It's either a perfect or a perfectly terrifying time for Lauren Tarshis's I Survived books, a series of historical fiction that follows one kid as he or she finds themselves in mortal danger at the center of an event—like the Great Chicago Fires of 1871. But as she points out—at least you know the ending. "Some kid who hasn't read it goes, 'But does he, you know, but he died in the first chapter!' Because I leave them on a cliffhanger, and I say, well, you know what would have been a really bad name for my series? I Died. And there's always a moment, and then everyone laughs."
The latest book in the series is called I Survived the California Wildfires. Tarshis based it on the Carr fire, which devastated Northern California two summers ago. But her series originally began as a look at long-ago events—like the sinking of the Titanic, the destruction of Pompeii, and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
"So, I wanted kids to be at a remove from these events, right? And not have any warfare or, you know, certainly terrorism or any of those types of events," she says. "But it was kids barraging me with requests for those types of topics that caused me to pivot and include some of these more heavy historical human created calamities."
Now there's I Survived The Battle of Gettysburg, and I Survived The Attacks of September 11, 2001. Each story is seen through the eyes of the kids in the middle of the event—and Tarshis is careful to create a whole world for the kids even before disaster strikes. These are children—and adults—worried about everyday problems, before and after having their brush with history.
Tarshis leans on the beautifully mundane parts of her character's lives. Her own family history contains similar stories, like the one her kids' great-grandmother tells about searching for a dermatologist to help her son—in a Jewish ghetto.