What You Need to Know:|
• Hatchet is an unbelievable story about Brian, a 13 year-old boy, who must learn to survive alone in the wilderness.
• In 1988, it was a Newbery Honor Book.
• The main character witnesses a heart attack and suffers the trauma that goes along with seeing a man die.
• The story involves a plane crashing into the water.
• The subject of infidelity is addressed because Brian has witnessed his mother kissing a strange man.
• This book is often used in the classroom and many discussion guides can be found online.
• Check out Gary Paulsen's website for survival tips and teacher's guides.
• Hatchet is the first in a series of five books.
Kids often play a game in which they wonder what they would want to have with them if they were stranded on a deserted island, but can they really imagine being in that kind of situation? I think readers will have a much clearer idea as to what they would need to survive after reading Gary Paulsen's Hatchet. When the story begins, 13 year-old Brian Robeson is in a small plane on his way to visit his father in a remote area of Canada. His parents were recently divorced, and Brian is struggling with a secret; he saw his mom kissing another man, prior to their breakup. Brian is reflecting on his secret and the complications of divorce, when his pilot suffers a heart attack. He is suddenly alone in the sky with no one to fly the plane! Somehow he manages to crash into a lake and pull himself out of the wreckage of the plane. He collapses on the shore, barely conscious, with nothing but the hatchet his mom had given him as a going away gift. From there, Brian learns to survive. He uses his hatchet, but more than that, he uses his head.
After the initial shock wears off, Brian begins to think about how he can live on his own. He takes inventory of what he has, and he acknowledges the importance of maintaining a positive outlook. He adjusts to strange, new sounds and mourns the loss of modern conveniences. He faces constant challenges, and he experiences many disappointments. The mosquitoes are relentless, the sun blisters his skin, he has never known such intense thirst and hunger, a thieving skunk almost blinds him, a porcupine stabs him, and a moose almost kills him. He goes through a variety of emotions including fear, panic, satisfaction, and pride, but when a plane comes and goes without seeing him, his anguish becomes too much. He wants to die, and he considers ending his life himself, but that moment of despair changes him. It strengthens him, and he rebounds with a fierce determination to live.
He slowly figures out how to make his own shelter, to hunt for food and to make a fire. And he learns the most important rule of survival, "that feeling sorry for yourself didn't work." Readers see how Brian evolves to handle his new circumstances. He starts to think differently. His senses become magnified, and he gains a keen sense of observation. He also understands the need for careful thought and patience, as he has discovered that mistakes in this world can be deadly. In fact, somehow, Brian seems to gain more than he loses from this experience.
The short and powerful sentences spark vivid images, and they keep the story moving at a fast pace. Brian's experiences, thoughts and actions all feel very real. This memorable story is a must read that will inspire lively discussion. Just keep in mind that some of the images like that of the pilot's death and of his body strapped in under water, may be disturbing to some readers. Also, Brian's distress over his mother's infidelity seems somewhat out of proportion to what happened, especially in light of what kids are exposed to in current pop culture.
1987, 192 pages
Adventure, Award-Winners, Books for Boys, Determination, Divorce, Good Book Club Selection, Life Changes, Self-Awareness/Discovery
• Would you have waited for the plane to crash on its own or would you have tried to steer it down?
• Do you think you could survive alone in the wild? How would you do it?
• In what ways did this book make you think differently about food and other modern conveniences?
• How do the sounds in Brian's new world differ from what he was used to hearing at home?
• What would you miss most if you were stranded alone in the wilderness?
• Why is it so important for Brian to observe his surroundings? Are you as aware of your own surroundings?
• In what ways is the "new" Brian different from the boy who first took off in that plane?
• Why does Brian refer to his little cave as "home"?
• In what ways does Brian form relationships with the creatures that he must live among in his new life?
• How could the gun change his relationship with nature?
• How does Brian feel about the fire he makes? How does it change things for him?
• Why does Brian decide not to tell his father about the secret?
• Do you agree with Brian's idea that discoveries, like the bow and arrow, happened because they needed to happen?
• Is Brian a better person after his experience? In what ways?
• Will Brian miss the wilderness once he's home again? Would you miss it?
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