In A Nutshell
Gary Paulsen is a successful graduate of the school of hard knocks. From an early age, he was fending for himself, working odd jobs and camping out in the woods alone for weeks at a time. He's run the Iditarod (the famously grueling, 1,049-mile Alaskan sled-dog race) three times, trained horses in New Mexico, sailed around the Pacific in a beat-up sailboat, and lived in some of the harshest environments in the world. No big deal. Oh, and school definitely wasn't his thing: he flunked out of ninth grade, and when he made it to college years later, he quit after just a few months.
Not quite the resume you'd expect from one of the best-selling kids' writers of all time. Paulsen has written almost two hundred books since his first work, called Some Birds Don't Fly, came out in 1968. He's a triple Newbery Honor winner, and he has more than 26 million books in print. But it's not his silver-tongued prose that keeps 'em coming back for more. Nope. It's his ability to act as every kid's own personal wilderness tour guide that makes his books really special.
If you want to know what it's really like to live out in the wild and struggle with the elements, Gary Paulsen is your go-to guy. And Hatchet is your go-to book. Hatchet, the story of a boy stranded alone for weeks in the Canadian woods, is Paulsen's best-known, best-loved work. First published in 1987, it has inspired devotion from generations of kids, and it's still going strong.
In fact, the book is so popular that Paulsen has written four sequels (The River, Brian's Winter, Brian's Return, and Brian's Hunt) as well as a nonfiction companion book called Guts. But even with all these sequels (not to mention all the books written later by other authors inspired by Paulsen's example), Hatchet still stands as one of the best kids' adventure books of all time. We think that's saying something—don't you?
Why Should I Care?
Walk away from your computer. No, really, we mean it. Stand up, go look out the window, and then come back. It's okay—we'll wait.
Okay, what did you see? A manicured lawn? A street with cars parked along either side? The apartment building next to yours? Whatever it was, we're willing to bet it probably wasn't anything like what the main character of Hatchet sees when he wakes up next to the lake in the morning. And it probably wasn't anything like the environment human beings have lived in throughout most of our history on this planet.
The fact is, nowadays we spend less time outside than we ever have before. You can't swing a dead moose lately without hitting another article or study about how little time kids spend outside.
Now, we know that you're awesome—after all, you're here at Shmoop, right?—but if you're like most of us, chances are the closest you've gotten to roughing it is when you went car camping with your family at Yosemite. (And believe us, we're right there with you.)
But think about it. As human beings, we've spent most of our history climbing trees, living on the savannah, or building little huts made of sticks so we can make it through the winter. When it comes right down to it, being in nature is what's really, ahem, natural for us. It's only in the last little instant of cosmic time that we've managed to crawl up out of the mud, figure out how to construct flush toilets, and get our grubby little hands on the remote control.
So you kind of have to wonder, in our great rush to leave the world of the woods behind, is there anything else we've left behind? Anything we've lost, that maybe we can't afford to lose? Anything important, elemental, maybe even necessary to what it means to be human? Gary Paulsen seems to think the answer is yes.
So pull up a chair—or better yet, go find a nice comfy patch of grass to lie down on—open the book, and start getting back to nature.