Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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A wilderness survival story set in northern Canada, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen is a thrilling book for older tweens. Brian is a 13-year old boy whose Cessna plane crashes in the wilderness as the pilot suffers a heart attack. The only tool he has to survive? A hatchet offered by his mother before the trip.
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I knew Gary Paulsen from his exciting Tucket Adventures series and appreciate the way he uses his deep knowledge of the wild to craft action-packed stories in the last frontiers. This author is as much as outdoorsy guy as he is a writer and I expected Hatchet to be a fantastic read. How do you survive 54 days in the wilderness with only a hatchet?
That was a premise ripe for nightmares and disasters, and the book is indeed scarier than I thought. However it’s also a pulsating read and one you don’t put down once you’re in it. Given that the book is mostly an inner monologue, it’s a literary tour de force.
It also means that I’d recommend this book for tweens, ages 11 and older. My youngest read it at age 11 and we lent it to friends whose boy was 12. Both loved it and it’s a book that I like to offer as birthday present as it teaches a lot to kids about survival in the wilderness.
The ordeals faced by this boy are as tough as he is brave and determined. Paulsen details how Brian learns to survive, to find food and to build a shelter, all while showing the reader how he matures into his own.
It’s a real fight, every day is a fight, but the boy morphes from a clumsy urban kid to a supremely nature-aware teenager. Along the pages, you literally see how much more Brian understands what’s going on around him, the noises and the scents and the animals, until he can predict them to his own advantage.
It may be extreme to compare Gary Paulsen to Jack London but it’s extremely satisfying to see an author who walks the walk and talks the talk. I suspect that most of what he wrote about, he experienced first hand.