Take a Hike: An Outdoor Adventure Book List

One of the very best things about the place where I live is that there is a fun mountain hike less that 10 minutes from my house. Which means, on a good week, I’ve climbed the trail to the summit at least once and have hiked the foothills trail around 2 times. Last year, there were very few good weeks because we were socked in by wildfire smoke most of the summer. This year, we’ve been lucky so far (fingers crossed that it lasts) so I’ve managed a few good hikes where I can wander up the hill and imagine stories and sort out problems in my work in progress.

My hiking adventures are pretty tame right now, but, truth be told, I love a good outdoor adventure. I bet some of you do to. So, I’ve put together a list of Middle School books that take you outside – up mountains and across deserts and even to a city park. Settle in and get ready to hit the trail with these kids. Who knows? You may be inspired to lace up your hiking books or tennis shoes and set out on your own adventure.

The Hike to Home by Jess Rinker

In this fun middle grade adventure, a young girl and her two new friends brave the wilderness to find a castle, prove a local legend, and discover the true meaning of home.

Lin Moser is not looking forward to this summer. After living on the road all her life, hiking mountains and traveling through the country in an RV with her house-flipping parents, she’s now stuck in Newbridge, New Jersey for their longest stay yet. With Mom away on a year-long naturalist assignment, Lin has resigned herself to having the most boring summer ever. But then she finds out about a local legend: an ancient ruined castle in the woods that no one has been able to find. Hiking to this castle would be like a quest. . . such an amazing quest that Mom might even come home, and they could adventure together the way they used to.

Determined to create her own adventure, Lin sets off on her biggest one yet–braving the wilderness with her two new friends, seeking the castle, and maybe discovering a new idea of home along the way.



Lily’s Mountain by Hannah Moderow

Lily refuses to believe what everyone else accepts to be true: that her father has died while climbing Denali, the highest mountain in North America. Lily has grown up hiking in the Alaskan wilderness with her dad. He’s an expert climber. There’s no way he would let something like this happen. So instead of grieving, Lily decides to rescue him. Her plan takes her to Denali and on a journey that tests her physically and emotionally.

In this powerful debut, Hannah Moderow has written an authentic Alaskan adventure that crosses terrain both beautiful and haunting–and ultimately shows the bond of family and the wonder of wild places.





Super Troop by Bruce Hale 

From the Edgar-nominated author Bruce Hale comes a hilarious story about a kid who likes to break the rules . . . until the rules try to break him.

Cooper just wants to spend the summer before 7th grade drawing and having adventures with his best friend, Nacho. Anything to keep his mind off the fact that his dad’s new girlfriend and his mom’s announcement that she’s going to start dating.

But when one of his adventures with Nacho goes too far, Cooper’s parents freak out. Either he joins the Boy Rangers, a dorky club that’s all about discipline and rules, or that dream cartooning camp at the end of his summer? Will get erased.

At first it’s not so bad–the troop is a disorganized mess. But then a new scoutmaster starts. Mr. Pierce is a gruff ex-Marine who’s never worked with kids before, especially not a ragtag team of misfits like Troop 19. As he tries turning them into a lean, mean, badge-earning machine, Cooper longs for freedom. He doesn’t want to break the rules, but the rules are going to break him!


A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Joy McCullough

A girl with a passion for science and a boy who dreams of writing fantasy novels must figure out how to get along now that their parents are dating in this lively, endearing novel.

Sutton is having robot problems. Her mini-bot is supposed to be able to get through a maze in under a minute, but she must have gotten something wrong in the coding. Which is frustrating for a science-minded girl like Sutton–almost as frustrating as the fact that her mother probably won’t be home in time for Sutton’s tenth birthday.

Luis spends his days writing thrilling stories about brave kids, but there’s only so much inspiration you can find when you’re stuck inside all day. He’s allergic to bees, afraid of dogs, and has an overprotective mom to boot. So Luis can only dream of daring adventures in the wild.

Sutton and Luis couldn’t be more different from each other. Except now that their parents are dating, these two have to find some common ground. Will they be able to navigate their way down a path they never planned on exploring?


Out of Range by Heidi Lang

Hatchet meets Raina Telgemeier’s Sisters in this adventurous and heartfelt middle grade tale of three warring sisters who find themselves lost in the wilderness and must learn to trust each other if they want to survive.

Sisters Abby, Emma, and Ollie have gone from being best friends forever to mortal enemies.

Thanks to their months-long feud, they are sent to Camp Unplugged, a girls’ camp deep in the heart of the Idaho mountains where they will go “back to nature”–which means no cell phones, no internet, and no communicating with the outside world. For two whole weeks. During that time, they had better learn to get along again, their parents tell them. Or else.

The sisters don’t see any way they can ever forgive each other for what they’ve done, no matter how many hikes and campfire songs they’re forced to participate in. But then disaster strikes, and they find themselves lost and alone in the wilderness. They will have to outrun a raging wildfire, make it through a turbulent river, escape bears and mountain lions and ticks. They don’t have training, or food, or enough supplies. All they have is each other.

And maybe, just maybe, it will be enough to survive.


Across the Desert by Dusti Bowling

One girl sets out on a journey across the treacherous Arizona desert to rescue a young pilot stranded after a plane crash in this gripping story of survival, friendship, and rescue from a bestselling and award-winning author.

Twelve-year-old Jolene spends every day she can at the library watching her favorite livestream: The Desert Aviator, where twelve-year-old “Addie Earhart” shares her adventures flying an ultralight plane over the desert. While watching this daring girl fly through the sky, Jolene can dream of what it would be like to fly with her, far away from her own troubled home life where her mother struggles with a narcotic addiction. And Addie, who is grieving the loss of her father, finds solace in her online conversations with Jolene, her biggest–and only–fan.

Then, one day, it all goes wrong: Addie’s engine abruptly stops, and Jolene watches in helpless horror as the ultralight plummets to the ground and the video goes dark. Jolene knows that Addie won’t survive long in the extreme summer desert heat. With no one to turn to for help and armed with only a hand-drawn map and a stolen cell phone, it’s up to Jolene to find a way to save the Desert Aviator. Packed with adventure and heart, Across the Desert speaks to the resilience, hope, and strength within each of us.


Now, what about you? Do you love an outdoor adventure? Are you a hiker at heart? Or are you more comfortable in flip flops and a comfy chair? Let me know in the comments below – and please share your favorite outdoor adventure books. I’m going to need them.

Happy Reading!


Road Trip Roundup: Adventurous Reads for Your Summer List

trunk was a little full, but the views were killer!

Six years ago my wife and I went on a babymoon. We didn’t call it that. We still don’t call it that. But I’m pretty sure that’s what it was. We packed up our little car with snacks and camping supplies and a dog, then made for the West Coast. It was a pretty epic adventure to sneak in just before the birth of our first son. 

Fast forward and we’re now getting ready to welcome #3 into the world. No babymoon this time, unless you count a clandestine trip to IKEA while the grandparents watch our kids. We still talk about the road trip, though. We’d both love to take our littles across the country when they’re slightly less little. There’s just something about the roads out west — how the guardrails converge into pinpoints on those impossibly long, straight highways. Or the way every town has a story — usually recorded on some miniscule placard in the center of town, bronze letters boiling hot from the summer sun.

So maybe I won’t be loading up the car for an epic cross-country voyage this summer, but that doesn’t mean I can’t live vicariously through the adventures of someone else. Listed below are my favorite road trip-themed middle grade books. Whether you’re skipping town or waiting for gas prices to come back down to earth, I think there will be something here to take you into that vast, beautiful, mysterious open space of our incredible country. Enjoy!


See You In The Cosmos by Jack Cheng

When space enthusiast Alex Petroski sets out to find the truth about his family, he discovers a menagerie of interesting characters and locations spanning from his hometown of Rockview, Colorado all the way to Los Angeles. Told entirely through recordings on an iPod, it’s a refreshingly original take on the road trip concept, and Alex’s revelations about love and family mirror the complexities of the landscape.



We’re Not From Here by Jeff Rodkey

What road trip could be more epic than a journey to an entirely new planet? When Earth is rendered  uninhabitable, a small envoy of survivors travel for 20 years only to wake up from hypersleep and find that the arrangement with their new alien hosts has fallen apart. It’s up to Lan Mifune’s family to prove that humanity is still worth saving in this high-concept exploration of immigration and cultural acceptance. 



Doll Bones by Holly Black

Calling this a “road trip” book may be a stretch, but the theme of journey is so strong in this story that I couldn’t resist adding it to the list. The characters embark on a quest to return a haunted doll to its proper grave site, and while the trip only takes them to a neighboring town, the adventure manages to include bus rides, boat trips, and a secret overnight stay in a library. But Zach, Alice, and Poppy take more than just a physical journey — they explore the depths of their friendship, the ways it’s changing before their eyes, and the uncertain road that lies ahead.


The Honest Truth by Dan Gameinhart

In this clever and twisty adventure story, Dan Gameinhart takes us across Washington state with a main character bent on fulfilling a lifelong dream before it’s too late. Mark’s journey is not just an exploration of some of the most breathtaking parts of that region, it’s also an exploration of terminal illness, dreams, and the line between determination and foolishness. 



Are We There Yet? By Dan Santat

Okay, so this one’s not technically a middle grade book, but I still think it belongs on this list. Dan Santat’s vivid illustrations and clever formatting make this a picture book that I consistently come back to with my kiddos. Add in the hidden Easter eggs (including embedded QR codes!) and it’s a book with enough layers to entertain even the most bored car trip voyagers.



So how about you? Will you be taking any epic adventures this summer? Or maybe you’ll be road tripping from your couch like me. Either way, feel free to drop a comment with your favorite road trip-themed books so those of us who are staying local this summer can still look forward to a few adventures. Happy travels!

Author Spotlight: Linda Williams Jackson

In today’s Author Spotlight, Linda Williams Jackson, award-winning author of Midnight Without a Moon and its sequel, A Sky Full of Stars, chats about her latest middle-grade novel, The Lucky Ones—out now from Candlewick Press—as well as her own childhood in the Mississippi Delta. PLUS, a chance to win a signed copy of The Lucky Ones! Scroll down for details! 👇👇👇

The Lucky Ones: a summary

It’s 1967 and eleven-year-old Ellis Earl Brown has big dreams. He’s going to grow up to be a teacher or a lawyer—or maybe both—and live in a big brick house in town. There’ll always be enough food in the icebox, and Mama won’t have to run herself ragged looking for work as a maid to support the family. Ellis Earl applies himself at school, soaking up the lessons Mr. Foster teaches his class and borrowing books from his teacher’s bookshelf, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—a story about a family that’s even worse off than Ellis Earl’s… but with a happy ending. When Mama tells Ellis Earl that he might need to quit school to help support the family, he wonders if happy endings are only possible in storybooks…

MR: Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Linda! Thanks for joining us today.

LWJ: I’m honored to be here! Thanks for having me!

The Interview

MR: The protagonist of The Lucky Ones, eleven-year-old Ellis Earl Brown, cares deeply about his family, is passionate about furthering his education, and he adores books—particularly Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which resonates with him profoundly. What was the inspiration behind Ellis Earl? Also, what’s the secret to creating lovable, sympathetic MG characters?

LWJ: When I initially began this story, the main character was a girl named Annie. After my agent asked me how I would make this character different from my main character Rose (Midnight Without a Moon/A Sky Full of Stars), I decided to make the main character a boy instead. I know a real-life Ellis, whom I admire, so I decided to name the main character after him and portray him as a nerdy, ambitious kid.

As far as creating lovable, sympathetic MG characters is concerned, well… I don’t know if it’s a secret, but I find lovable, sympathetic real-life people, imagine what they might have been like as children, then use them as muses.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

MR: Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has an enormous impact on Ellis Earl and features prominently in the novel. What prompted you to choose this particular middle-grade book for Ellis Earl, despite its problematic backstory?

LWJ: Memory is a tricky thing, so I don’t remember exactly why I decided to incorporate Charlie and the Chocolate Factory into the story. But I knew I wanted the main character to struggle with reading novels even though he loves books, because that was true for me until age twelve. I think the book might have popped into my mind because Charlie Bucket’s situation resembles Ellis Earl’s, plus the book is as familiar today as it was in the 1960s, when it was first published. I thought today’s kids would be fascinated by that. As far as the problematic backstory, I didn’t find that out until I was deep into the manuscript. At that point, even though I was very disappointed by what I found, I didn’t want to remove the book from my story.

I tried ignoring it, but my editor pointed it out in our first round of edits. I knew that if she had pointed it out, then others would, too, after The Lucky Ones was in print. At first, I addressed it within the story itself. But in another round of edits, I removed it and decided to include an author’s note at the end of the book. I didn’t want to taint Ellis Earl’s story with a problematic backstory that Roald Dahl himself did, indeed, later fix.

{FYI, Charlie fans: Check out this Mixed-Up Files interview with Julie Dawn Cole, Veruca Salt from the movie Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.}

Backstory: RFK’s “poverty tour”


MR: The Lucky Ones includes Robert F. Kennedy’s visit to the Mississippi Delta during his groundbreaking “poverty tour,” in 1967. Can you share the backstory behind your decision to write about this historic event?

LWJ: My son asked me, “Who is RFK?” when he saw the letters on the cover of a magazine while we stood in the checkout at the grocery store. This was in 2018, 50 years after RKF’s assassination. I told my son who Robert Kennedy was, but I also dug a little deeper because I, too, am curious. (I hated history as a student, but I love it as an adult.) In my research, I discovered the book Delta Epiphany by Ellen Meacham. I stopped working on whatever I was working on at the time because I knew I had to write this story, because it literally hit close to home. I grew up in the very area that Robert Kennedy visited, and my family experienced the exact poverty that he witnessed. How could I not write this story?

Mothers: fiction versus reality

MR: I read that Ellis Earl’s mama is based in part on your own mother, Ernestine Scott Williams. What are the main similarities between the two matriarchs? The differences…?

LWJ: Similarities: My mom had a TON of kids. My mom was gentle and kind. My mom generously opened her home to grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and any of our friends. My mom didn’t like asking for help even though she needed it.

Differences: While Mrs. Brown (my grandmother’s maiden name, by the way) was hesitant about using the strap on her children, my mom sure wasn’t! She wasn’t abusive or anything, but she was a strong disciplinarian.

Food and hunger

MR: Food and the lack thereof play a tremendous role in Ellis Earl’s story. There’s never enough for his large family, and food is always on Ellis Earl’s mind. In many ways, food is like a separate character in the book. Was this an issue for you growing up? If so, how has it affected you as an adult?

LWJ: How interesting! I hadn’t thought of food as a separate character, but Ellis Earl is pretty obsessed with it, isn’t he? And yes, food was an issue for me growing up, which is, in part, why I wrote the book. I wanted to give readers an inside look at poverty, specifically hunger.

Now, as an adult, I tend not to waste food. I’m also the type of person who won’t stock too much food at once, for fear of waste. It might seem as if growing up with food insecurity would make me want to keep my refrigerator and pantry full to the brim, but I like to make sure I use every bit of food that I buy. So I don’t store more food than I can readily see when I open the fridge or peer into the pantry.

Life in the Mississippi Delta

MR: In addition to The Lucky Ones, your previous novels, Midnight Without a Moon and A Sky Full of Stars, are set prior to and during the Civil Rights era, in the Mississippi Delta. They’re also autobiographical in nature. What is it about this historical era that speaks to you personally and as a writer?

LWJ: Personally, I am tied to this historical era because it directly impacted my own family in one way or another. My mom once remarked that she believed she knew someone involved in the murder of Emmett Till. During my research, I found I out that I actually did know someone (indirectly) who was involved. I wasn’t born during that time, but I am still connected to it. With my latest book, I was born during the time period (still a baby at the time), so I wanted to share what life was like for a poor Black child growing up in the Mississippi Delta during the tumultuous years of the Civil Rights Movement. My little hometown of Rosedale, Mississippi, might seem pretty insignificant today, but it holds plenty of history that relates to the entire nation.

Write what you know

MR: The most common advice given to writers is: “Write what you know.” How does this apply to you and your writing?

LWJ: Before I wrote the manuscript that became the book Midnight Without a Moon, I tried writing what I didn’t know, and I failed miserably. Taking the plunge to write “what I knew” made my writing more authentic and paved the way for publication. I’m not saying that the only way to succeed is to write what you know, I’m only sharing my experience and saying, “It helped.”

Reginald James and The Lucky Ones audiobook

MR: I should mention that The Lucky Ones is available as an audiobook, narrated by actor Reginald James.  I listened to it yesterday and was blown away by James’ spot-on portrayal of Ellis Earl, his sister Carrie Ann, Mama, and the other members of the Brown family. James really nailed the dialogue. How was he chosen for the project?

LWJ: Ha! It was his portrayal of Carrie Ann that sealed the deal! I was sent samples of several readings by various people. I chose Reginald James because he didn’t sound like he was trying to be southern as he read. His portrayal of Carrie Ann actually made me laugh out loud.

Dialect in MG fiction

MR: Speaking of dialogue, except for Ellis Earl’s beloved teacher, Mr. Foster—and Ellis Earl, who tries to speak “proper”—the characters in your books use local dialect. What’s your advice to other writers when it comes to using dialect? I know this can be tricky to pull off.

LWJ: I think that goes back to writing what you know. I grew up with that dialect, and, when I’m not in a professional setting, I still use it a bit myself. So, it’s easy to write it. I guess my advice would be, “Don’t try to write a dialect that you can’t naturally speak yourself.”

A sense of wonder

MR: When a reader finishes one of your novels, what do you hope stays with them long after they’ve replaced the book on the shelf? Also, what stays with you after you finish a writing project?

LWJ: I want readers to leave my books feeling a sense of wonder—like they’ve actually visited another time and place and gotten to know the characters so well that they feel it’s possible to run across them in real life. And when I read a book, I want that same feeling.

MR: What are you working on now, Linda? Enquiring Mixed-Up Files readers want to know!

LWJ: Oh, a mix of things…

Lightning Round!

MR: And finally, no MUF interview is compete without a lightning round, so…

Coffee or tea?

Coffee, but I do drink tea occasionally.

Cat or dog?

Neither. I tolerated my daughter’s cat because I had to.

Favorite character in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

Charlie, of course.

Zombie apocalypse: Yea or nay?

Haven’t you heard? We’re already in it! The Internet is eating our brains!


X-ray vision. I can see right through most people.

Favorite place on earth? My own home.

 If you were stranded on a desert island with only three things, what would they be? Courage, wisdom, and the power to become invisible at will.

MR: Thank you for chatting with us, Linda—and congratulations on the publication of The Lucky Ones. I absolutely loved it, and I know MUF readers will too!

LWJ: Thank you for the interview, Melissa! And thanks for reading The Lucky Ones! I’m so glad you enjoyed it!


For a chance to win a signed copy of The Lucky Onescomment on the blog–and, if you’re on Twitter, on the Mixed-Up Files Twitter account, for an extra chance to win! (Giveaway ends 5/31/22; U.S. only, please.)

About the author

Born and raised in the Mississippi Delta in the teeny-tiny town of Rosedale, Linda Williams Jackson likes to spin stories about everyday people in small-town settings. Though she has lived in a few other states (Alabama, Missouri, and Kansas), Linda currently makes her home in a not-so-small town in Mississippi with her husband and three children. While a degree in Math and Computer Science from the University of Alabama allowed her to enjoy a career in Information Technology as a Database Administrator and Adjunct Professor, Linda now prefers manipulating words rather than numbers and symbols. Besides her novels for young readers, Linda has also written reading assessment passages for various educational publishers and is published in five Chicken Soup for the Soul titles. Learn more about Linda on her website and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.