Paulsen, G. (1987). Hatchet. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
1995 ALA Notable Children’s Book
1988 Newbery Honor
Interest Level: 5-8
Reading Level: 6.0
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Subject: Survival, Divorce, Wilderness, Canada
Brian’s Saga:
1 – Hatchet
2 – The River
3 – Brian’s Winter
4 – Brian’s Hun

“And the last thought he had that morning as he closed his eyes was: I hope the tornado hit the moose.”

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen is about a Brian Robeson, a 13-year-old boy that’s trying mostly to cope with his parent’s divorce, and the reason for the divorce, he saw his mother kissing another man, something neither parent is aware that he knows. Now that his parents are divorced he is being sent by plane to northern Canada for his first mandated visitation. Before he departs, his mother gives him a hatchet that she thinks will be a handy tool in the wilderness. The hatchet, when the time arises will serve as a symbol of his maturity into manhood.

As he travels in a plane with cargo and the only other person, the pilot he is left with ample time to think about his life’s sorrows unit captain has a heart attack and Brian with no help from air traffic control must crash land the plane into a lake somewhere in the Canadian wilderness. While in shock for the first day or two, he is starving, in pain, and highly hopefully he will be rescued shortly. As time goes on and a rescue seems unrealistic, he learns to fend for himself through trial and error. He eats berries that make him sick, and then finds raspberries with a bear nearby. He accidently injures himself trying to protect his food from porcupine that his trespassed into his rocky camp. Thankfully from all of the nature/survival shows he watched on television, Brian is able to light a fire using his hatchet against the stones. Now warm, full with berries he adventures out to try fishing. He enjoys his fish and attempts hunting birds but soon after is attacked by a moose, severally injuring him and almost simultaneously a treacherous storm destroys his shelter. Once again Brian is feeling broken and discouraged. The following day after the storm, Brian is able to see more of the plane has resurfaced and goes to claim whatever emergency supplies that may aid him.  And as he once again tries to reestablish himself with shelter and food for survival in the wilderness a plane lands on the lake, and Brian in utter disbelief continues his daily routine not understanding he is finally being rescued after spending fifty-four days in the wilderness, learning to survive with only the aid of his hatched given to him by his mother..

Hatchet will easily appeal to both boy and girls, even though the protagonist is a boy. Topics of parents divorcing, custody, ruminating thoughts, helplessness, and internal strength to survive are not gender specific. It’s a story about survival, making the best of a situation no bad it seems, finding hope even if it’s the smallest of things or memories from our past. Gary Paulsen has written a coming of age story with the wilderness as the backdrop. Readers will be on the edges of their seats wondering how Brian will manage?, will he survive?, can he figure out how to hunt for food?, will he make a fire?, and, will he ever be rescued? Paulsen describes the wilderness where Brian has crashed and his shelter with immense detail so the story and the reader’s experience is all the more realistic. It will be hard to feel sorry for Brian as he encounters difficulties but also the reader will want to cheer him on as he starts to piece together ways to improve his daily life. Those that enjoyed Hatchet may also enjoy reading the other Brian’s Saga books (The River, Brian’s Winter, Brian’s Hunt) as well as wilderness survival stories such as; My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, Call it Courage by Armstrong Sperry, and Incident at Hawk’s Hill by Allan W. Eckert.

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