Hatchet, Gary Paulsen

A young boy’s parents are divorcing. His mother, who has a ‘secret’ (affair), gives her son a Hatchet as a sympathy gift before he boards a rickety old two passenger bush plane to fly across the Canadian forest to visit his father. The pilot has a heart attack and dies right in front of him, in mid-air. The boy, Brian, grabs the stick and is able to fly for a few hours….until the plane runs out of fuel. Brian struggles with the strategy of landing with no landing strip in the middle of nowhere, Canada. The plane goes down, and he survives. This is the story of his survival.

Hatchet was first assigned to me to read in my fifth grade class, which, by the way, was my favorite class ever. My teacher, Mr. Call, was into space and science and great works of literature. I learned more academically in that class than I did in all of middle school (and got some tomato seeds that had been in space – seriously).

I really enjoyed reading this book then, with class discussion and a big imagination. This book is perfect for that age, probably from 9-12 years old, or that reading level. For anyone older, the beginning may be hard to get through because of all the repetition and pre-adolescent angst. Anyone younger, and they may not be able to handle the intense drama of what Brian goes through in the forest all alone. He encounters swarms of bugs, which infest his eyes and mouth, bears, wolves, a tornado, not to mention the man dying right in front of him. He also has to eat raw eggs, and has an encounter with a porcupine and a skunk, neither of which are pleasant. Because of the hardship Brian faces there in the wilderness, with no hope of rescue, he becomes quite depressed at one point, and contemplates taking his own life.

Despite all of the obstacles Brian faces, he overcomes them all and survives for 54 days in the Canadian wilderness before finally being rescued. This book was written in 1987, but is reminiscent of all tales of survival despite trivial circumstances. I think it’s a great lesson for all kids to see what a marvel the human spirit can be, and it’s inside all of us.

This book won The Newberry Award in 1987, a prestigious award for children’s literature. You can find this book right now at BN.com (Barnes & Noble) for $7 either in paperback or ebook format. If you have a child between the ages of 9 and 12, this would be a great book to get them to round out their summer reading this year.

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2 thoughts on “Hatchet, Gary Paulsen

  1. If this is not assigned to my kids at some point I sure as heck will hand them a copy. To this day it is one of the most memorable book I have ever read. For some reason I was really connected to the main character and my imagination went wild while reading this. Thanks for sharing and bringing up some rather old memories.


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