent to us to review, the rest we just absolutely love and think every child should own!] (Click on the images to check prices at Amazon)
Here comes the guide…
1. The Huntress – a trilogy by Sarah Driver
Recommended age 8+
We are huge Harry Potter fans (see below) but currently our absolute favourite reading books are The Huntress trilogy by Sarah Driver. The Huntress is a ship. Mouse is a girl who will one day captain Huntress.The book titles are Sea, Sky and Storm. The adventure is epic and the emotion is high as you follow Mouse and her friends on a quest to save the dying world of Triannuka before it freezes for ever and the ship is lost.
Written in an unusual tone (which can make it interesting to read aloud) and taking folklore and language from Icelandic and Arctic tribal traditions, it’s a story of good and evil, magic runes and precious stones, moon sprites, zombie merwraiths, teradyls (flying dinosaur dragons) and a fight to save the world by the heroic children of the fantasy tribal land. It is dark in places with themes of loss and abandonment; you will laugh and cry too.
We finished Storm during a Boxing Day lie-in and were quite bereft to leave the Huntress’ world behind – all good stories should have that effect! So what to read next?
NB – Sarah’s new book, Once we Were Witches, is due for release in July. Very exciting! Pre-order a copy here
2. Chronicles of Ancient Darkness – a 6-book series by Michelle Paver
Recommended age 11+ (Caroline started these aged 9)
An excellent place to take up reading adventures after Huntress (and our joint favourite author alongside Sarah Driver). The order of titles in Michelle Paver’s Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series are Wolf Brother, Spirit Walker, Soul Eater, Outcast, Oath Breaker and Ghost Hunter – they may sound a little bleak but the adventures are thrilling and you will be gripped to the very last word. A legend for all time.
Torak is 12 summers-old, a boy who lives in the mysterious shamanic tribal world of 6,000 years ago. His best friends are a wolf cub (his pack brother) and a girl, Renn. He journeys throughout the lands and the clans, battling an evil that threatens to overwhelm the people and destroy the land, all the time discovering his powers and the reasons why only he can put things right.
Torak lost his Mother as a baby and the first chapter in Wolf Brother describes his Father’s death. It is a graphic and nerve-wracking chapter, worth being aware of when your children start reading the series. There are undoubtedly dark, tense moments throughout the stories but our favourite chapters are when Torak, Wolf and Renn are at one with nature and the wild world. You’ll fall in love with the trio from the outset!
In a quirky turn of serendipity which we discovered only last week, I have coincidentally met the actual wolf, Torak, from whom the protagonist takes his name, on a photography day at the UK Wolf Conservation Trust in 2007! A photograph of him has even appeared on Kids of the Wild’s blog in a 2017 post I wrote about a Cherokee wolf proverb. It’s a small world!
That’s Torak the wolf, at right! I wonder if Mai, at left, is the inspiration for Wolf’s mate, Darkfur, in the later books??
3. 2020 Month-by-Month Children’s Nature Almanac – David Wilson & Ely Johns
Recommended age 8+
This is a lovely, illustrated hardback book with a month-by-month guide to fun seasonal activities to encourage children to engage with nature and spend time outside. The perfect size to pop in a bag or backpack offering great planning inspiration on rainy, indoor days. Read my review here, for more info and photos of the contents.
4. Journey to the River Sea & The Beasts of Clawstone Castle – Eva Ibbotson
Recommended age 8+
Caroline was given Eva Ibbotson’s Journey to the River Sea on her 8th birthday and it set us on course to reading every one of Ibbotson’s books afterwards! The ‘river sea’ is actually the Amazon and the story follows an outcast girl who travels from England to Brazil in the 1800s where she embarks on a daring expedition to meet indigenous jungle tribes and solve the mystery of a young boy’s heritage. Fun and fast-paced throughout and one we’ve read 3 times!
The Beasts of Clawstone Castle is a light-hearted ghost story about the unexplained theft of cattle, inspired by the world’s oldest wild herd, the wild beasts of Chillingham (which you can visit in real life near Chillingham Castle in Northumberland, UK – well worth a trip). The tale is set in a land where ghosts walk and nothing is quite as it seems for the children who solve the mystery with some supernatural assistance!
The above is the skull of a real Chillingham cow as spotted on our recent visit to see the herd…
Eva Ibbotson’s books are all light-hearted and easy reading, with some strong themes, gently handled. Some of the books are historical fiction, others are complete fantasy but all are extremely good fun and readable. Other books in the 8-12 age range, all of which we can personally recommend, include Star of Kazan, Secret of Platform 13 and The Dragonfly Pool. There are a few others we have yet to get hold of, and also books for younger readers which will no doubt be equally entertaining for that age group.
Secrets of a Sun King – Emma Carroll
Recommended age 8+
A 9th birthday present! Caroline read Emma Carroll’s Secrets of a Sun King in a matter of days and I then read it on my own because I love anything Egypt-inspired. Caroline has since told her school teacher about it and the class are now reading it as part of this term’s Egypt topic!
Emma Caroll writes excellently researched historical novels for children, based on actual events and facts which she interlaces with exciting fictional adventures. In Sun King, A cursed Egyptian artefact illegally taken from the tomb of the Egyptian boy-Pharoah Tutankhamun makes a child’s grandfather very sick. His granddaughter and two friends embark on an incredible, secret journey to set things straight before the curse does its worst. Will their mission succeed?
We have since read all Emma Carroll’s other books in this age range and thoroughly enjoyed every one, learning lots about different eras of history into the bargain. Her other titles include Strange Star, Frost Hollow Hall, Snow Sister, Letters from the Lighthouse, In Darkling Wood, The Girl who Walked on Air, Sky Chasers, The Somerset Tsunami and When we were Warriors.
I am The Seed That Grew the Tree – various authors
Recommended age 4+
I don’t think anyone’s too young to enjoy poetry being read to them! This is a beautiful, heirloom-style illustrated anthology of nature-inspired poems & rhymes, both modern and traditional. Keep it near the breakfast or dinner table to read a poem from each day.
Read Kids of the Wild’s review for more photos and information.
The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
Recommended age 8+
Caroline was given this during her cancer treatment and took several months to read it by herself. She loved it, and I too am now enjoying reading it (dare I confess to not finishing this a a child?! I found it a little tedious… I read Lord of the Rings three times so perhaps I did it the wrong way round and should have tried The Hobbit first.)
Bilbo is a Hobbit. Hobbits are short with large hairy feet and enjoy two breakfasts a day. They like a quiet life so Bilbo is utterly unprepared for the quest he must complete when a wizard arrives at his home along with a band of dwarves. They must defeat dragons, giant spiders and all manner of magic and mythical creatures, sometimes with the help of elves and men, others in the company of shape-shifting bears or alone. The excitement is continuous, the writing style more old-fashioned than our previous recommendations and Caroline says the chapters can be quite long and wordy, but this book really should be on everyone’s shelf and we can’t wait for Caroline to be old enough to watch the films Lord of the Rings here we come!
The Famous Five – Enid Blyton
Recommended age 8+ (or younger for adults reading to a child)
I grew up on these books, reading the whole series twice by the age of 10! We started reading them to Caroline before she was a strong reader herself and are on her third read-through of the entire series at the moment!
Four cousins and their dog embark on 21 individual adventures involving mad scientists, gun runners, train thieves, a circus, kidnappings, castles, smuggling, well, you name it, they probably did it and usually solved the mystery before the police! All energised with lashings of wholesome food, numerous ginger beer-washed picnics. There are occasional non-PC incidents and I’m sometimes taken aback by how off the children can be with others they meet (they were written in the very different era of the 1930s) but this takes nothing away from the good old fashioned fun that these adventures evoke.
Jolly Good Food Children’s Recipe Book – Allegra McEvedy
Recommended age 8+
We’ve included this as it links perfectly with our Famous Five book recommendations and really does include some delicious and easy recipes for children, all based on food mentioned in Enid Blyton’s most famous books. Learn how to make Google buns, pop biscuits and all sorts of savoury delights from picnic food to breakfasts and midnight feasts! Read our review of the book here to find out which delicious recipes we’ve tried.
The Wizards of Once quartet – Cressida Cowell
Recommended age 8+
Caroline recieved a signed copy of the first book for her 8th birthday. Once there was magic… Cressida Cowell’s Wizards of Once quartet is the story of a young boy Wizard, Xar, and a young girl Warrior, Wish, who have been taught to hate each other like poison.
You can guess the gist; the children of course have no such illusions and become firm friends rather than enemies while embarking on exciting and dangerous adventures along the road to discovering who they really are. But can they remain friends and do they unite the kingdoms?
Written by the acclaimed author of the How To Train Your Dragon Collection
(12 books Caroline’s also read but which, interestingly, I’ve struggled to get into!) the stories are told in the voice of an unknown narrator who you may or may not have worked out by the end. There are fantastical magic creatures, death and rebirth and it is a little dark in places. Quirky illustrations add lots of visual fun to the stories too.
A note for younger children worried about monsters etc, this might be better read during the day than at bedtime.
NB – The fourth & final book in the series, Never & Forever, comes out in September 2020. Another on our pre-order list! Pre-order a copy here
Harry Potter – J K Rowling
Recommended age 8+
Wizards, witches, owls, trolls, enchanted creatures, potions, poison, ghosts and dementors, and none-too-few violent deaths at a boarding school that Muggles (us humans to the uninitiated) can’t see. An orphaned boy-wizard, Harry Potter obviously, battles the most evil wizard in the world to save both muggle- and magic-kind by the end of his secondary school days! Phew, it’s a roller-coaster.
The books follow Harry and friends on imaginative adventures, simply and evocatively written so you’re a part of the magical world from the outset. Why not make your own non-alcoholic butter beer to drink as you read along?!
There are lots of dark themes, especially as the series progresses when the books aim for older readers, as well as minor teenage romance which is as amusing as teenage romances usually are! We started reading these out loud when Caroline was 6 and I would heartily recommend reading them first before watching the films.
Then of course there’s the follow-up play script The Cursed Child which we read when Caroline was 8, and we had the most fantastic weekend watching the show in London as part of Caroline’s cancer wish after her treatment. Magic is real! Caroline recommends leaving a while between reading the series and starting The Cursed Child, to let the series sink in properly. Advice from an expert book reviewer!
What more can I say? Except to admit to JK herself that I didn’t get on with the books as an adult when they first came out. Cringe – some literary critic I’d make! Reading them with your children adds a whole other dimension which I have genuinely loved.
Forest Craft – a children’s guide to whittling in the woods
Recommended age 8+
Richard Irvine’s Forest Craft is an illustrated book for children who’d like to try their hand at creating something with a real knife, just like they’ll have dreamed about doing after reading some of these books! There are guides for making swords, bows, musical instruments and even a wand. More details and photos in my full review here.
Forest School Adventure, outdoor skills and play for children – Naomi Walmsley & Dan Westall
Recommended age 7+
Written by a husband and wife team Naomi Walmsley and Dan Westall, with years of outdoor experience between them, Forest School Adventure is an ideal book for children seeking inspiration to build and create things outdoors. Covering nature, bushcraft, wild food and games there is something for everyone. Beautifully illustrated with simple, detailed instructions, your kids will be raring for the rain to stop so they can get to work on an outdoor project! Read my review here.
100 Outdoor Activities – Laura Minter & Tia Williams
Recommended age 8+
Laura Minter and Tia Williams are bloggers who put together this lovely little book of 100 Outdoor Activities. It’s aimed at parents wanting ideas for things to do outside with children (aged 3 to 9 years old). The activities are categorised into 8 sections; wildlife spotting, in the garden, messy makes, art and crafts, games, rainy day. food and drink and play and make-believe. Read my review with pictures here
Teach Your Child Meditation – Lisa Roberts
Recommended age 8+
After your kids have enjoyed some feverish rainy-day reading from the above list, and perhaps tried some adventure activities outdoors, they may well be in need of some serious rest and relaxation. In fact I believe that all children should learn meditation from an early age and this book is a truly excellent place to start if you have no previous experience. There are 70 mindful activities and meditations and though I have yet to publish our official review, here’s what happened when the book arrived; Caroline immediately flicked through it for 15 minutes, earmarked two pages and had me do them with her, to help her sleep, at bedtime! You probably don’t need much more review than that!
So there you have it, all our current favourites. Which adventure books do you and your children love?
Wild wishes for your adventure reading everyone, and spend those book tokens wisely!
Follow Kids of the Wild