Hatchet

by Gary Paulsen (1987)

Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet is the classic survival story of our time.  Hatchet is one of three Paulsen titles named as a prestigious Newbery Honor Book.  In Hatchet, Paulsen presents a realistic, nail-biting survival scenario in the far north that makes an ideal vehicle for middle schoolers seeking and learning independence.

Paulsen crash-lands his thirteen-year-old protagonist, Brian Robeson, into the Canadian wilderness with only a hatchet and his sensibilities as tools. Paulsen’s own experiences as an Iditarod musher and all-around adventurist enrich Brian’s brutal challenges and resourceful solutions.  Readers will share Brian’s dire perils and learn with him as he negotiates and toughs them out.  Any reader will learn new life skills by living through Brian’s fifty-four days in the harsh wilderness.

Hatchet isn’t all challenges.  It also provides a beautiful meditation on the natural world.  Paulsen describes Brian becoming one with absolutely undeveloped land, learning to adjust to unexpected wilderness encounters, making friends with the creatures around him, and the pure serenity of an inventive-self without electronic technology.

Reading Hatchet as an entire school or community is the next best thing to taking a middle school survivalist training course together. Hatchet reminds us of the true necessities of life: sliding you to the edge of your seat, feeling the ups and downs of luck and loss, and being more attuned to the gifts of nature. Readers will look at objects and denizens of the forests differently, seeing form and function and possibility in the solitude of the natural world.