Ep 117: Children’s Survival. Book Review: Hatchet By Gary Paulsen
As an English teacher, I CRINGE when someone finds out what I do, mentions one book they read and GASP in horror if I didn’t read the book in question. I promise not to have the reaction if you haven’t read or heard of Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.
Following-up on a previous podcast on books and literature to introduce prepping to children, I provided what I consider the BEST work of survival fiction for kids today. I will discuss some of the reasons and why this book captures the interest of kids who don’t like to read….
It’s the story of…
From School Library Journal
Brian Robeson, 13, is the only passenger on a small plane flying him to visit his father in the Canadian wilderness when the pilot has a heart attack and dies. The plane drifts off course and finally crashes into a small lake. Miraculously Brian is able to swim free of the plane, arriving on a sandy tree-lined shore with only his clothing, a tattered windbreaker, and the hatchet his mother had given him as a present. The novel chronicles in gritty detail Brian’s mistakes, setbacks, and small triumphs as, with the help of the hatchet, he manages to survive the 54 days alone in the wilderness. Paulsen effectively shows readers how Brian learns patience to watch, listen, and think before he acts as he attempts to build a fire, to fish and hunt, and to make his home under a rock overhang safe and comfortable. An epilogue discussing the lasting effects of Brian’s stay in the wilderness and his dim chance of survival had winter come upon him before rescue adds credibility to the story. Paulsen tells a fine adventure story, but the sub-plot concerning Brian’s preoccupation with his parents’ divorce seems a bit forced and detracts from the book. As he did in Dogsong (Bradbury, 1985), Paulsen emphasizes character growth through a careful balancing of specific details of survival with the protagonist’s thoughts and emotions.
But the story doesn’t end here. The story and the response to it were so strong that Paulsen added a sequel/revisiting of the story entitled Brian’s Winter. In Brian’s Winter…
From School Library Journal
At the conclusion of Hatchet (Macmillan, 1987), Brian Robeson is rescued after surviving a plane crash and summer alone in the north Canadian woods. Now, in this second sequel, Paulsen shows what would have happened if the 13-year-old boy had been forced to endure the harsh winter. For a brief time, Brian lives in relative luxury, living off the contents of the recently recovered survival pack, which included a gun for hunting. Then, his freeze-dried food runs out and his rifle fails, and he realizes how careless and complacent he has become. Suddenly aware of the changing seasons, he works frantically to winterize his shelter, fashion warmer clothes from animal skins, and construct a more powerful bow and arrow. About the time he has mastered winter survival, he discovers a dog-sled trail that leads him to a trapper and final rescue. The same formula that worked before is successful here: the driving pace of the narration, the breathtaking descriptions of nature, and the boy who triumphs on the merits of efficient problem solving. The author’s ability to cast a spell, mesmerize his audience, and provide a clinic in winter survival is reason enough to buy this novel. Although the plot is both familiar and predictable, Paulsen fans will not be disappointed.
There are other books in the series, as well. But you’ll need to discover those on your own.
About Gary Paulsen:
Born May 17, 1939, Gary Paulsen is one of America’s most popular writers for young people. Although he was never a dedicated student, Paulsen developed a passion for reading at an early age. After a librarian gave him a book to read — along with his own library card — he was hooked. He began spending hours alone in the basement of his apartment building, reading one book after another.
Running away from home at the age of 14 and traveling with a carnival, Paulsen acquired a taste for adventure. A youthful summer of rigorous chores on a farm; jobs as an engineer, construction worker, ranch hand, truck driver, and sailor; and two rounds of the 1,180-mile Alaskan dog sled race, the Iditarod; have provided ample material from which he creates his powerful stories.
Paulsen’s realization that he would become a writer came suddenly when he was working as a satellite technician for an aerospace firm in California. One night he walked off the job, never to return. He spent the next year in Hollywood as a magazine proofreader, working on his own writing every night. Then he left California and drove to northern Minnesota where he rented a cabin on a lake; by the end of the winter, he had completed his first novel.
Living in the remote Minnesota woods, Paulsen eventually turned to the sport of dog racing, and entered the 1983 Iditarod. In 1985, after running the Iditarod for the second time, he suffered an attack of angina and was forced to give up his dogs. “I started to focus on writing the same energies and efforts that I was using with dogs. So we’re talking 18-, 19-, 20-hour days completely committed to work. Totally, viciously, obsessively committed to work, the way I’d run dogs….I still work that way, completely, all the time. I just work. I don’t drink, I don’t fool around, I’m just this way….The end result is there’s a lot of books out there.”
It is Paulsen’s overwhelming belief in young people that drives him to write. His intense desire to tap deeply into the human spirit and to encourage readers to observe and care about the world around them has brought him both enormous popularity with young people and critical acclaim from the children’s book community. Paulsen is a master storyteller who has written more than 175 books and some 200 articles and short stories for children and adults. He is one of the most important writers of young adult literature today and three of his novels — Hatchet, Dogsong, and The Winter Room — were Newbery Honor Books. His books frequently appear on the best books lists of the American Library Association.
Paulsen has received many letters from readers (as many as 200 a day) telling him they felt Brian Robeson’s story in Hatchet was left unfinished by his early rescue, before the winter came and made things really tough. They wanted to know what would happen if Brian were not rescued, if he had to survive in the winter. Paulsen says, “Since my life has been one of survival in winter — running two Iditarods, hunting and trapping as a boy and young man — the challenge became interesting, and so I researched and wrote Brian’s Winter, showing what could and perhaps would have happened had Brian not been rescued.”
Paulsen and his wife, Ruth Wright Paulsen, an artist who has illustrated several of his books, divide their time between a home in New Mexico and a boat in the Pacific.
Courtesy of Random House