Sunday, October 30, 2011

Book Review: Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen (Aladdin, 1987)

Recommended for ages 10-13

Hatchet is a Newbery Award-winning survival novel by Gary Paulsen. The book tells 13-year old Brian's story of survival in the Canadian woods after the pilot of the plane he's in has a heart attack and dies at the controls; Brian alone must figure out how to get the plane down and how to survive until help comes - if it comes.

He spends the summer learning how to survive and adapting to his new environment, starting out with only the hatchet his mother gave him when he left. He learns how to identify edible plants, how to hunt and trap animals, and how to cook them; he can make simple tools and fashion a shelter for himself. When he finds hiself with time to think he is consumed with thoughts of his parent's divorce and his mother's role in it.

Brian's story of survival, and the subplot of his parent's divorce - in the background, but always there - make this a very readable book for boys and girls alike. While the main character is a boy, the struggle to survive and the feelings he finds himself confronted with, told with urgency, make this a page-turner that communicates emotions all tweens and teens can relate to.

Hatchet is the first in Brian's Saga, a series of books about Brian Robeson written by Gary Paulsen. The author's Random House site  has information about the other books, with excerpts and teachers' guides. The book was made into a movie, A Cry in the Wild, in 1990 and is available on DVD. The book has received numerous awards and honor in addition to the Newbery, including designation as an American Library Association (ALA) Notable Book (1987) and a Booklist Editor's Choice Citation (1988).

There are a wealth of discussion materials for the book available online. Scholastic offers a free lesson plan and unit plan on teaching imagery with Gary Paulsen; Literature Index offers free PowerPoint presentation, clip art, and templates; and BookRags offers a study guide.

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