I'm looking for the title to a book I read in the 80's about a family set in the present day surviving after a nuclear holocaust. The whole family survives for a time. The little girl hides under a table and suffers less radiation sickness than her family. Eventually the survivors emerge from hiding and start a new society, but they don't live long because of radiation sickness. It was a terrifying young adult novel.

  • possibly the same as scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/113538/… (which is newer and unaccepted but confirmed by OP comment)
    – Otis
    Commented Jan 24, 2016 at 22:08
  • This is indeed Children of the Dust. The little girl that hides under the table marries a farmer that survives outside, while the rest of humanity live in giant bunkers that break down over the years. The bunker people end up referring to themselves as 'dinosaurs in bunkers' to show that they know they will be extinct soon, while the mutated people outside the bunkers are at home in the new world.
    – user32390
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 23:02
  • also Alas Babylon - but that's from the late 50's but also often read in classrooms
    – NKCampbell
    Commented May 3, 2017 at 19:00

6 Answers 6


Children of the Dust. The book details three generations of a family during the aftermath of a nuclear war. The survivors of the blast suffer through radiation, nuclear winter, feuds between rival groups and radiation-induced mutations, eventually evolving into a new species, Homo superior. The new species has adapted to the loss of the ozone layer and the abundant radiation, and will become the dominant species on the planet.

From a trivia website about that book:

Catherine. Catherine is known by three names. Catherine, Kate then Old Kate. Catherine was her first name. She was eight as she lived under the table in the living room while there was the fall of nuclear dust.


Are you certain it was a novel, or could it have been a novelization of a movie? The most famous post-nuclear attack movie of the 80's involving families was The Day After. While reading your question I immediately settled on the memory of Steve Guttenberg carrying a little girl's body out of their last refuge. Also starred Jobeth Williams and Jason Robards. It was a big deal, a multiday television event that sparked much political notice and debate. Wikipedia says there were viewers guides distributed to schools; I'm sure the movie would have followed with a book.

  • This is exactly what came to mind for me -- The Day After. I don't recall if it was a theatrical release or a made-for-TV movie, but it completely traumatized me as a kid growing up in the 80s during the Cold War, heh. I don't know if The Day After was a novel as well. For what it's worth, I had the same images pop up in my mind when I read the question, and I think that The Day After was set in Kansas (not sure) and that Jason Robards's character sees the mushroom cloud in the rear view mirror as he's driving on an interstate. This is just from memory, so take it for what it's worth. Commented Mar 24, 2013 at 3:06

I believe the answer is Brother in the Land. This story is similar to your memory, it was also read in a lot of school classrooms in the 1980s. It has to be the bleakest children's book ever written.

From Goodreads:

Denny, a teenager, is one of the unlucky ones, a survivor, one of those who have come through a nuclear war alive. In plain language he sets down all that has happened to him, what he sees, and what he feels in the first days after the bomb has dropped. This novel won The Other Award for 1984.

It only covers a single generation, with the 1994 reprint revealing that one of the females is pregnant courtesy of one of the male protagonists after two of them die, one explicitly of radiation sickness.

  • Can you please elaborate, i.e. how does the story match the OP's criteria?
    – Möoz
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 23:04

There is a children's book called "Outside" that also might be relevant to your question.

  • 1
    Can you provide more information that might support the similarity?
    – Edlothiad
    Commented May 3, 2017 at 18:29

After the Bomb by Gloria Miklowitz

Edit: Misread the prompt! Yet still a good book.

  • Hi, welcome to SF&F. So you're saying this isn't the answer? Regardless, you should explain how this does, and does not, match the points in the question.
    – DavidW
    Commented Apr 12, 2023 at 2:42

This is a partial match to Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien. This is a young-adult novel, which is frequently read in schools.

This story is told by a girl/young woman (teenager rather than young girl), who has survived a nuclear bombing apocalypse in the USA during a war. She survived in a valley with a "meteorological enclave" weather system and narrates the arrival of a stranger to her valley after the deaths of her family shortly after the war. The stranger arrives in a self-contained (and self-made?) radiation proof suit with radiation proof gear.

It tells the story of her meeting with the (male) stranger, who tries to take over her life, and his attempts to make her an "Eve" to his "Adam". The events that follow culminate in her leaving the valley in search of other survivors, based on dreams she has of children waiting for her to teach them and the stranger's reports of smoke from fires rising to the West.

The deaths to her family and a couple of other survivors (heard over radio?) occur fairly early on in the story and are the result of heading out of the valley searching for food and other survivors. I don't recall any other deaths after this time (i.e. not much match to the question), though the stranger does become sick from radiation poisoning shortly after his arrival in the valley and washing/drinking from a contaminated stream.

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