Books by Gary Paulsen

FISHBONE'S SONG by Gary Paulsen
Released: Sept. 27, 2016

"A beautifully written elegy to coming of age in bygone days that, unfortunately, oversimplifies complex issues. (Historical fiction. 12-15)"
A white boy narrates his upbringing by a solitary old white man in a tiny cabin in the woods. Read full book review >
Released: May 10, 2016

"A slow, slight story enlivened by likable characters and a nice dose of humor. Twice. (Fiction/drama. 9-13)"
Six 14-year-old boys, all classmates, must sit tight in their school bathroom while they wait out a storm warning, a forced interaction that causes the barriers between them to fall. Read full book review >
FIELD TRIP by Gary Paulsen
Released: Aug. 4, 2015

"Readers who enjoyed the first will want to share this trip as well, but fresh ideas are needed if there's to be a third journey. (Fiction. 10-14)"
A boy, a dad, two dogs, and a much-needed field trip. Read full book review >
FAMILY TIES by Gary Paulsen
Released: July 22, 2014

" Another funny episode in a well-meaning (sort of, anyway) kid's life. (Fiction. 10-14)"
Kevin, 14 and no stranger to hyperbole, is back for a fifth humor-infused outing as he tries valiantly to deal with his often bizarre extended family (Vote, 2013, etc.). Read full book review >
VOTE by Gary Paulsen
Released: May 13, 2013

"Still, especially for kids who have watched recent elections, Kevin's brand of campaigning is readily recognizable. (Fiction. 10-14)"
Kevin knows the buzzwords that will surely get him elected student-body president; it's unfortunate that he's running for the wrong reason. Read full book review >
ROAD TRIP by Gary Paulsen
Released: Jan. 8, 2013

"Given its notable brevity and Ben's age-appropriate, oft-times snarky, attitude, this should be an easy sell for reluctant readers. (Fiction. 10-14)"
In a first-time collaboration between father and son, the Paulsens supply alternating chapters of this attractively depicted road trip with a strongly upbeat yet never didactic message. Read full book review >
CRUSH by Gary Paulsen
Released: May 8, 2012

"Another fast-paced romp with a well-intentioned, if severely misguided eighth grader. (Fiction. 9-12)"
After previous misadventures in Liar, Liar and Flat Broke (both 2011), Kevin is back again, this time applying his quirky, inquiring mind to the world of love. Read full book review >
CANYONS by Gary Paulsen
Released: Aug. 9, 2011

An Apache boy on the verge of manhood is brutally executed by Army patrols; over 100 years later a contemporary 15-year-old finds his shattered skull and—responding to a compelling inner voice emanating from the skull—begins a journey to vindicate and give rest to its troubled spirit, somehow knowing that he must carry out this task in order to regain his own peace. The phrase "I am to be a man," reiterated in the first chapter, induces some poetic and semantic resonance but is also an example of the uncurtailed writing that nearly dims this tale. Still, readers patient enough to survive the repetitive ruminations, the too-deliberate epicycles, and the unlikely details (especially a library that, as a friendly gesture, ships seven large boxes of photocopied data—and a boy who can find the crucial bit therein in one night) will be rewarded with an insightful, sympathetic vignette of the tragic end of a life, plus an intriguing glimpse of the contrast between what really happens and the clues that are left behind. Read full book review >
FLAT BROKE by Gary Paulsen
Released: July 12, 2011

"A jocular, fast-paced voyage into the sometimes simple but never quiet mind of an ambitious eighth grader. (Fiction. 9-12)"
A 14-year-old greedily launches himself headlong into the entrepreneurial world, with amusing consequences. Read full book review >
LIAR, LIAR by Gary Paulsen
Released: March 8, 2011

Eighth grader Kevin has a talent most adults can't fully appreciate: He's a gifted liar. He tells adults what they want to hear, that he's done his homework, had a great day at school and there aren't any dirty dishes in his room. Unfortunately, faced with a team project with a very focused, annoying classmate, he lets the lies get away from him. To avoid working with Katie, he tells her he has a severe chronic illness. In order to get closer to his major crush, Tina, he begins to skip classes, providing teachers with creative (but surely unbelievable) excuses. On a roll, he hits a little closer to home, playing his teen siblings off each other, then inadvertently widening the gap in his parents' relationship by lying to both of them. Each lie encourages another until, finally, the truth comes out and Kevin must face the consequences of his creative storytelling. This brief, humorous effort will appeal to reluctant middle-school readers, who will recognize the truth behind witty Kevin's inventive deceptions. (Fiction. 9-12)Read full book review >
WOODS RUNNER by Gary Paulsen
Released: Jan. 12, 2010

Thirteen-year-old Samuel is a courier du bois, or woods runner, a wilderness expert who provides meat for his entire settlement in the British colony of Pennsylvania. When he returns from hunting one day to find all of the cabins in his settlement burned to the ground and everyone slaughtered or missing, he must rely on those skills and the help of good folk along the way to the British garrison in New York to find his parents. Not a war novel of "patriotism, all clean, pristine, antiseptic," as Paulsen explains in his afterword, this is a vivid and graphic tale of one boy caught up in a harsh war, a side of the American Revolution not often told. The author structures the narrative in an unusual fashion, alternating fictional scenes with nonfiction information related to the story line—brief segments on spy networks, weaponry, war orphans, Hessians and floating prisons. Though no sources are provided for the nonfiction elements, the effective pairing of fiction and nonfiction makes this a superb reflection on the nature of war. A good match for the author's Soldier's Heart (1998). (Historical fiction. 11 & up)Read full book review >
MUDSHARK by Gary Paulsen
Released: May 12, 2009

Paulsen's peppy, lightweight new classroom comedy about a super-sharp kid is meant to amuse, and it does. Set in a slightly surreal school populated by a host of idiosyncratic but identifiable character types, the story, told in the third person, revolves around the ever resourceful Mudshark, a boy blessed with perfect recall, lightning-fast reflexes and a good heart. Because of these attributes, everyone at school depends on Mudshark's whizzy brain until the librarian gets an all-seeing (and unfortunately always belching) parrot. Will the parrot eclipse Mudshark as school detective? Not the most profound question in the universe perhaps, but one that boys should delight in. The funniest part of the story is the principal's announcements ordering the superintendant to report to the faculty restroom with an increasingly dire list of equipment that runs from large stick to Geiger counter, and the most touching is the super's meditation on the impermanence of thought. Add in the mystery of the missing erasers, a bored cat and a course of aversion therapy, and it equals fun. (Fiction. 8-12)Read full book review >
LAWN BOY by Gary Paulsen
Released: June 12, 2007

After his grandmother gives him an old riding lawnmower for his summer birthday, this comedy's 12-year-old narrator putt-putts into a series of increasingly complex and economically advantageous adventures. As each lawn job begets another, one client—persuasive day-trader Arnold Howell—barters market investing and dubious local business connections. Our naïve entrepreneur thus unwittingly acquires stock in an Internet start-up and a coffin company; a capable landscaping staff of 15 and the sponsorship of a hulking boxer named Joseph Powdermilk. There's a semi-climactic scuffle with some bad guys bent on appropriating the lawn business, but Joey Pow easily dispatches them. If there's tension here, it derives from the unremitting good news: While the reader may worry that Arnold's a rip-off artist, Joey Pow will blow his fight, or (at the very least) the parents will go ballistic once clued in—all ends refreshingly well. The most complicated parts of this breezy affair are the chapter titles, which seem lifted from an officious, tenure-track academician's economics text. Capital! (Fiction. 9-12)Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 8, 2006

Paulsen takes the few facts known about this remarkable man and shapes them into a compelling, even elegant narrative—brief sections of historical fact between longer, fictionalized tales of the boy Bass Reeves was and the man he became. He begins by debunking the so-called "heroes" Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid and Wild Bill Hickok, among others, who were disreputable at best and wicked at worst. He spins out Bass's story: a boy born a slave, kept with his mother and owned by a gambler and a drunkard. He lets readers see how Bass learns the land, and how to hunt and care for himself and his animals. He shows why Bass had to run—hiding in the Indian Territory, leaving his mother behind—and live with the Creek for 22 years. At age 51, honorable and successful, he became a marshal, bringing in hundreds of criminals and never drawing his gun first. Paulsen's telling is rich in both vivid and gory historical detail, from scalping, branding and burying to hunting, butchering and animal care. Completely captivating—begs to be made into a movie. (Historical fiction/nonfiction. 10-14)Read full book review >
Released: June 13, 2006

Twelve-year-old Duane Homer Leech feels he's in the clutches of something insidious, a cruel joke that's ruining his life. Everyone calls it "puberty," but what exactly is puberty? He can't walk without tripping; he's a human zit factory; when females are near, he can't form words, much less coherent sentences. He sees ELBOWS everywhere (that's his code word for those other parts of anatomy, which you can probably guess). At school, he causes a ringworm scare by cutting off his cowlick, leaving a circular bald spot. He destroys the library by falling against a shelf reaching for a book on puberty. Duane commiserates over the phone with his friend Willy and feels a kinship with the awkward, ugly baby bird that lives on his windowsill. Between Willy and the bird, Duane realizes that life after puberty won't be nearly as hellish. Paulsen has created a humorous Are you There God? It's Me, Margaret for boys. Every male on either side of puberty will see themselves in Duane. At times laugh-out-loud funny, here is an only slightly exaggerated manual for every boy encountering his first life change. (Fiction. 10-14)Read full book review >
THE TIME HACKERS by Gary Paulsen
Released: Jan. 11, 2005

In an unidentified future time when laptops can be rolled up and gold is worth ten times what it is today, seventh-grader Dorso and best friend Frank find themselves in the middle of a time-travel game that escalates from smelly dead things appearing in Dorso's locker to involuntary transportation to dangerous moments in history. Should they inform the authorities or try to stop the perpetrators themselves? From the attention-grabbing opening scene through the satisfying ending in which middle-school boys do, indeed, save the world (with considerable help from a stereotypical 1990s computer geek), Paulsen again demonstrates his talent for constructing fast-paced adventure, full of boy humor involving bathroom jokes and looking for pictures of naked women. Light and entertaining, this should appeal to reluctant readers as well as confirmed Paulsen fans. (Fiction. 9-12)Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 28, 2004

There's only one problem with organizing one's entire life in a multi-pocketed three-ring binder: it might get lost. Alas, this is the fate of sixth-grader Molly McGinty, black belt in the art of maximum productivity. Molly has to be organized, because her grandmother/guardian, a talent agent for animals, lives life as if her creativity would be threatened by "paying bills on time, dressing sedately, and dusting." In fact, the eccentric bon vivant wears purple suede jeans to Senior Citizens' Day at Molly's Our Lady of Mercy Middle School, marking the beginning of Molly's "really good day," whose highlights include a black eye (dashing to the bus), getting set on fire, and having her hair braided against her will. Molly's perpetual battle against "widespread fundamental uncertainty" (and everything her grandmother stands for) is hilarious, and children with embarrassing relatives and those with obsessive-compulsive tendencies will understand completely. Early readers will no doubt devour this somewhat slapstick, atypically girl-centric Paulsen offering. (Fiction. 8-11)Read full book review >
THE QUILT by Gary Paulsen
Released: May 11, 2004

In 1944, with his father at war and his mother working the night shift at the munitions factory, the narrator—"the boy"—goes to live with his grandmother Alida in northern Minnesota. At a neighboring farm, seven miles and seven hours away, Alida and several local women have gathered for the birth of Kristina's baby. They share a ritual of holding a quilt and telling "quilt stories" about their lives and those who have passed. It's a quiet, beautiful tale of magic in the faces and hands of the women holding the cloth. So much of life, death, and the strength of women is told in evocative prose rich in vivid details. Begun in The Cookcamp (1991) and continued in Alida's Song (1999), this is Paulsen's ode to his grandmother and what women "had to do to keep life, and families, together during the war." A story to savor and share and Paulsen at his best. (Fiction. 8-12)Read full book review >
BRIAN’S HUNT by Gary Paulsen
Released: Dec. 23, 2003

Brian Robeson has returned to the Canadian wilderness, where his plane crashed two years before. Now 18, he feels he's in his element, a perfect place now that he's more seasoned. Soon, though, Brian finds a badly injured dog and two horribly mangled human bodies, and Brian the hunter becomes Brian the hunted, prey of a devilish rogue bear. The narrative is brisk, and Paulsen adds depth to Brian's characterization through a discussion of how learning to survive in the woods led to voracious reading and a thirst to know and understand things in civilization. In an afterword, Paulsen drives home his point that bears in the wilderness are not Teddy Bears or Winnie the Pooh, that humans are part of nature and sometimes prey; it may be "lessening" or humbling, but it's arrogant to think otherwise. Based on real incidents, this well-written sequel to Hatchet and its successors will be gobbled up by the author's legions of fans. (Fiction. 10+)Read full book review >
SHELF LIFE by Gary Paulsen
Released: Aug. 1, 2003

The ten original stories—prefaced by Paulsen's cogent memoir—in this pro-bono gathering offer universal themes in a variety of settings. The authors were asked only to include references to books or reading. The results: a jokester tries, with devastating consequences, to fake a book report in Ellen Conford's "In Your Hat"; playacting inspired by Alice McLerran's Roxaboxen helps to heal a feud in Ellen Wittlinger's "Wet Hens"; Marion Dane Bauer compares an assigned "Good Deed" to a voluntary one; Jennifer L. Holm's "Follow the Water" features an unwilling young emigrant—to Mars. Older readers will respond to M.T. Anderson's weird and eerie nautical episode, and Gregory Maguire's tongue-in-cheek encounter between society snobs and a decidedly non-average child. Paulsen's proceeds, plus a percentage from the publisher, will go to ProLiteracy Worldwide; the stodgy intro by that organization's president is the only clinker here. (Short stories. 11-15)Read full book review >
Released: June 10, 2003

Long, breathless sentences like this one create a distinct voice for the 12-year-old narrator of this light comedy that features a supermom who's raising a child and working her way toward graduate school as an exotic dancer at the Kitty Kat Club. It all hits the fan when Tony's sketches of some of the girls in the club's dressing room end up on exhibit at the local museum. Down swoops a panicky child-welfare worker, police officer in tow—both of whom meet their match in Tony's intelligent, forthright, fiercely protective mother, Al. The confrontation quickly degenerates into a wild ruckus, followed by a media circus, a courtroom scene, and a telescoped resolution involving both a large cash settlement and a possible hookup between Al and Tony's over-the-top drama teacher. Not too likely, but all good fun, and Paulsen claims that Al is based on an actual acquaintance. Introduce reluctant readers, Paulsen fans, or anyone who enjoys an occasional belly laugh to this prototypical preteen and his most memorable mom. (Fiction. 9-11)Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 14, 2003

Dedicated to all 13-year-old boys ("The miracle is that we live through it"), Paulsen's latest collection of possibly autobiographical anecdotes, his most hilarious yet, celebrates that innate impulse to try really stupid stunts, just to see what happens. What sort of bad ideas can a group of lads in a small Minnesota town come up with? "Angel" Peterson ties himself, on skis, to a fast car, earning his sobriquet after claiming to hear angels singing "Your Cheatin' Heart" when the attempt goes disastrously awry. Because some girls are watching, Orvis Orvisen goes toe to toe with a live sideshow bear; others try various primitive, ill-considered forms of hang-gliding, bicycle-jumping, and skateboarding, capped by a sidesplitting outtake from the author's Harris and Me (1993), featuring a wildly misguided attempt at bungee-jumping. Related with the author's customary matter-of-fact tone and keen comic timing, these episodes will not only keep young readers, of both sexes, in stitches, they're made to order for reading aloud. (Biography. 10-12)Read full book review >
CAUGHT BY THE SEA by Gary Paulsen
Released: Oct. 1, 2001

Spinning more vivid yarns from his anything-but-sedentary life, Paulsen (Guts, 2001, etc.) will enthrall even resolute landlubbers with this slim volume of nautical reminiscences. Writing around the twin themes of the Pacific's profound power to harm or heal, and his own utter ignorance of boats or sailing, he describes encounters with sharks, gales, and other learning experiences on his way toward reaching an understanding with each of the three sail boats he has owned. Think seafaring Woodsong (1990). Terrifying and hilarious, sometimes simultaneously, these adventures effortlessly carry important lessons about the craft of sailing as well as the craft of living. (Autobiography. 10-12)Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 1, 2001

Paulsen recalls personal experiences that he incorporated into Hatchet (1987) and its three sequels, from savage attacks by moose and mosquitoes to watching helplessly as a heart-attack victim dies. As usual, his real adventures are every bit as vivid and hair-raising as those in his fiction, and he relates them with relish—discoursing on "The Fine Art of Wilderness Nutrition," for instance: "Something that you would never consider eating, something completely repulsive and ugly and disgusting, something so gross it would make you vomit just looking at it, becomes absolutely delicious if you're starving." Specific examples follow, to prove that he knows whereof he writes. The author adds incidents from his Iditarod races, describes how he made, then learned to hunt with, bow and arrow, then closes with methods of cooking outdoors sans pots or pans. It's a patchwork, but an entertaining one, and as likely to win him new fans as to answer questions from his old ones. (Autobiography. 10-13)Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 12, 2000

Using his lyrical voice, Paulsen (Alida's Song, 1999, etc.) presents a true-to-life, thinly veiled biographical portrait of a boy's 16th year. This boy (all that Paulsen names him) runs away from his alcoholic mother when she makes sexual advances toward him and he finds a job thinning beets for North Dakota farmers. He befriends the Mexicans with whom he works, and learns how they make their hard lives bearable with friendship and the simple pleasures of food and music. When offered a steady summer job by one farmer, he takes it because he's attracted to the farmer's daughter. He never spends his money and accumulates hundreds of dollars, all of which a sheriff's deputy takes. Hitchhiking to escape from the deputy, he eventually signs on with a traveling carnival and learns how to fleece the rubes. The book ends with an account of his first sexual experience. Paulsen's simple prose gives the story a dream-like quality that smoothes the edges of its harsher events. It's the truth of memory rather than unrelenting realism, although the truth of the events comes through. The sexual content may make the book inappropriate for less mature readers, but it's essentially an optimistic, coming-of-age story and a new take on the life of this popular author. (Fiction. 12-15)Read full book review >
TUCKET'S GOLD by Gary Paulsen
Released: Sept. 1, 1999

The fourth installment of Paulsen's Tucket Adventures (Tucket's Ride, 1997, etc.) is instantly involving, with plotting that rockets along. Francis Tucket, 15, and his two young charges, the talkative Lottie and her little brother, Billy, are on the run, one step ahead of the ruthless Comancheros, "the dirt-meanest men Francis had ever seen in a world full of mean men." The children are valuable commodities on the frontier, easily "sold or traded into slavery." As the youngsters flee, they battle the elements, find a treasure, meet up with a tribe of friendly Pueblo Indians, and are captured by a pair of pitiless thieves. The book is bursting with clearly limned, colorful characters and despite his lightning pace, Paulsen finds time for softer moments as well. Francis, for example, who hasn't seen his kin since he was stolen by the Pawnee, realizes that he loves Lottie and Billy, and that they "were more of a family to him than the one he'd lost." This invigorating story is just right for readers who like their action at a gallop. (Fiction. 9-12) Read full book review >
CANOE DAYS by Gary Paulsen
Released: March 9, 1999

The Paulsens' picture book offers a tranquil, meditative idyll that glides as easily as a canoe on still water. The beauty of a solitary day on a lake springs to life through poetic words and serene illustrations, which are appropriately hazy and luminous by turns. But while the protagonist lazily paddles and rests, the natural world bustles around him: fish dart and feed under water; animals bathe and hunt in the wood; birds and insects flit overhead. This observant and understated look into nature is both soothing and surprising. (Picture book. 4-7) Read full book review >
BRIAN'S RETURN by Gary Paulsen
Released: Jan. 1, 1999

Paulsen brings the story he began in Hatchet (1987) and continued in the alternate sequels The River (1991) and Brian's Winter (1996) around to a sometimes-mystical close. Surviving the media coverage and the unwanted attention of other high school students has become more onerous to Brian than his experiences in the wild; realizing that the wilderness has become larger within him than the need to be with people, Brian methodically gathers survival equipment—listed in detail—then leaves his old life behind. It takes some time, plus a brutal fight and sessions with a savvy counselor, before Brian reaches that realization, but once out under the trees, it's obvious that his attachment to the wild is a permanent one. Becoming ever more attuned to the natural wonders around him, he travels over a succession of lakes and streams, pausing to make camp, howl with a wolf, read Shakespeare to a pair of attentive otters and, once, to share a meal with an old man who talks about animal guides and leaves a medicine bundle for him. Readers hoping for the high adventure of the previous books may be disappointed, as Brian is now so skilled that a tipped canoe or a wild storm are only inconveniences, and even bears more hazard than threat; still, Paulsen bases many of his protagonist's experiences on his own, and the wilderness through which Brian moves is vividly observed. Afterword. (Fiction. 11-13) Read full book review >
SOLDIER'S HEART by Gary Paulsen
Released: Sept. 1, 1998

The nightmare of the Civil War comes to the page in this novel from Paulsen (The Transall Saga, p. 741, etc.), based on the real-life experiences of a young enlistee. Charley Goddard, a hard-working, sweet-tempered Minnesota farm boy, can't wait to sign up when the call comes for men to defend the Union. But the devoted son and brother who looks forward to sending home the $11 a month he earns for his soldiering is not prepared for the inedible food, ill-fitting uniform, or the dysentery he experiences just while training. The passages on the battles of Bull Run and Gettysburg are—as they should be—disconcerting, even upsetting, in the unflinching portrayal of the bloodshed and savagery of war. What is truly remarkable is Paulsen's portrayal of Charley, who is transformed from an innocent boy into a seasoned—but not hardened or embittered—soldier. Most haunting of all, more than the fiery skirmishes themselves, is the final picture of Charley, so shaken and drained from the experience that the only peace he can envision lies within suicide. An author's note tells of Charley's true fate—dead at 23 from the psychological and physical ravages of war. (Fiction. 10-14) Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 1998

Paulsen (My Life in Dog Years, 1998, etc.), treading water, offers a competent fantasy-adventure about a boy who is time-warped into a primitive world, undergoes the hero's journey, and proves he can get the girl and still go home again. Mark, 13, is thrilled to spend a few days in the desert camping, until a mysterious light transports him to a place and time not his own. When he comes upon other people, recognizable but clearly different from himself, he sees that he is in a society close to that of the first peoples in North America. The language is plain, action-oriented, and always driven toward cliff-hanging chapter endings, but there is little in the way of character development. Instead the story is filled with some powerful if old-fashioned archetypes engaged in fairly primal give-and-take: Mark kills a horrible beast and thereby rescues a young maiden from its clutches; he kills or outsmarts all enemies; he is accepted as a warrior and undergoes ceremonial tributes as such; he's sweet to younger children; and prepares to marry the chief's daughter. Other than referring to pizza and his parents once or twice, Mark is at home as a warrior/survivor; his former life falls away even as he searches for the way back to the present. In the end, the light brings a 17-year-old Mark back from what was a future brought about by a great epidemic; his readjustment is unremarked upon. Readers last glimpse Mark as an adult, trying to find a vaccine for the vires behind the epidemic. (Fiction. 10- 14) Read full book review >
MY LIFE IN DOG YEARS by Gary Paulsen
Released: Feb. 1, 1998

Paulsen paid loving tribute to the sled dogs in his life in Puppies, Dogs and Blue Northers (1996) so gives eight more canine companions equal time: Snowball, who saved his life when he was seven, to Caesar, an enthusiastic Great Dane who "overwhelmed the furniture" but was gentle with children, to Fred, who did battle with an electric fence, to Quincy, who did battle with a bear that attacked the author's wife. Thoughtful, ironic, often hilarious, these vivid character portraits not only make winning stories, but convey a deep respect for all dogs: "They are wonderful and, I think, mandatory for decent human life." (Memoir. 10-13) Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 3, 1997

Lyrical and pleasing reflections on machinery, midlife crisis, and sundry other matters. Not long ago Paulsen, a Newbury Honor author of books for children, as well as books for adults (Eastern Sun, Western Moon, 1993, etc.), turned 57 and discovered he had a heart ailment. He also discovered, he writes, that he is a man, in a time when it has become anachronistic to be masculine. To avert the horror of growing old, cuddly, and debilitated, Paulsen went out and bought a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, shopping for which turned out to be a challenge—for a new bike, he learned, he'd have to pay a small fortune and then wait three years for delivery. Arming himself with a used machine, he took to the road, making his way from New Mexico to Alaska and back again, celebrating the freedom afforded him by the Harley-as-extension-of-self. The book that resulted from his trip is really a series of loosely connected essays. One treats the curious career of George Armstrong Custer, whom Paulsen seems intent on rehabilitating. Writing in a Hemingwayesque turn, he takes the line that, while it is politically incorrect to express respect for the doomed general, it is difficult not to admire his courage, and in the end it could be said that he was given his measure of fame—which is more than most men are given. Another essay explores the American worship of know-how, the almost religious aspect of being a mechanic that does not seem to exist in other countries. Still another deals with the myriad ways there are to meet one's maker on the back of a motorcycle, crushed by an errant piece of livestock or splattered by a road-hogging RV. These meditations don't quite add up to a full-tilt memoir, but they make a nice entertainment all the same. Read full book review >
SARNY by Gary Paulsen
Released: Oct. 1, 1997

The slave child who learned to read in Nightjohn (1993) looks back from the age of 94 on her life during and after the Civil War. It's a moving tale, made more so by Sarny's clipped, matter-of-fact voice—utterly distinct, with strength and determination shining through every line. Paulsen moves away both from the first book's mystic language and explicit brutality; Sarny watches hated slavaowner Waller die of a bayonet wound, and later sits with four gut-shot soldiers (whose names she still remembers so many decades later), but both scenes are virtually bloodless. When it comes to describing the occupation of Laura Harris, Sarny is all but oblique: "She lived in a fancy house in New Orleans where men came and went," and "I don't think too much on her morals. Just think on her as a friend." A friend indeed: Miss Laura, passing as white, not only pays generous wages, but gives Sarny a house and a building for her first school, and makes her heir to a huge fortune. Sarny leaves it all in her daughter Delie's hands and sets out for Texas to start more schools. The next 50 years pass in a few paragraphs, the ending seems abrupt, and, ultimately, the plot takes too many convenient turns; still, Sarny's indomitability will win over skeptics, and the way her ability to read frees more than her body will not be lost on thoughtful readers. (Fiction. 11-13) Read full book review >
Released: June 1, 1997

A rollicking tale that's dressed up like a novel but reads more like a memoir, from the new comedian on the block, Paulsen (Worksong, p. 304, etc.). The never-named narrator, whom readers are led to believe is Paulsen himself, is a nerd just like his friend, Harold Schernoff; together they are "easily the most unpopular boys" in their junior high. But if Harold is a brainy geek, with theories about everything from girls to fishing to bullies, the narrator operates under a somewhat dimmer star, willing to help Harold test his theories and come up with results that are just short of disastrous. Under Harold's leadership they find a surefire way to meet girls—by enrolling in home economics—until the football team finds out and Harold has a bigger problem to solve. Other adventures involve skiing and fishing—spectacular failures; the job they get as pinsetters in a local bowling alley results in one of the funniest episodes in the book and, incidentally, leads to the narrator's small triumph over the bully Dick Chimmer. It's all flat-out goofy and great fun, as well as an inspiring story of shared experiences that, weird as they are, form the basis of a strong and affectionate friendship. (Fiction. 10+) Read full book review >
WORKSONG by Gary Paulsen
Released: April 1, 1997

The Paulsens (Woodsong, 1990, etc.) create a song—really a lyric verse—in praise of ordinary workers, a refreshing slant for a culture mired in the worship of celebrity. "It is keening noise and jolting sights,/and houses up and trees in sun,/and trucks on one more midnight run." The text doesn't always name the job or worker, but refers to an aspect of it—the mentions of "flat, clean sidewalks" and "towering buildings" force readers to think about the sweepers and construction teams pictured in the illustrations. The artwork serves a dual purpose: The oil paintings gorgeously convey a tangible sense of the work environment while also ennobling its humble inhabitants. Among those shown: the woman who toils in the canteen kitchen ("making things for all to share"), workers at computer terminals ("offices filled with glowing screens"), a new mother and nurse ("gentle arms that lift and hold"). Last and surely not least, the text acknowledges why people work: "It's mother, father in a chair,/with tired eyes and loosened hair./Resting short but loving long,/resting for the next day's song. (Picture book. 4-8) Read full book review >
TUCKET'S RIDE by Gary Paulsen
Released: Feb. 1, 1997

Another entry in the ongoing saga of young Francis Tucket (Call Me Francis Tucket, 1995, etc.) and his adventures after being separated from his parents' wagon train. He is still saddled with two young children he rescued after their parents died of cholera. Francis protects a Mexican woman from an attack by an American soldier, nearly gets hung by the soldier's commander, and is captured by the brutal Comancheros during the war between the US and Mexico. Like its predecessors, this novel wanders all over the map, but it's nicely crammed with nonstop adventure. The serialized publication, sheer number of Dickensian coincidences, characters, and incidents, as well as the innocence of the main character, makes this read like Nicholas Nickleby, set in in the Old West. Still, Paulsen proves himself nothing if not reliable—the pacing is flawless, the prose seemingly effortless, and the pages just fly by. (Fiction. 10+) Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 1996

Readers who aren't misled by the New Age subtitle—"Reflections on Being Raised by a Pack of Sled Dogs"—will find themselves along on a wonderful ride. Paulsen (Brian's Winter, 1996, etc.) is not known for writing love stories, but that's exactly what this lyrical, tender account is, showcasing Cookie, his primary lead dog for some 14,000 miles (including the path of the Iditarod), who saved Paulsen's life more than once. It's also the story of one of Cookie's litters of pups and the joy and inspiration Paulsen found in watching them learn and grow. He has fascinating tales to tell about how Cookie and the other adult dogs trained them. All wasn't work for the pups; the fun they had when Paulsen broke one of the cardinal rules for raising pups and let them into his house makes for a sidesplitting tale. The story remains, always, Cookie's, and when the day comes that she can no longer run because of arthritis, it nearly breaks her heart—and Paulsen's too. Upon learning that his health will no longer permit him to run either, man and dog settle into a different life, one of domestic companionship, until Cookie's blessedly peaceful death (there will be, as they say, no dry eyes in the house). "Such a bond, such a love I had with Cookie"—and such a book he wrote to share that love with others. (Nonfiction. 10+) Read full book review >
BRIAN'S WINTER by Gary Paulsen
Released: Feb. 1, 1996

Suppose Brian Robeson hadn't been rescued from the wilderness before hard winter set in? On this premise Paulsen (The Rifle, p. 1286) crafts a companion/sequel to Hatchet (1987) containing many of its same pleasures: seeing Brian face challenge after life- threatening challenge, of both the immediate and the insidious kind, aided only by ingenuity, spirit, sharp eyes, and a tiny cache of salvaged gear; discovering with him the tools and skills needed for survival; savoring Paulsen's economical, evocative descriptions of woodland sights, sounds, and smells. Brian learns how to hunt large game with bows and arrows and to fashion crude but effective winter clothing and shelter just in time for winter rains and snows. Having already fought his battles with fear, despair, and loneliness in the previous book, Brian seems almost comfortable, his thoughts of home more a way of passing time than a source of any sharp emotion, and when a family of Cree trappers finds him at the end, he leaves with mixed feelings, clearly seduced by the wild. Aside from a brief foreword, Paulsen picks Hatchet's story up in midstream; read together, the two books make his finest tale of survival yet. (Fiction. 10-14) Read full book review >
THE RIFLE by Gary Paulsen
Released: Sept. 1, 1995

Once again Paulsen (The Tent, p. 474) proves that less is more in a short but extremely powerful cautionary tale. Four sections limn the elements of the story: the creation of the gun and its path through history, the life of a boy, the moment when the boy and the gun are "joined," and the rifle's fate after that event. This is Hitchcock's bomb under the bed: The suspense is nearly killing, yet from the 1768 scenes of the crafting of this "sweet" rifle, Paulsen forges descriptions to rival any he has written, and readers—on any side of the gun-control issue—must linger over each phrase. Gunsmith Cornish McManus's rifle shoots farther and truer, maybe, than any firearm ever created. The rifle's next owner, woodsman John Byam, depends on the gun for his livelihood; his skill picking off British officers during the Revolution becomes legendary. Upon his death the rifle falls into the hands of a woman who hides it in her attic, where it lies undetected for more than two centuries. In 1993 it is discovered and changes hands several times before finding a place over the fireplace in the home of Harv Kline, a decent man. When Harv and his wife light the decorative candles on their mantel for Christmas Eve, the stage is set for a horrifying sequence of events that results in the death of a neighbor's 14-year-old son. Paulsen is at the peak of his powers in a book that is as shattering as the awful events it depicts. Unforgettable. (Fiction. 12+) Read full book review >
Released: June 1, 1995

Francis, 14, is alone on the frontier. In Mr. Tucket (1969) he was captured by Indians, rescued by the mountain man Mr. Grimes, and learned to survive. He continues his journey westward across the endless prairie, hoping to find his parents in a wagon train headed for Oregon. Along the way he is beset by thieves, caught in a buffalo stampede, and adopted by two young children whose father has died of cholera and who have been abandoned by the fearful adults in their wagon train. Characteristic of all Paulsen's works, the narrative flow is smooth and uncluttered, the action gritty and realistic, the story thrilling. This one reads like the second book of a trilogy; it starts in the middle and doesn't go anywhere, and familiarity with the first book is mandatory. But if Call Me Francis Tucket is unsatisfying on its own, like good serial fiction, it will make readers eager to find out what happens next, and hope a third book is in the offing. (Fiction. 10+) Read full book review >
THE TENT by Gary Paulsen
Released: April 1, 1995

A formulaic rags-to-riches tale about learning a skill and becoming a success, with an odd twist: The skill in question is preaching at religious revivals. Steven's father gets tired of working for minimum wage and decides to try his luck at evangelism, about which he knows nothing. Steven, 14, is initially skeptical, but comes around once the business takes off. Readers watch them gradually learn how things are done, from their uncertain first steps (about something as basic as setting up a tent), to a more confident position (they win over a hostile audience), to their eventual rise to success (they incorporate "healing" into the act). Their progress is measured by the increasing sums of money in the collection: $28, $150, $300, and much more, until Steven has run out of hiding places for it. The fake cripples who orchestrate the healings are genuinely colorful characters, full of insight: "Ever wonder why profits and prophets sound so much alike?" But as soon as he reaches the top, Steven's father has a revelation and, reforming in the last ten pages of the novel, decides to give away all the money and spend the rest of the summer preaching for real. This has a slightly manipulative plot — the kind that overwhelms the protagonists, and makes readers willing to swallow any details as long as the characters reach their goal — accompanied by some light moralizing by Steven (the narration remains gracefully nonjudgmental), which is always peripheral to the action and takes center stage only at the end. As with all stories of success, the most enjoyable thing about this book is how quickly it reads. (Fiction. 12+) Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 1994

Like the adolescent boys that are their target audience, these reminiscences of boyhood hunting and fishing are awkward and intense. Paulsen (Harris and Me: A Summer Remembered, 1993, etc.) portrays the Minnesota rivers and forests where he and his friends sought adventure in the late 1940s as more than sites to snag fish or bag grouse: They were settings in which the boys both escaped and confronted life. Paulsen, the neglected son of alcoholic parents, identifies himself as "one of the wasted ones." Showing how he and his companions sought salvation in the wilderness, "where our lives didn't hurt," Paulsen's most powerful moment comes in an essay about shooting his first deer: "He wasn't sure what he expected if he actually hit a deer....When he missed he swore and made up an excuse....But he had no excuse for hitting a deer. And he wanted one badly." This is the same sense of shock and of the dreadful burden of freedom in the wild that we encounter reading Frost or Twain, and it's exquisite. Otherwise this book lurches between rambling recollection and vivid re-creation of the past and is often marred by stiff writing and passive constructions. Like much of the hunting it describes, this book has one hit among numerous misses. (Nonfiction. 12+) Read full book review >
THE CAR by Gary Paulsen
Released: April 1, 1994

Paulsen's latest comes close to a classic teenage male fantasy of fleeing from home to seek independence and self. Both Terry's parents leave the same day; each phones asking him to tell the other. Since their quarrels have always obliterated any urge to parent it's no loss, especially since Terry has $1,000 and a kit to build a car. After handily putting it together and teaching himself to drive, the 14-year-old heads west. He picks up Waylon, an aging, footloose vet whose psychic wounds date to carrying out termination orders against civilians in 'Nam (as depicted in vignettes entitled "Memories," early on); Waylon takes Terry to Wayne, a war buddy who tries to temper Waylon's sporadic rages against injustice. Hoping to kindle the boy's curiosity, the two take him on a journey that includes meeting an ancient man who tells tales from US history and a madam who explains that another friend (also a prostitute) has died of AIDS; a poker game; a fundamentalist commune where women are rigidly oppressed; and the site of Custer's defeat. Scenes and camaraderie are vivid, the narrative pungent. Kids will be enthralled by Terry's freedom and his friends' aura of mystery and loyalty; they may also sympathize with Waylon's violent, though righteous, anger without understanding its terrible consequences. In an inconclusive ending, Terry heads back into a conflict with some local toughs that may well end like Custer's. What can he look forward to if he survives? Paulsen doesn't offer much. There's a strong conscience propelling this novel, but it's buried so deep that YA's caught up in the action may miss it. (Fiction. 12-16) Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 1993

In a bilingual flip-flop edition, a novella contrasting two 14-year-olds who have one fleeting but decisive encounter in a Texas mall where both have come for tools of their trade. Mexican-born Rosa, who has no green card and whose only English words are "foul" ones learned from her customers, works as a prostitute, the only job available to her; she sends as much money as she can back to her mother and clings to the idea of the baby Jesus, since she's sure the adult one would condemn her. Traci's mother, calling her "present marriage" ideal, insists that "how popular you are in high school and later, who you marry—all of that is determined now." Traci must get on the cheer-leading squad, and to that end she has closets full of clothes and spends hours on her makeup. In alternating chapters, Paulsen draws the circumstances of both girls' lives with insight, compassion, and enough outrage to stir the reader (without quite weakening his case by overstatement); in the end, the girls' meeting is an epiphany for Traci, who—at least for the moment—understands that "That girl and I—we are just the same." For Rosa, it's a tragedy: Traci's mother hands her over to pursuing guards, who have recognized her for what she is by her dress. Simplistic, perhaps, but still a riveting and accessible portrayal that's sure to lead to useful discussion. (Fiction. 12+) Read full book review >
DOGTEAM by Gary Paulsen
Released: Oct. 1, 1993

The author and his wife celebrate their longtime avocation of training sled dogs (Gary Paulsen has twice run the Iditarod). The text—crisp phrases, peremptory as barks, contrast with lyrical descriptions of the dogs' single-minded dedication to rushing onward—follows one glorious moonlit run, from harnessing and setting the dogs free ("The dance. Through the trees, in and out, the sled whipping after them through the trees with no sound but the song of the runners, the high-soft-shusshh-whine of the runners") to the return home and the dogs, still in harness, singing ("Did you did you did you did you.../Did you want it to last forever?"). Ruth Paulsen's individualized, delicately drawn dogs are all tension and action, beautifully set off by a more generalized watercolor background of forest, snow, and sky. An inspired collaboration vividly re-creating an exhilarating experience. (Picture book. 4+) Read full book review >
HARRIS AND ME by Gary Paulsen
Released: Oct. 1, 1993

As the boy explains, he's 11 years old that early-50's summer when a deputy sheriff dumps him with distant relatives on a north country farm—one in a long succession of makeshifts arranged in lieu of the parents who drink Four Roses neat from jelly jars and are "pretty much mean whenever they [are] conscious." The Larsons are sturdy, rough folk; Knute is virtually silent, though he's the source of his nine-year-old son Harris's richly profane vocabulary, which invariably elicits harsh (but ineffective) blows from "strapping" sister Glennis. In Harris's charge, the boy learns, the hard way, to avoid the cow with a brutal kick and the mouse-devouring "cat" that's actually a lynx. Ignored by their busy elders, Harris's imagination regularly gets the two into freewheeling "trouble" as dangerous as it is hilarious—trouble involving the two giant horses, or a runaway bike fitted with Harris's mother's gasoline washing-machine motor. By summer's end, the boy has learned to match Harris's wild pranks (he challenges Harris to urinate on an electric fence, with the expected result) and has fathomed the true humanity of the characters he so vividly and comically describes (the hired man gulping pancakes, syrup in his beard, is unforgettable). Just when he and the Larsons begin to regard each other as family, the boy is wrenched away. Poignantly, after one lonely letter from Harris, the book ends. The fecund Paulsen continues to extend his range: an earthy, wonderfully comic piece. (Fiction. 11-15) Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 1993

The acclaimed children's author now writes a children's story for adults—a remarkably vivid, often shocking memoir of his growing up in the US and the Philippines circa WW II. Paulsen's first memories set the harrowing tone: In powerfully precise declarative prose (far removed from the rhythmic lyricisms of his autobiographical Clabbered Dirt, Sweet Grass, 1992), he writes of sitting up late, as a toddler, and listening to the radio while his baby sitter, "an old woman" who "had hair out of her ears and nostrils," would drink wine from a jelly jar. "Father" was off with Patton; "Mother," a beauty, worked at a munitions factory, and her first extended appearance here is when she kicks to death a tramp who tries to molest her son. Such sudden violence, as well as graphic sex, riddles the narrative: Called to the Philippines to join Father after the war, Paulsen and Mother take a boat across the Pacific; along the way, they see sharks devour many 0survivors of a plane crash. In the Philippines, as Paulsen adjusts to life with his stern father, the violence continues: A man is cut in half by flying debris from a typhoon; Paulsen jumps from a great height and severs his tongue. But there are unexpected boyhood pleasures too: forays into the jungle and into the arms of a young female servant; the wild joy of "going native" under the tutelage of a male servant. Mother drinks too much, however, and sleeps around, and Father also loves the bottle dearly—and so, after one drunken, bitter Christmas Eve, Mother drags back to the States a boy who's older, perhaps not wiser, but vastly more experienced. An indelible account of a childhood lived on the edge, hallmarked by Paulsen's sinewy writing, purity of voice, and, especially, by his bedrock honesty. Read full book review >
NIGHTJOHN by Gary Paulsen
Released: Feb. 1, 1993

A searing picture of slavery, sometime in the 19th century at an unspecified place in the South. Sarny, young enough not to have experienced the rape that will come inexorably with child- bearing age, tells how she learned to read, and at what cost. Nightjohn has escaped more than once, but courageously returns to share his knowledge with those who have no way of knowing the world beyond their plantation. Caught, he arrives as a slave driven by the viciously cruel master, Clel Waller. Sarny has been warned of the dangers of learning to read, and knows the terrible punishments are not empty threats but realities; still, Nightjohn easily persuades her to learn—which seems more plausible than Sarny's careless writing of letters with her toe in the dirt, so that Waller catches her. Fiendishly, he chooses to punish her adopted "mammy," thus impelling a confession from Nightjohn— who survives his own brutal penalty to escape and return to teach again. The compelling events are ineradicably memorable. Paulsen begins by saying that, "Except for variations in time and character identification and placement, [they] are true and actually happened." But like that last phrase, some of the violence here is redundant: it's not necessary to describe three different but equally terrible deaths suffered by runaways set upon by dogs to make the point. Still, the anguish is all too real in this brief, unbearably vivid book. (Fiction. YA) Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1992

Tapping his sources for The Cookcamp (1991) once again, Paulsen tells another evocative story about a small boy alone with his mother during WW II. It could be the same boy, perhaps a year later, who describes their long train journey to northern Minnesota to visit an aunt and uncle who live behind their country store. The boy is troubled by doubts: Before they left Chicago, he glimpsed a mean old neighbor, Mr. Henderson, dressed in a Santa suit. Is it still worth trying to be good if Mr. Henderson is Santa, or if Santa doesn't exist at all? Also, the boy's slightly older cousin Matthew—bedridden and known to be dying—is a subduing source of puzzlement: The boy's father might die in Europe, meaning that he would never come home—but Matthew is already home. What, then, can dying mean? Skillfully and unsentimentally, Paulsen depicts the adults' grief as they prepare for Matthew's last Christmas through the perceptions of a narrator who is so young that he can't really comprehend, but is already a thoughtful and caring individual. The boys' friendly interaction—Matthew contrives games they can share and they worry together about Santa's existence—ring especially true. In the end, a Santa in whom the boys can believe does turn up; it's up to the reader to judge whether he's Uncle Ben's doing, or Paulsen's. A holiday heartwarmer that will appeal to a wide audience. Illustrations not seen. (Fiction. 8-12) Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 23, 1992

A lyrical and sensual celebration of four seasons on the American farm. Paulsen—a prolific and Newbery-winning children's author who's been venturing into the adult market lately (the thriller Kill Fee, 1990, etc.)—brings to this slim but rich appreciation a passion and wisdom not evident in his last adult nonfiction book, 1977's Farm. And also a burnished—at times preciously so—literary style, based on astute observation, wonderfully exact language, and definite cadence: "[The thresher machine] holds, oh yes it holds, and the grates begin to shuffle back and forth, the small saw teeth ripple like water, oh yes, the keyway holds and the machine—she—groans and heaves and humps and bucks and in a great crashing of noise and year-old dust and mouse nests it is there. It is there." Paulsen begins with his inspiration for the book—a moving encounter with an 82-year-old farmer whore beloved horse has just died—and then devotes an essay to each season, spring to winter, drawing on his own memories and telling stories he's heard to evoke and honor—sometimes with considerable power—farm life. And the nine postimpressionist paintings by Ruth Wright Paulsen, the author's wife, nicely complement his colorful prose. Read full book review >
THE HAYMEADOW by Gary Paulsen
Released: June 1, 1992

Left in a remote mountain pasture to care for 6000 sheep, a Wyoming rancher's 14-year-old son has a typical Paulsen series of adventures. Tink, loyal hand who usually watches the herd, is dying of cancer, and John's widowed dad is with him; the ranch's taciturn other hand helps get the sheep to the haymeadow and leaves John with little instruction. But the boy is capable and courageous; in just two days, he has to deal with a skunk, a rattlesnake, a wounded dog, a stampede, a flash flood, a pack of voracious coyotes, and an injury that nearly kills him; remarkably, he recovers with the loss of a few sheep and the labels off his canned goods—only to confront a vicious bear. After 47 days, his dad comes to report that Tink, miraculously, is recovering; he plans to leave next morning but—after the first real talk father and son have ever had—decides to stay on for the summer's last weeks. Good enough as an adventure; Paulsen's trademark run-on sentences keep it moving, and he certainly understands coping with the wild, though the perils here are so unbelievably many that they become laughable. Meanwhile, John's fixation on the self-reliant great-grandfather who founded the ranch is not well enough integrated with either the action or the present-day relationships to serve its ostensible purpose of motivating John's character and behavior. An entertaining yarn, but a minor literary effort. (Fiction. 10-14) Read full book review >
THE MONUMENT by Gary Paulsen
Released: Oct. 1, 1991

Paulsen quotes Katherine Anne Porter: "Art is what we find when the ruins are cleared away." In exploring this provocative remark, he reveals much about his own art. Seedy, independent Mick arrives in Bolton, Kansas, to design its Vietnam Memorial. For days, he observes and draws—animals, people, the graveyard—followed by narrator Rocky, a "caramel-colored" lame teenager adopted, at nine, by good-hearted Emma and Fred. Enthralled by Mick's art, Rocky realizes that she, too, is an artist; Mick agrees, offering pointers and the respect due a fellow professional. But the town is appalled by Mick's drawings: his telling chalk reveals too much—including Tru (who hired him) in the nude. As Mick anticipated, people react most negatively to what he considers his strongest work. Then, skillfully, he leads them to accept a monument to please everyone: 18 trees, one for each of Bolton's military dead, going back to the Civil War. Rocky calls BoRon "a microcosm of the world." Of course—but only as seen in the idiosyncratic if wise vision of Mick, who wryly succeeds in giving the town a dignified monument despite itself. He also transforms two lives: Rocky finds a calling; Tru, awakened to her own humanity, joins Mick when he goes. Meanwhile, several "ruins" are suggested—wars and bar fights; the lives of Mick, Emma, and Fred (who drink a lot but function well); orphaned Rocky;, Mick's rejected drawings. Each gives rise to some sort of art or to a creative relationship; the macho view of the artist lurks, but not offensively. An intriguing, ironic tale, written vividly and with memorable humor. (Fiction. 12+) Read full book review >
THE RIVER by Gary Paulsen
Released: June 1, 1991

A sequel to the most popular of Paulsen's three Newbery Honor books (Hatchet, 1987), based on an unlikely premise— government researchers want Brian to reenact his northwoods survival so that his strategies can be observed and taught to others. Derek, a young psychologist, and Brian are dropped off at another Canadian lake, near the first one, equipped only with knives and a radio that Derek has promised not to use except in a dire emergency. Everything goes all too smoothly until their camp is struck by lightning, zapping the radio and leaving Derek in a coma. Brian manages to float Derek 100 miles down a river to a trading post, thus saving his life. The lyrically described details of Brian's adventure— building a fire, making a raft—are of most interest here; for all its graphically evoked perils (rapids, the craft's unwieldiness, exhaustion), the journey's successful outcome seems less in doubt than did the outcome of the compelling autobiographical wilderness experiences described in Woodsong (1990). In Hatchet, Brian discovered his own strength, adding depth, complexity, and tension to the story; here, that strength is a given—as he himself points out. Perfunctory in design but vividly written, a book that will, as intended, please the readers who hoped that Paulsen, like Brian, would "do it again." (Fiction. 11-14) Read full book review >
THE COOKCAMP by Gary Paulsen
Released: March 1, 1991

Sent, at five, to live with his grandmother in the wilds of northern Minnesota—where she is cook for nine rough men who are building a road from nowhere to nowhere (in case the vicissitudes of WW II should make it useful)—"the boy" experiences a brief, idyllic interlude tempered by longing for his mother, as well as by other carefully selected intrusions of reality. His grandmother is quintessentially accepting and, better yet, sensible and imaginative: she gives him real work to do helping her prepare meals, tells him how to make friends with the chipmunks, makes a game of exploring her sewing box. The men, whose awesome size Paulsen astutely describes from a small boy's point of view, adopt him wholeheartedly—take him aboard the bulldozer; buy him a real knife; care for him while his grandmother takes an injured man to the hospital. But, in the long run, these treats are not enough. The boy lets slip that he's been sent from Chicago because his mother is involved with another man while his father is in the army; the grandmother promptly writes some deeply felt letters that result in his going home. A poignant final chapter provides context by summarizing the grand-mother's long life. The audience for this spare, beautifully written vignette is a question; it may take some introduction, but is well worth creative experimentation: a readaloud for good listeners in the early grades? adults? Meanwhile, like The Winter Room (1989), a memorable evocation of a special time and place, grounded in authentic insight into deeper truths. Read full book review >
KILL FEE by Gary Paulsen
Released: Aug. 31, 1990

A no-nonsense newsman tracks down a child sex-and-murder ring in Paulsen's second adult thriller, no more original than his first (Night Rituals, 1989) but as sleek and tightly controlled as the abundant juvenile fiction that's won him two Newbery Awards. Paulsen weaves his taut tale from three main plot lines that knot only in the last few pages. Most central is that of veteran Colorado crime-reporter Tally Janrus, who answers an urgent plea from a homicide cop: to help solve a nationwide series of sex-killings that have found several children mysteriously lying dead, battered and molested, in rural areas. Digging out leads from a sleazy fellow reporter, taking time out to visit his rancher girlfriend, Tally finally deduces that the dead kids were dropped from an airplane. Intercut with Tally's story is the multistrand tale of several villains, among them: Rev, an evangelist whose sideline is kidnapping children (including young Davey Hascombs, whose snatch and molestation give the novel its cruel, realistic edge) and turning them over to. . .amoral homosexual procurer Billee Constairs, who then sells the kids to. . .arch-criminal Carlyle Rissden, who pimps them to sadistic billionaires and then has them killed. Meanwhile, in further intercut chapters, an ancient and ill Hispanic waits by a lonely airstrip in New Mexico, rifle in hand, hoping to spot a drug-smuggling airplane and get a reward with which to buy medicine. When the plot lines tie up, a rough justice prevails; before then, Tally will have lost his girlfriend, leaving him at novel's end with only his journalist's code, his battered Olivetti, and "the story"—not enough for happiness, but probably enough for a sequel. A familiar tale, with echoes of Leonard, Vachss, and Chandler; but without a wasted word in the telling, and with sharply drawn characters, it's still lean, swift, and satisfying. Read full book review >
WOODSONG by Gary Paulsen
Released: Aug. 1, 1990

A three-time Newbery Honor winner tells—in a memoir that is even more immediate and compelling than his novels—about his intimate relationship with Minnesota's north woods and the dog team he trained for Alaska's Iditarod.

Beginning with a violent natural incident (a doe killed by wolves) that spurred his own conversion from hunter and trapper to observing habitant of the forest, Paulsen draws a vivid picture of his wilderness life—where bears routinely help themselves to his dog's food and where his fiercely protective bantam adopts a nestful of quail chicks and then terrorizes the household for an entire summer. The incidents he recounts are marvelous. Built of concrete detail, often with a subtext of irony or mystery, they unite in a modest but telling self-portrait of a man who has learned by opening himself to nature—not to idyllic, sentimental nature, but to the harsh, bloody, life-giving real thing. Like nature, the dogs are uncontrollable: independent, wildly individual, yet loyal and dedicated to their task. It takes extraordinary flexibility, courage, and generosity to accept their difficult strengths and make them a team: Paulsen sees humor in their mischief and has learned (almost at the cost of his life) that rigid discipline is irrelevant, even dangerous. This wonderful book concludes with a mesmerizing, day-by-day account of Paulsen's first Iditarod—a thrilling, dangerous journey he was so reluctant to end that he almost turned back within sight of his goal. lt's almost as hard to come to the end of his journal.

This may be Paulsen's best book yet: it should delight and enthrall almost any reader. Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 1990

A total surprise from the award-winning author of, most recently, The Winter Room (1989, Newbery Honor): a comic, accessible novel about a classic 15-year-old klutz. Slight, quiet, and much brighter than his dismal grades imply, Jacob has focused his talents on the art of being invisible and thus avoiding the jocks, of whom he is the quintessential victim. Despite his efforts, though, he's noticed by a teacher who drafts him to run the fog machine for a production of The Wizard of Oz. Hopelessly enamored of Maria, the popular, genuinely nice girl who plays the witch, Jacob panics at the chance of getting to know her, manages (like the Phantom of the Opera) to keep out of sight as usual, fouls up completely (and hilariously) in his not-so-simple theatrical task—and discovers, finally, that Maria likes him, too. Since this is a Paulsen book, there's another level here. Jacob is so self-involved that he's oblivious to the subtleties of others' motives and assumes that he's the lowest in every pecking order—which is only partly true, and true in that part because he himself perpetuates it. The book is deftly constructed, the brief chapters like the blush strokes of a master painter, with remarkably apt sketches of minor characters (Uncle Frank, "tough as nails," looks "like a spark plug"). A perceptive portrait of a kid on the verge of getting out of his self-set trap of imagining any change as a threat—even change for the better: a memorably funny yet touching farce. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 1, 1990

One of Paulsen's earliest novels (it received very limited distribution in 1978): a romantic, unusual love story that presages his later strengths—and weaknesses. Almost totally isolated after she and her sculptor mother move to a small New Mexican town where the other high-school students are Chicanos whose social customs exclude her, Janet has a recurring dream: an Indian shoots an arrow at a deer, an arrow that is interrupted by her waking. Perhaps because the dream's elusive meaning haunts her (Is the Indian hungry? Whose side is she on?), Janet is fascinated by an old drunken Indian who hangs out in the plaza, befriends him, and (to his astonishment and her mother's initial dismay) brings him home. As their tentative, prickly relationship develops, he takes her to his pueblo but doesn't ask her in, brings her presents, serenades her, and finally leads her into the mountains, following a traditional Indian courting ritual—then sends her home alone, to complete her dream at last. Though not very credible—the mother's fairly calm acceptance of their association is particularly implausible—and though Janet's yearning after this noble reprobate smacks of male fantasy, the story does have the charm of a unique, idyllic love between an honest fallen man and a caring, young girl of another culture. The setting and its people are entirely realized; the rounding, repetitive style is all Paulsen. For his fans, well worth reading. Read full book review >
THE WINTER ROOM by Gary Paulsen
Released: Oct. 1, 1989

More a prose poem than a novel, this beautifully written evocation of a Minnesota farm perhaps 40 years ago consists of portraits of each of the four seasons, along with four brief stories told by old Uncle David in the room the family calls "The Winter Room." And, in its way most revealing, there is also an introduction ("Tuning") so skillfully written that it ironically belies its own message: that books cannot have smells, or sound, or light, since these must be supplied by the reader in response to the author's words. With his authentic descriptions, Paulsen makes it easy for the reader to comply. It's not clear to whom Eldon, the 11-year-old narrator, speaks—mostly he describes, rather than explains, though the explanatory creeps in: "Each cow has to have a calf or it won't. . .give milk." Unlike the novels of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Jean George, which also conjure life in a particular setting through the accumulation of detail, this presentation of the marvelous minutiae of farm life supports only a gossamer plot hinging on the relationship between story and reality. As carefully structured as cobweb, the idea is there, almost invisible, from early on, when emulating a feat in a Zane Grey novel results in a dangerous prank; it resurfaces in the character of Father, who doesn't answer questions but enjoys speaking in simile; and climaxes when Eldon's brother challenges the fragile illusion of Uncle David's stories by calling them lies, causing a moving philosophical crisis in this taciturn family. Readers will be rare, but this is too fine to be ignored as a shelf-sitter. Read full book review >
NIGHT RITUALS by Gary Paulsen
Released: July 28, 1989

Right on the heels of his first adult novel (Murphy's Herd, a 1989 western, not reviewed) comes this skilled but derivative cops-vs.-serial-killer story from Paulsen, a prolific and two-time Newbery-winning children's author. Paulsen trumpets his new-found adult subject matter with a vengeance: page one finds the unnamed serial killer, as a child, graphically molested by his mom; a few pages and decades later, a janitor at Denver's Stapleton Airport finds a woman's severed breast in a discarded bag. Into this swamp wades Denver homicide cop Ed "Push" Tincker, strong but sensitive—the kind of cop who gets drunk and obsessively drives by his ex-wife's house—and not beyond stepping outside the law to see justice done. "Please don't let this be a cutter," Push hopes, but of course it is, a maniac who—as it's gradually revealed—is not only reenacting Aztec blood rituals, but is an airplane pilot. Could he be the shadowy pilot-husband of the woman with whom Push is having a torrid affair? Sometime after the killer outwits a police ambush and snuffs Push's partner, Push starts to think so, and so do we; but author Paulsen's not that blatant, and the killer turns out to be another pilot altogether. Determined not to let this madman off ("If he arrested Harvitt and proceeded through normal channels the son of a bitch would skate. . .Harvitt had to die"), Push buys a first-class seat and flies Harvitt's next flight to Seattle—a set-up for the exciting return flight and novel's finale, when a crazed Harvitt aims his plane like a javelin for Salt Lake City's Mormon Temple as Push muscles up for some do-or-die heroics. A mess of clich‚s (for a more original Aztec-ritual serial-killer scenario, see William Heffernan's Ritual, p. 74)—but all handled with expert care and rotated at such a rapid pace that the final result is satisfyingly gripping, if familiar, entertainment. Read full book review >
THE ISLAND by Gary Paulsen
Released: April 1, 1988

In a milder variation on the theme of self-discovery through experience sounded in Hatchet (Newbery Honor, 1988), Wil spends a few solitary days on an island near his home, tuning into nature and his own creativity. Wil has just moved from Madison, Wisconsin, to a decrepit country house near his father's new highway job. Feeling dislocated but not rebellious, Wil suddenly decides to camp out on the island that he has just discovered; he sends new friend Susan to tell his parents he won't be coming home for a while. He is engrossed in trying to re-create his experiences (what his grandmother was like, a turtle capturing and eating a sunfish) in words and in paint; he observes wildlife and takes up meditation. Meanwhile, his parents don't understand and are upset; they even send a psychologist to check him out, but not before the media have descended on this odd story. Wil is a fully developed character and—as Susan's mother suggests—gifted ("one of the thirsty people who need to know"); it's easy to imagine Paulsen as such an unusual boy. But there are some implausibilities in his story, including why a boy of 15 deciding to camp out a short distance from his home, in June, should cause such a fuss; and how such apparently limited and unimaginative parents could have produced such a son. And although there are some tautly written scenes (a fight with the local bully; Wil trying to imitate the loon's cry in order to understand the meaning of the loon), much of the book moves slowly. Fuller development of the parents would have made a stronger book; still, Wil's realization that they too are worthy of understanding makes a poignant conclusion to a novel that will appeal most to the unusual reader. Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 1988

Another tautly written survival story, much like Hatchet (1987, Newbery Honor Book) in design, though not in incident. David, 14, has just inherited Frog, a 22-foot sailboat, from his well-loved uncle and companion, Owen, dead of a cruelly swift cancer. Mourning, David is scattering Owen's ashes, alone and out of sight of the southern California coast (Owen's last request) when he is caught by a sudden storm and knocked out by the boom. After a series of adventures that gradually makes him more competent and confident—a becalming, a shark, an oil tanker that nearly collides with him, looming but friendly whales, another storm—he encounters a research ship and accepts some supplies, but decides to make his way home alone (350 miles against wind and current) rather than abandon the untowable Frog. Though David encounters plenty of life-threatening situations, there's never real doubt that he will survive; what holds attention here is the way he applies his ability to reason in coping with physical challenges and his own tear. As he acquires Owen's intimacy with Frog and sea, David also begins to assume Owen's best traits: his thirst for knowledge, his respect for the natural world. Like the adults in Hatchet, David's parents and Owen remain shadowy figures, within the range of the possible (though few parents would willingly allow a boy to undertake such a journey), but that is beside the point: this story is about the voyage of the Frog—an epic, often lyrical journey of self-discovery, perhaps less gripping than Hatchet but with a subtler, more penetrating delineation of its protagonist. Read full book review >
HATCHET by Gary Paulsen
Released: Sept. 1, 1987

A prototypical survival story: after an airplane crash, a 13-year-old city boy spends two months alone in the Canadian wilderness. In transit between his divorcing parents, Brian is the plane's only passenger. After casually showing him how to steer, the pilot has a heart attack and dies. In a breathtaking sequence, Brian maneuvers the plane for hours while he tries to think what to do, at last crashing as gently and levelly as he can manage into a lake. The plane sinks; all he has left is a hatchet, attached to his belt. His injuries prove painful but not fundamental. In time, he builds a shelter, experiments with berries, finds turtle eggs, starts a fire, makes a bow and arrow to catch fish and birds, and makes peace with the larger wildlife. He also battles despair and emerges more patient, prepared to learn from his mistakes—when a rogue moose attacks him and a fierce storm reminds him of his mortality, he's prepared to make repairs with philosophical persistence. His mixed feelings surprise him when the plane finally surfaces so that he can retrieve the survival pack; and then he's rescued. Plausible, taut, this is a spellbinding account. Paulsen's staccato, repetitive style conveys Brian's stress; his combination of third-person narrative with Brian's interior monologue pulls the reader into the story. Brian's angst over a terrible secret—he's seen his mother with another man—is undeveloped and doesn't contribute much, except as one item from his previous life that he sees in better perspective, as a result of his experience. High interest, not hard to read. A winner. Read full book review >
THE CROSSING by Gary Paulsen
Released: Sept. 1, 1987

Returning to some of the themes of Sentries, Paulsen tells a harshly taut story, set in a Mexican border town, about two people who meet on the edge of oblivion. Manny is an orphan who skitters along the border desperate to cross to the other side, if for no other reason than to escape the chicken hawks who prey on boys his age. Robert is a sergeant who crosses freely between Mexico and the US, but he is seeking another escape—into the bottle, in carefully controlled drunks to obliterate memory of Vietnam. The two meet three times: once when Manny tries to pick Robert's pocket and is allowed to go free; once when, pulled together by inner compulsions they cannot identify, they spend a day in each other's company, if not together; and finally, on the border itself when the ultimate answer to their dilemmas presents itself, and, in his own way, each goes free. Told from the point of view of both protagonists, the details of the story are familiar ones, and the style seems a bit too imitation-Hemingway. Paulsen, however, is skilled at pace, incident and characterization, and he uses these to pull the reader to the memorable—and powerful—last scene in which Robert's destruction is Manny's salvation. Graphic details and some harsh language make this a book for older children and teen-agers who will not want to put it down. Read full book review >
SENTRIES by Gary Paulsen
Released: April 1, 1986

Four young adults come to dramatic realizations that would profoundly alter their futures. . .if the world survived. Sue Oldhorn, a 17-year-old Ojibway, enjoys her job but is tormented by her grandfather's musings on the Indian heritage she ignores; then she meets Alan, an Indian so proud of his roots that he lives a primitive, idyllic forest life. David Garcia leaves Mexican poverty for the US with dreams of sending money back to his family, but after an agonizing day hoeing beets in Nebraska he realizes the hard life in store here. Laura Hayes, a Montana high-school senior, longs to help run the family ranch, but her father sends her to school; eventually, she draws the family together in a new acceptance of individuality. Peter Shackleton's band is breaking big, yet he abhors the phoniness of the rock scene and yearns to release a musical sound to unite an audience as one, a goal he finally achieves. The novel's power lies in the immediacy of these truncated beginnings; its only hope is in the title: if these promising young people are sentries, can they guard against annihilation of the fecund world so poignantly evoked on Paulsen's last page? Read full book review >
Released: Dec. 31, 1978

When you hoe beets you're alone, so alone you might as well be on another planet," and when you work a carnival, it's like being separate, detached, "from outer space"—and it's the runaway narrator's immersion in these other worlds that gives Paulsen's high-key, deep-think story a real punch. At sixteen, he's not ready to take up his uncle's offer of 80 flat North Dakota acres, not without a try for fame and fortune. The breakaway (said to resemble Paulsen's own) lands him first among brutalized wetbacks on a sugar-beet farm where nearly a month of dry beans and bread and short-handled hoeing "from can to can't" nets him—"I'll call it even," says the smirking padrone. On the road again after attacking the boss, he's picked up by carnies Tiltawhirl John (for the ride he operates), hard/ soft wife Wanda, a stripper, and brother Billy, T-John's twin except for his shaved pate: he's the wild man who bites the heads off chickens. Billy's also the one who explains "the turkey world and the carny world," and—answering the boy's question—how it is that T-John can stand "all those turkeys seeing Wanda naked." But the glazed, bored, carny look that the boy learns—and his comfort at being one of the family—don't survive a fatal knife fight between T-John and Wanda's former lover that snaps the two worlds together. Home again farming, he won't forget, though, and neither will the reader. The acute observations outweigh the portentousness. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 20, 1977

Hosannas for American farming as the biggest, the best, the most bountiful in the world—and a raspberry for those backward little guys in Europe and Asia about whose prodigies of production Paulsen evidently knows nothing at all. This is naked hucksterism, likable when Paulsen is recounting the crazy history of sheep-raising, questionable when he attributes the decimation of buffalo herds to an inexorable need for leather and prairie farmland, pernicious—and dead wrong—when he ascribes every agricultural advance,whether in stock breeding, equipment development, or cooperative organization, to American initiative. The last lapse is the outdated, reiterated assertion that "there is no surplus of food anywhere in the world"—which will be news to American farmers in 1977. But in this saga of conquest there are no falling incomes either, no subsidies, no Farmers Union, no Cargill or Del Monte or other agri-businesses. No index, for that matter, not that there'd be anything to look up. Read full book review >
THE FOXMAN by Gary Paulsen
Released: April 1, 1977

Set during the Korean war, this combination wilderness/anti-war story is narrated by a fifteen-year-old boy sent by the court to his Uncle's northern Minnesota farm after "my folks decided to stay drunk all the time." While hunting, he's caught in a storm and stumbles onto the shack of the Foxman, a "wodsy" who's lived as a recluse since a war injury left him hideously scarred. The boy is repelled at first, but he returns often to talk with the old man; he learns wood-lore, and listens to the Foxman rail about a world of "steel against flesh," and "science against beauty." Meanwhile, back at the farm, the men's nightly round-the-woodstove war stories pale, even though the Foxman excuses them as attempts to "pluck a rose from the manure." When the old man dies after rescuing the boy from yet another storm, he and his shack are burned in a funeral pyre. It's slickly written, with the North Woods dialect and descriptions of primitive subsistence farming to add some verisimilitude. But the boy's relationship with the old man seems stagey, and the Foxman himself only a mouthpiece. Read full book review >
WINTERKILL by Gary Paulsen
Released: Oct. 1, 1976

It's a measure of Paulsen's gut level effectiveness that one really does come to feel some affection for Duda, a corrupt cop who extorts graft from kids in the form of illegally taken fish, who spends most of his night shifts shooting rabbits and visiting his mistress, and who kills two unresisting bank robbers in cold blood. The narrator, a nameless, kid virtually abandoned by his drunken parents, loves Duda for saving him from a maniacal foster father who tries to beat the sin out of him with a chain. . . and later for talking him out of marrying a fourteen-year-old classmate pregnant by another guy. Mostly, however, this kid has no one else to attach himself to, and the relationship that's meant to reveal a loving human being hidden behind a brutalized exterior is devalued because it's drawn solely in terms of the boy's weakness. By flirting with moral ambivalence to a degree uncommon at this level, Paulsen does shake up the reader's emotions. Ultimately Duda's brand of toughness is simply bathetic, but readers who can take the explicit violence and are mature enough not to mistake clever writing for profundity will want to make that judgment on their own. Read full book review >
Released: April 26, 1976

Workbench instructions with photos on foundations, framing, siding, roofing, heating, plumbing, electrical wiring, trimming, and painting that snug cottage of your dreams. Or making structural and other repairs on that dilapidated shack. For the frugal and ambitious, even those who don't know a flat roof from a pitched or a truss. Good luck. Read full book review >
MR. TUCKET by Gary Paulsen
Released: Sept. 1, 1969

A wild (i.e. unfocused, unfounded) Western that turns sanctimonious at the conclusion. Separated from his family and the Oregon-bound wagon train, fourteen-year-old Francis Alphonse Tucker is captured by brutish Indians, then helped to escape and in effect apprenticed by laconic trapper Jason Grimes (who can't stomach Francis or Alphonse and therefore calls him Mr. Tucker). Their beaver trapping carries some weight but their encounters with the celebrated Jim Bridger and with a cross section of Plains Indians amount to little more than a run-around (characteristically, when Grimes fires "an impossible sho" from "an impossible range" it is "impossible to tell" what he is doing). And then, without warning, Grimes, having killed the bad Indian, Braid, scalps him. . . . "He was of the prairie, the land, the mountains—and was, in a way, a kind of animal (like the Indians). It was not wrong—not for Jason Grimes. But for Francis Alphonse Tucker? For someone from a farm in Missouri? For someone with a family waiting in Oregon?" Unfortunate. Read full book review >