Kids and Books – Is it a blast from the past? Is it beyond comprehension to expect (pun intended) kids to read books? Is it old school teaching and expectations? Getting kids and young adults to enjoy independent reading is sometimes thought of, or described as, a daunting task. Just ask the parents and teachers of these populations, especially with the online presence that many kids are not only used to, but rather expert at.Enter books, some brand new titles and many old, familiar titles. Enter books that capture imaginations and bring young adult literature alive. Hatchet book by Gary Paulsen is one of those books.
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
I am a retired high school English Teacher and Reading Specialist and I enjoy reading the books that my grandkids (12 of them, 3 – 18 years old, and another on-the-way) are reading. Many of these titles are school required. OK, most of them are required and I do have a couple of reluctant readers. I discuss these books with my grandkids with no expectations other than conversation. Sharing of ideas. Sometimes to explain plot or vocabulary. I love to unobtrusively share my passion for literacy, and sharing books is one such way. I don’t have to test them or grade them. I just have to enjoy them – the kids and the books.
I just recently finished a book that my 5th grade grandson was required to read – Hatchet book by Gary Paulsen. His entire 5th grade was required to read it, which made getting a copy from the library in his town impossible and the local bookstore had sold out, too. This turned out to be grandly positive thing for me because I discovered an intesesting copy in my town library – 2007 Edition celebrating the 20th Anniversary of this Newbery Honor Book, filled with notes from the author, illustrations and interesting tidbits of information about life in the wilderness where the action of the story takes place.
This Hatchet edition also includes Gary Paulsen autobiographically writing of being a “terrible student” when he was a kid, a boy who failed ninth grade and avoided reading. These little facts are monumentally important/interesting/significant to kids. It makes them feel maybe a bit more OK about themselves and school and books as they set into reading the words of this author.
Kids and Books –
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
Enter a book like Hatchet book by Gary Paulsen, in kids’ hands and hearts since 1987 and still going strong with its fast-paced story of a 13-year old boy, Brian Robeson, with recently divorced parents, a “secret” and a plane (Cessna 406) crash in a desolate wilderness.
Like many 13-year old boys, Brian is coming into “his own,” but additionally struggling with his life turned upside down. He is very angry with his Mom for “the breaking and shattering of all the solid things in his life” – his home and his life. As the story begins, Brian can barely speak to his Mom as she drives him to an airport a couple of hours from home to meet the pilot of a small plane, hop aboard and fly to visit his Dad, a mechanical engineer, who works in the oil fields in Canada.
The only conversation that Brian (barely) engages during the emotionally uncomfortable drive is reluctantly thanking his Mom for a little token that she bought for him for this trip – a hatchet – with a steel handle, rubber grip and a leather case for the head of the hatchet with a brass riveted belt loop. Brian is impatient with anything his Mom could possibly say or do, but feels badly enough for ignoring her the entire trip that he attaches the hatchet to his belt. He feels ridiculous and embarrassed, but as readers, knowing the title of the book, we figure that the hatchet will become central to the story of Brian.
Not long into the flight over “the endless green northern wilderness below,” the pilot, a man of few words himself, opens up a bit and talks to Brian about the plane and flying and even allowing Brian to take over the controls and fly the plane. This is where my 10-year old grandson was hooked.
I always say that there’s a hook to every book, a hook that grabs a reader and makes that reader feel something, something of joy or surprise or fear or any emotion that makes the words on a page come alive.
Hatchet Book Synopsis
THIS is the magic of reading, of turning symbols into sounds into words into thoughts and images into understanding in one’s own head and heart what is going on in the life or adventures of a character or characters in a book. It is a complex process, but one that is discovered only by actually reading. If I had a dollar for each time I explained this mystery and magic to a student… well, you know I’d be a billionaire.
But back to Hatchet book because the action would only increase a hundredfold from there as the pilot suffers a fatal heart attack and dies in the cockpit. Brian is forced to take control of the wheel, the rudder pedals and fly. Trembling, he attempts to study the dashboard, find a compass, radio, altimeter – anything – but not knowing how to do anything – thoughts flying through his brain – knowing he needed to land – trying to see something blue like a lake, where a crash might be better than hitting trees.
Brian crashes the plane, a metal ripping, windshield shattering, screaming crash into a lake, Brian finding himself pulling his body out of the plane and up, up, up to the surface, then vomiting and swimming and anguished with pain and, as the book says, “Nothing.”
“Nothing,” of course, means just that. Brian is in a strange place of vicious mosquitos and endless trees, having barely survived the plane crash. His body is nothing but pain. The only “something” is the beat of his heart, of being alive. But being alive means something even deeper, and that is to stay alive.
From that moment on, Brian changes from sullen teenager to survivor. The silence in his new world is really thousands of sounds and hundreds of things that he has to learn. He has to learn to master one thing at a time, one day at a time, one morsel of food at a time.
He has to think. He must improvise. He remembers a teacher, Mr. Perpich, telling him to talk positive, think positive, stay on top of things. Get motivated. Quit messing around. Look at ALL of it.
Brian’s mind shifts to the drum of Mr. Perpich’s words, “You are your most valuable asset. Don’t forget that. You are the best thing you have.”
And there, at his side, is the hatchet, the hatchet that would become his life, his survival, the gift he didn’t want from the mother who made him so angry with “the secret” – a boyfriend – a secret he hadn’t shared with his father.
For 54 days, Brian would learn about edible berries and birds and fish and turtle eggs. He would learn of building fire, the dangers of bears and wolves and porcupines and moose. He would master one thing at a time with thought and common sense and trial and error – building a shelter, creating spears and bows and arrows, using shoestrings and remnants of fabric for usefulness. He would learn from mistakes and begin anew because he has to. He would come to know the destruction of tornadoes, yet marvel at the beauty of his surroundings.
He would become industrious and competent and confident. More tolerant and observant.
And the hatchet, the gift from the Mom he so resented, became his friend, his ally, his survival.
Brian is rescued after those 54 days of learning, growing, maturing, surviving by a fur buyer who was mapping the area for trapping camps.
Those days in the wilderness made Brian realize his most valuable asset, the best thing he had – himself.
Why I Enjoyed Hatchet Book
I enjoyed this book because the action and pace of the story makes it a page-turner. Brian stayed with me even as I turned the last page, thinking of his great emotional growth and maturity. My grandson Henry felt the same way and we’ve had lots of discussions about this book. We’ve talked about the deceased pilot in the plane in the lake. About the puke and diarrhea after Brian ate the “gut cherries.” About the porcupine attack. About “the secret” of the man his Mom was kissing. About making bows and arrows and spears. About surviving.
We’ve talked about the possible autobiographical tidbits.
We’ve talked about how many times the hatchet saved the day for Brian, and how the hatchet is a connection to his Mom, too, even through the anger.
We both agree that Hatchet book is the perfect title for this book.
And last, but not least, THIS message – “You are your most valuable asset. Don’t forget that. You are the best thing you have.”
A book with a great message.
Kids and Books – not a blast from the past, but a pathway to the future.
Get books. Read books. Share books with your kids and grandkids!
Definitely pick up Hatchet book by Gary Paulsen – it’s worth a read!