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Hatchet, Gary Paulsen's Award Winning Novel

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Review by Rae Richen

I have a young friend who used to have trouble reading. We meet twice a week and he works on his skills in reading. He is now in the eighth grade.

When we first met, he had the habit of skipping lines, not thinking about the meaning of the words, phrases and sentences he read. When confronted with long words, he would pick a word out of the air that might make sense.

That was some time ago.

By this year, he has leaned to use his plastic ruler to stay on the same line. We frequently have stopped reading to discuss the ideas he just read about. And he contributes greatly to that discussion, guessing what might happen next and talking about what just happened with insight.

I read every other page to him, so he sees me following along with my finger, in order to keep track of where I am. He also has seen me stop, go back and say, “Oh, I read the wrong word there. Let me read that sentence again.”

He now does those things and pays a lot more attention to meaning.

So, this year, I asked his teacher to get him a copy of Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen.

And Wow! He is anxious to read because between our meetings, he has been worried about Brian, our thirteen-year-old character who had set out with a private pilot who would have taken him to visit his father in Alaska. When things go very wrong, Brian has to land the plane in a long lake deep in Canada’s north woods.

Brian is there, alone, away from all humans and has to find a way to stay alive when there is very little hope of anyone ever knowing where he is.

My young friend cared about Brian. He wanted to read. He learned a whole lifetime’s worth of skills from Gary Paulsen’s deep story of survival and perseverance.

Read this book with your family. Read this book with your reluctant reader. Read it with friends. Read this book. And when you have finished, you will want to read Paulsen’s other Brian stories, Brian’s Winter, Brian’s Hunt, The River, and Brian’s Return. Those other Paulsen novels are among my gifts to my young friend for his summer reading.

Gary Paulsen died in October of 2021. His novels will inspire young readers for many generations to come. A very good interview with Paulsen can be found at

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