I have one class of middle school students and no idea what literature to teach. I’m set with my high school kids, but middle school. Woof.
After exploring the room I inherited, I found class sets of books that seem middle-schoolish. One in particular jumped out at me – Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. I heard this book was good so I started my kids on it and then proceeded to get out ahead of them.
Hatchet is about a thirteen-year-old boy named Brian who is traveling in a two-seater Cessna to see his dad in northern Canada. The pilot has a heart attack forcing Brian to try to figure out how to crash land the plane… in the middle of nowhere.
Brian’s struggle to survive in the vast Canadian forest with only his windbreaker, the things he had in his pockets, and – you guessed it – a hatchet makes for an interesting coming of age story in which the young hero must learn to let go of his old problems and one-by-one solve the riddles of his new life which is quickly reduced to its simplest terms: food, water, warmth. Paulsen’s fast-paced writing, which is immediate and internal, simultaneously takes the reader inside Brian’s psyche and deep into the pristine wilderness of the northern forest.
By the end of the book, it’s hard to leave Brian and his lake in the woods, and the deus ex machina ending, while logical, leaves the reader wanting more. Paulsen’s fans thought so as well prompting him to write a sequel, Brian’s Winter, that changes the ending of the first book and extends Brian’s adventures into the more perilous wintertime.
By the end of Hatchet, I’m left wanting to go camping to escape into the wilderness but not under circumstances as dire as Brian’s. Books take us places, though, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending a summer on that nameless lake watching Brian learn for himself the ancient lessons of man’s survival as he discovers the clarity that comes with self-reliance.