Many of the classic adventure stories we have all grown up with…or know about, even if we haven’t read them, are in the public domain, which means that they can be reproduced without paying any royalties to the author. That means that print copies of the books can be inexpensive; if you see one for a “normal” price, it’s because scholars have written notes and introductions, and THEY have to be paid. Original, text-only copies of these books are very inexpensive in paper form, and organizations such as Project Gutenberg have taken it upon themselves to create digital editions of these stories for free. You can easily find these books on Amazon, just be careful to winnow through all the different versions that are available. If you find one that is hard to read for some reason, delete it and find another.
The good news is that there is nothing illegal about these books, so it’s fine to download and share them as much as you want.
Today we have some classic adventure stories that you might want to read for yourself or share with your family.
Remember that older books were generally not written only for kids because books were too expensive to be so narrowly pigeonholed. They are designed to appeal to a variety of age levels.
What might trip up some people, especially children, is the “old fashioned” style, that might seem slow compared to modern children’s books. To combat this, it’s a good idea to start off the reading together, orally. It’s also good to look up pictures of the setting and key items that are mentioned.
I would recommend sticking with the original texts as much as possible. There are plenty of other things to read if your kids aren’t ready for one of these, and starting with a watered down, cheesy version will just ruin it for later.
Once those minor “speed bumps” are overcome, you and your family are in for some treats….
Note: The edition shown on The Lois Level may not be free, so check carefully before downloading. Sometimes it’s helpful to check the comments on Amazon to make sure you’re getting a version that is reasonably readable.
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
The original “Castaway” story.
After the kids are in bed, also don’t miss Defoe’s novella, Moll Flanders, a personal favorite, which is a whole different kind of adventure story: NOT one for the kids.
2. The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann D. Wyss
The Swiss Family Robinson was written because the Wyss family loved Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Although some of the details are inaccurate (such as the assortment of animals they encounter), it is still an entertaining story of a family’s survival.
Gulliver’s Travels has just been released as a film in a modernized version starring Jack Black, so you might as well get the original in while you can. Swift’s novel is actually four different novellas, each describing a different voyage of Gulliver, so it’s easy to break this story down into smaller chunks and read only part of the whole, if necessary. For children, this is an adventure story, but for adults, it works as an allegory.
3. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Treasure Island is the origin of the character Long John Silver and is THE pirate tale!
Kidnapped is a more adult, more nuanced sea-going adventure story.
4. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
Maybe one of the best, fast paced adventure stories of all time. Then there is also The Count of Monte Cristo and several sequels.
Note: I could only find English versions of these books for $.99 when I looked, but there were numerous digital editions available from my library, so I slipped these in. They are just too good to miss.
5. The Coral Island by Robert Michael Ballantyne
Another novel featuring a group of boys stranded on an island detailing the adventures they have there. If this book goes over well, there are plenty more adventure books by Ballantyne freely available.
6. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
Your kids know Finding Nemo? Here’s Captain Nemo, and a sea going adventure that included diving expeditions in the Seven Seas. Also don’t miss Journey to the Center of the Earth and Around the World in 80 Days, both also by Verne.
Note: If these books are getting a bit too male-centric for you, bring out Nellie Bly’s Around the World in 72 Days, which unlike Verne’s book, really happened. Nellie Bly went around the world in 72 days, traveling alone, when she was in her early 20’s. And her book is also in the public domain.
7. With Clive in India by George Alfred Henry
This story is about a British naval officer in India who soon gives up that occupation for a more exciting and adventurous one. You might want to explain colonialism and its problems to younger kids before reading, and also be warned that this book has the opposite problem of some of the other books listed here.
Some of them play to fast and loose with the truth: this one, at times, may have too much background as Henty was a reporter who prided himself on his accuracy. Be prepared to skip it.
8. The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope
The Prisoner of Zenda combines romance, adventure, and a royal-swapping scene similar to Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper…so basically, something for everyone.
I didn’t expect to find The Prince and the Pauper for free, but to my surprise, there is a Kindle edition for $.99US. I don’t exactly think of it as an adventure either, but it is an accessible introduction to the English Tudor court, as the plot centers on a switch of a commoner with Prince Edward, the son of King Henry VIII.
9. The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux
The Mystery of the Yellow Room was written by the same person who wrote The Phantom of the Opera. Ironically, The Phantom of the Opera is free, but the Mystery of the Yellow Room is $.99 (sorry), but the story is more appealing to young people…it’s a kind of pre Sherlock Holmes.
10. The Hound of the Baskervilles and all of the other Sherlock Holmes books by Arthur Conon Doyle
Do I need to explain this?
Plus, I found this: Sherlock Holmes plus a number of other classic detective stories….
For complete descriptions of these books and about 991 more, check out 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up. It’s a favorite of mine because unlike most guides to children’s books, it includes books from a range of countries, both English speaking and otherwise.
This page is a bit focused on British and American books because books that were translated into English are generally under copyright: the original text might be in the public domain, but the translation isn’t.