Hatchet is a 1987 young reader novel written by noted author Gary Paulsen and was awarded a Newberry Honor in 1988. That year, After The Rain by Norma Fox Mazer also earned the silver Honor Award while Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman brought home the gold Newberry Winner Award. Obviously in good company, Hatchet is a book popular with teachers looking for avenues to get students reading. It is a quick read and definitely directed toward new readers.
The story stems around thirteen year old Brian Robeson who is torn between bitterly divorced parents. On a flight across northern Canada to visit his father, the pilot of the small plane suffers a fatal heart attack. The plane eventually runs out of fuel and crash lands in a small lake surrounded by the thick Canadian forest. Alone, with only a hatchet given to him as a present from his mother, Brian must do the impossible and learn to survive.
There are many life lessons in this adventurous tale. Most notably is the boy’s ability to never give up as he works through his fears and faces challenging obstacles. For a young reader, the main character is an encouraging role model. But there are also skeletons in the boy’s past, reminders of a secret he holds and refuses to face. This is not necessarily an exemplary trait warranted a hero and hopefully the reader can learn along the way also. But then again, many well written heroes are flawed.
The 1990 movie A Cry in the Wild was based on the novel Hatchet. A canonized story like this which introduces young readers to quality literature is important. If theatres can introduce the world of literature to young people by showing some of the quality work available, perhaps name recognition or word of mouth will recruit an even large audience. Regardless of the motive for working hand in hand, the joint venture of differing media outlets is indeed encouraging.
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen may not have garnished itself with the gold badge of the Newberry Award, but it did earn the silver Honor. Being distinguished by this prize not only points out its credibility in the literary field, it also opens the work up to a vast audience influenced by educators as well. Though the story has a few flaws, Hatchet is worthy of its accolades. But it is also important that it is introduced by the right people. As a parent of children in this target audience, this is important. As a tool for teachers and a means to encourage reading, this book can be a valuable asset.