‘The Long Winter,’ by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Here we find the hardy Ingalls family — Ma, Pa, Laura, Mary, Carrie and Grace — during the snowy winter of 1880 in the town of De Smet, in the Dakota Territory. As our reviewer wrote in 1941, “By Christmas Day, the Ingalls family was burning hay twisted and knotted into sticks.” (When you read this, you won’t feel so bad about running out of Cheez-Its.) Almanzo Wilder — spoiler alert, he’s Laura’s future husband — embarks on a dangerous expedition to bring back wheat that saves them from starvation. “At last, even this interminable winter, which made Laura and the others feel as though there were nothing in the world but cold and dark and work and coarse brown bread and winds blowing, ended when the … spring rains started.”
‘Tom’s Midnight Garden,’ by Philippa Pearce
“For Tom Long, quarantined in his uncle’s flat in a converted mansion, time ticked drearily until the night he stole downstairs to investigate the antics of an unpredictable grandfather’s clock, and opened a door which led him back into the late Eighteen Hundreds,” wrote our reviewer in 1959. “Here in a sunshiny garden accessible to him only when the contemporary world was asleep, he played with lonesome little Hatty Melbourne, unseen by anyone except Abel, the Melbourne’s perceptive and gentle-hearted gardener.” Pearce’s ghostly love story is perfect for children poised between two worlds — the one where they’re still little, happy to stay close to home, and the one where they crave the freedom and adventure they’re being denied right now.
‘Life of Pi,’ by Yann Martel
This is the story of the 16-year-old son of a zookeeper who finds himself adrift at sea for 227 days with a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. It was written for adults, but if you hand it to a certain kind of teenager — one who knows everything, which is basically every teenager — he or she will disappear for a while and return with all kinds of deep hypotheses. Our reviewer wrote, “Although the book reverberates with echoes from sources as disparate as ‘Robinson Crusoe’ and Aesop’s fables, the work it most strongly recalls is Ernest Hemingway’s own foray into existentialist parable, ‘The Old Man and the Sea.’ … The boy must finesse his demon, not overcome it, and do so by means of a kind of psychological jujitsu. He comes to realize that survival involves knowing when to assert himself and when to hold back, when to take the upper hand and when to yield to a power greater than himself. He discovers, in other words, that living with a tiger ultimately requires acts of both will and faith.”
‘Trapped,’ by Michael Northrop
A sudden blizzard hits, stranding a group of friends at their high school for the weekend. It doesn’t seem so bad at first — at least there’s some potential for romance — but then the pipes freeze, the roof threatens to give way and the snow keeps piling up outside, and suddenly it’s “The Breakfast Club” gone wrong minus the comic relief of Judd Nelson.