Posts Tagged ‘hatchet’

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.


I think boy and girl books do have a place in literature, such as other books that may target specific age categories, religious beliefs, or often writing for a specific group of people is seen with self-help books. Whether a book is intended or categorized as self-help does not mean it is absent of such qualities.  The challenge is whether we choose to label them as a girl or boy books. I think labeling books as such may interest more for that gender but may also run the risk for many who were initially interested in the book no longer desiring to read it. Also, labeling is further an issue as seen in the following quote from the article Opposing Viewpoints ,“if we ask 100 boys and 100 girls to list their favorite books some titles that are popular on the boys list won’t be on the girls list and vice versa. However, that does not make those books boy or girl books” (2011).

Are you There God? It’s me Margaret deals with broader topics relating to mixed religious marriages and the effect it may have on the youth, as well as dealing with everyday issues tween face as playing flirtatious games like spin the bottle or two minutes in the bathroom which are both great topics for boys and girls alike.  Still, this book does have some very highly preferred girl topics. Maybe since I have no male siblings I find it a stretch to think that tween boys may be eager to read about a chant to increase bust size or the joy and excitement of a girl preparing for menstruating. These topics are excellent for girls, especially those who may not have the luxury of discussing it with their parent/guardian. So, in the case of Are you there God? It’s me Margaret, having a book that is specified for a specific gender I believe is acceptable, and if not specified as a girl book, girls will continue as they have in the past to gravitate toward it as a girl book. Sometimes I think in our attempt to break barriers such as the gender divide that we actually may be creating a larger divide than what initially existed. And, what is wrong with having some books targeted for boys or girls as is obvious with Are you there God? It’s me Margaret? This book does such a nice job dealing with many issues dealt with by tween girls, particularly the sense of female identity through bodily image and puberty as is associated with becoming a “woman”.

1998 Newbery Honor
1997 Margaret A. Edwards Award
1995 ALA Notable Children’s Books

On the other hand, Hatchet has a male protagonist and is written by a male, but this book has nothing specific that can’t be taught to either gender reading the novel. There is a boy on the cover of the novel, a wolf, and a hatchet, which by initial glance may have a higher chance to interest a boy in choosing Hatchet in comparison to Kiss & Make Up by Katie D. Anderson (not yet released) which has all the words of the title (front cover) spelled out using lip gloss, lipstick, and nail polish containers. Still, I don’t see how Hatchet can be categorized as a “boy” book. Topics of parents divorcing, custody, ruminating thoughts, helplessness, and internal strength to survive are not gender specific. Many people may just assume a boy has a great chance at surviving alone in the wilderness for two months because some girls may say they could never manage, but let’s not forget that the Brian himself in the book questioned his own abilities and only chose to challenge himself to survive after much accepted defeat.

Both books equally exemplify internal assets of positive identity related to middle childhood (8-12 years old) such as personal power, self-esteem, sense of purpose, and positive view of personal future. Hatchet and Are you there God? It’s me Margaret both example having commitment to learning and constructive use of time. Since the developmental assets are similar in both Hatchet and Are you there God? It’s me Margaret, hopefully whichever of the two books a tween chooses to read with no one influencing their choice, I would assume that either novel will aid in their personal developmental growth.

I think for most individuals, the idea of a boy vs. girl book is more determined by the gender of the main protagonist and even the gender of the author. The publisher for the Harry Potter series initially suggested so not to lose the interest of “boys” that J.K. Rawlings abbreviate her first name (invented a middle initial) so the author’s gender was inconspicuous.Harry Potter has both female and male protagonists, and covers a dearth of gender and non-gender specific topics as appropriate to the plot of the story. I really am curious if the Harry Potter series would have been less popular with tween boys if they saw “Joan” rather than “J.K.”?