Hatchet – Gary Paulsen

HatchetReading level: 5
Series: Brian’s Saga book 1
Genre: Adventure
ELL-Friendly: Yes
Library recommendation: Middle school

Goodreads summary:

Since it was first published in 1987, the story of thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson’s survival following a plane crash has become a modern classic. Stranded in the desolate wilderness, Brian uses his instincts and his hatchet to stay alive for fifty-four harrowing days.

Somehow I don’t think I’ve ever read a Gary Paulsen book until now. This book didn’t “wow” me, but it certainly was interesting. I listened to the audiobook (which I thought was pretty awful), but the poetic language came through quite well. The short sentences and repetition are beautifully simple, not to mention good for ELLs.

I’ve come to realize that I don’t like survival stories very much (which is probably why Life of Pi was such a fail for me) , but I happen to know some middle schoolers who love this book. It’s a quick and exciting read. Even though it’s a classic now, it’s perfectly relevant to kiddos today.

I found it oddly convenient that Brian’s mom just so happens to give him a hatchet. Seems like a weird gift for a kid to be bringing around. Also, the ending is annoyingly vague in the description of what happens to Brian after his rescue, but now I really want to read the other books in the series.

More than a survival story, Hatchet is a story of a kid dealing with divorced parents. He bears a heavy burden for any 13 year-old, and kids whose parents are divorcing or have divorced may be able to relate to the pain Brian feels. While he’s feeling the tug between his mom and dad and what is right for him to do and say, he becomes a remarkably skilled and confident young man as he learns to survive in the wilderness.

Due to the low reading level, I recommend Hatchet for middle school. It’s also a great book for ELLs because the language is simple and repeated. In addition, the poetic language and sentence fragments could be used in a lesson on author craft and sentence structure in some sort of narrative (or even poetry) unit.


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