I am almost embarrassed to admit that I had never read Hatchet before. I’ve handed this book out to countless kids operating under the mistaken impression that I had actually read it back when I was in elementary school. I mean, I clearly remember talking about it in 4th grade… But, as it turns out, I only knew the basic premise of the story and filled in the rest of my so-called memory with bits and pieces from another survival story we read at the time — My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. Luckily, I decided to take the time to listen to this story to “refresh my memory” now that my son was reading it in school. (Oops!)
Brian was a fairly typical “modern day” kid. He spent most of his time on school and leisure activities, and he depended on adults much more than he ever realized. He wasn’t fat, necessarily, but he wasn’t exactly fit either. Finding food always meant going to the fridge or the pantry — at most, to a grocery store. So, when his flight to visit his father for the summer ended with a crash in the Canadian wilderness, Brian was not sure he had what it would take to survive. The only other passenger had been the pilot, and the plane crashed because the pilot had died of a heart attack. With nothing more than the clothes on his back and the hatchet [a gift from his mom] on his belt, Brian had to find both shelter and food enough to last until he was rescued… If he even *could* be rescued. Because no one, including Brian, knew exactly where his plane went down.
It’s no wonder Hatchet is the “gold standard” for survival stories. Paulsen masterfully balanced Brian’s hope and drive to survive with suspense surrounding the real-life dangers of the Canadian wilderness. I think this book would be an excellent precursor to lessons on disaster preparedness and survival skills, and it’s also sure to be a hit with kids who already enjoy wilderness-based activities like hiking and camping.