• Happy birthday Marianna Mayer (Pegasus) and Gloria Rand (Salty Dog).
  • In 1519 the Aztec emperor Montezuma II welcomed Spanish explorer Cortez to the ancient capital city of Tenochtitlan. Read The Lost Temple of the Aztecs by Shelley Tanaka and The Sad Night by Sally Schofer Mathews.
  • Art for everyone! In 1793 the French Revolutionary government opens the Louvre museum to the public. Read Louvre in Close-up by Claire d’Harcourt.
  • In 1895 Wilhem Röntgen discovers the X-Ray, a wavelength of electromagnetic radiation. Hence, it’s X-Ray Day. Read The Head Bone’s Connected to the Neck Bone by Carla Killough McClafferty.

The second week of November we celebrate National Young Readers Week, an event created in 1989 by the Center for the Book of the Library of Congress to help schools recognize the joys and benefits of reading.

To go along with the activities this year, I recommend two books, one a classic and the other a new title good enough to become a classic. Although many adults favor realistic fiction, books like Bridge to Terabithia or Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, children often want to read different genres—survival and adventure, mystery, dog stories, science fiction, or even narrative nonfiction. So today I will begin with one of the greatest survival stories of all time, and on November 12 I’ll talk about a mystery/suspense novel.

Gary Paulsen actually dedicated Hatchet “To the students of the Hershey [Pennsylvania] Middle School.” While on a visit there, the young people encouraged him to write this story—one he had wanted to create all his life. An outdoorsman with a love of nature, Paulsen drew on his own experiences as he crafted the story of thirteen-year-old Brian, a city boy who finds himself alone in the Canadian wilderness after a plane crash. Fortunately, Brian brought along a hatchet, his only tool to use in this hostile landscape.

Filled with harrowing escapes and breathless action, Brian’s story keeps readers turning the pages to see if this engaging hero will be able to stay alive. Paulsen wanted to make sure each incident Brian experiences was based on reality, so the author wrote about things he had done—or could accomplish. Paulsen started a fire with a hatchet and rock, something that took four hours. He even attempted to eat turtle eggs, because he wanted to ask his character Brian to do this.

Paulsen’s editor for the book, Barbara Lalicki, postponed publication on the novel so they could strive to get every sentence right. Lalicki knew she was working with a very special book. This editor, with great attention to detail, and a writer willing to go the extra mile together crafted one of the classics of the 1980s.

Forget your television survival shows! Hatchet is more compelling and believable than any of them. It is a great way to celebrate National Young Readers Week and to remind children in grades 3–6 how exciting a book can be.

Here’s a passage from Hatchet:


He was still in pain, all-over pain. His legs were cramped and drawn up, tight and aching, and his back hurt when he tried to move. Worst was a keening throb in his head that pulsed with every beat of his heart. It seemed that the whole crash had happened to his head.

He rolled on his back and felt his sides and his legs, moving things slowly. He rubbed his arms; nothing seemed to be shattered or even sprained all that badly.



Originally posted November 8, 2010. Updated for .

Tags: Adventure, Award Winning, Nature, Newbery, Survival
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Hatchet


  1. Star says:

    My fifth grade teacher read us this book, a chapter a day. I loved it and asked my mom to buy me a copy. I still have it, and coincidentally, I just re-read it (after 15 years or more) a few months ago. It was still just as riveting as I remember.

  2. Sharon H. says:

    I still recommend this and pair it with Getting Air by Dan Gutman which is really an homage to Hatchet. Even the most reluctant readers will try the two books and I have parents tell me their son went on to finish all the Brian books.

  3. When I was in the middle grades, I was a very reluctant reader. Hatchet was one of the few books that didn’t take coercion for me to finish. I plowed through it and loved every page!

  4. Anita says:

    C. Alexander and Sharon: Thank you for these stories. I hope others will weigh in with their own. Paulsen has connected with so many readers over the years.

  5. Colby says:

    Hatchet, was my favorite book growing up. I can still remember when a student teacher read it aloud to my class in the fifth grade. After school me and some friends would take our hatchets into the woods surrounding our school and pretend to be Brian. A bunch of fifth graders in the woods with hatchets probably wasn’t the safest situation in the world, but it was pretty cool when I was 10.

    I reread Hatchet each year through middle school, and I use to read it aloud to my fourth graders (now they all hear it in third grade). Last year Mr. Paulsen came to Battle Creek, and 19 of my students joined me for an evening with Mr. Paulsen. He is an amazing man.

    I still have my hatchet! Check it out: http://sharpread.wordpress.com/2011/06/06/hatchet-by-gary-paulsen/ (not trying to plug my blog, just wanted to show my super cool Hatchet)

  6. We are huge fans of Gary Paulsen and his books. Top of the list are Harris and Me, Winter Dance, Pilgrimage on a Steel Ride et al.

  7. Beth Hautala says:

    Like Star, In the second grade, my teacher read this book aloud to the class—chapter by chapter. It was the first time I had ever heard an adventure story like this. Also, I was a struggling reader due to some interesting early-reading techniques being taught at the time. But by the time the school year was out, I borrowed HATCHET and read it all by myself. Not only was it an incredible moment of victory for me as a child, it also made this particular book a landmark in my life.

  8. Sarah Beth Nelson says:

    I am an elementary school librarian. I had fifth graders do “book talks” last year in any format they wished. Groups of boys in two different classes picked Hatchet and chose to act out a scene AND the scene they both chose was the pilot’s heart attack in the opening of the novel. They got a little rowdy as they were rehearsing but their book talks had a lot of heart.

  9. Anita says:

    Thanks everyone for the comments and Colby for the link. I love stories about how a book affects the lives of those who find it.

  10. Thank you Anita for bringing this book to the fore. It fills an incredibly important niche. This book has never stayed on my library shelves very long, regardless of where I have worked.

  11. Happy Birthday to Children’s-Book-a-Day- Almanac! I look forward to seeing which book is highlighted for each day.

  12. Barbara Lalicki says:

    So great that this book continues to move people. I was compelled by HATCHET because it reminded me, in its gripping survival adventure, of LOST ON A MOUNTAIN IN MAINE, which I’d devoured in elementary school.

  13. Anita says:

    Barbara: Great to hear from you today. Thank you for your part in creating this book — it has meant so much to so many.

  14. Erika Schneider says:

    I teach in a rural village in Alaska. My native Alaskan students still practice subsistence hunting and fishing. I read this book every year with my 6th graders and they love it. It’s one of the only books out there that they can really identify with. They love it because all the survival details are so true and accurate.

  15. Anita says:

    Erika: Thank you for this story.

  16. Carla Lance says:

    Students at West Holmes Middle School in Millersburg, OH, enjoy reading Hatchet as part of their sixth grade curriculum. Now, as seventh graders viewing your site, we are able to reflect on this common reading experience with your feature. Thank you for a great site! :)

  17. G. Perry says:

    I so often feel I’m the odd person out posting these comments. I’m not a teacher nor a librarian, just a guy who finally got to read children’s books after he grew up, and then because I looked for just the right list for over two years, I went through list after list after list, until one day, I found 100 Best Books for Children. I spent three days with it and the winner-flag waved big and bright. I suddenly felt like the child who falls in love with his teacher, only it was Anita’s book. Big grin..

    However, I have been a pilot, and I loved every page of Hatchet. And having nearly drowned twice as a child, the underwater airplane scenes made me so uncomfortable, i felt like going out and finding a life jacket just to keep reading.

    What a book.

  18. EVERY Gary Paulsen book is a winner!!! Whether for children or adult…his stories grab me from the first sentence.He has driven the Iditarod a number of times and only stopped when he was diagnosed with heart disease, so his knowledge of dogs is the best! We had a Siberian Husky which drew me to his books the first time.

  19. Jennifer says:

    Thank you for you website/blog.

    I am always searching for good books for my fourth grade daughter who is a voracious reader. You write about books I’ve mostly never knew about and are age appropriate. I recommended your website to my daughter’s third grade teacher last year and he loves your website as well.

    When I run out of ideas for new books for Audrey to read, I comb through your website and make a list.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  20. Anita says:

    Jennifer: So glad to hear from you and your experience with the website. It always makes me happy to hear about a parent working to pass on the gift of books and reading.

  21. Fran in Texas says:

    I would also like to recommend Paintings from the Cave:Three Novellas, by Paulsen. It was painful to read about children living such difficult lives, but Paulsen shows how they all survive through art and the love of dogs. I felt grateful for the chance to read such stories.

  22. Whitney says:

    I went through a phase where I read nothing but nature/survival books and I enjoyed a lot of them. However, I have forgotten the details of almost all of them but this one. Now I know why those small things stick out more firmly in Paulsen’s book-they had the stamp of authenticity.

  23. Maria Simon says:

    I love Hatchet too! My library is organizing a Minecraft Mania monthly program and with it we are building a “if you like Minecraft – you might like to read…” booklist. We’re also building a Minecraft Bookclub and we will discuss HATCHET next in December!

  24. Adelle Shank says:

    I remember meeting Gary Paulsen at Hershey Middle School the year he decided to write Hatchet. I still have my signed copy of the book. It was awesome that he dedicated it to us!!

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