Monday, October 18, 2021

Thank You, Gary

A friend texted me Friday morning to let me know that author Gary Paulsen had died on Thursday. It's a bit difficult to explain, but I felt saddened by the news all weekend. His books were a big part of our lives, and I know that's true for many other readers and families. 

Justin was a reluctant reader. I used to cringe when he told me he had to do a book report in elementary and middle school as I knew there would be a fight (or two) and some tears before the dreaded book report deadline. He would only read books about nature, animals, or adventure, so first came the issue of choosing a book. I think Justin chose Mr. Tucket himself based on the cover, but once he had discovered Gary Paulsen, choosing a book, reading it, and even writing the book report became much easier. 

Thankfully, Paulsen was a prolific author. The Tucket Adventures is a series of five books. He primarily wrote for children, but I think adults could learn a thing or two from his books. Some of them deal with adult topics, like Soldier's Heart and The Rifle, but he never wrote down to kids. I distinctly remember the discussions Justin and I had after he read those two books, and they were valuable for both of us. 

Then there is the Hatchet series, the books Paulsen may be best known for. Thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson is on his way to Canada in a small plane when the pilot suffers a heart attack, the plane crashes, and Brian has to survive with just his hatchet and resourcefulness. Gary Paulsen wrote four sequels to Hatchet, The River, Brian's Winter, Brian's Return, and Brian's Hunt. In Guts, Paulsen does just what the subtitle suggests, tells the true stories behind Hatchet and the Brian books. He could write these stories and readers responded to them because he lived them. In addition to his career as an author, he also worked as an engineer, construction worker, ranch hand, truck driver and sailor, and twice competed in the Iditarod. All of these served as inspirations for his novels. In his personal survival story, Gone to the Woods, he wrote the story of surviving his own lost childhood. What saved a young Gary Paulsen was the library and a librarian.

"And it became a sanctuary for me. The librarian - she watched me for a while. I was kind of this urchin, you know, a street urchin. Then she finally said, you want something? I said, nah I'm OK. And she gave me a card and - hard to talk about it. It was a card with my name on it. And, God, nobody had given me a - anything like that. Nobody gave me anything. She said, you should write down some of your thought pictures, which I called them, you know. I said, who - for who? And she said, me. None of this would have happened except for that."

It's sad to think that Gary Paulsen is no longer with us to write stories of survival and the wilderness. But he's left a legacy of over 200 books for readers of all types to discover, appreciate, and grow through reading. My sincere thanks go out to Gary Paulsen for all he has given and written. 


  1. I did not know that he passed away. Colin loved the Hatchet series. What a wonderful author!

  2. what a story and how sad that a great author has died.

  3. I felt the same way when I heard, Bonny. My Brian was also (is still . . . ) a reluctant reader. Thank goodness for Gary Paulsen! His Hatchet series got my son through many "book reports" in his school days. We're all fortunate his books will live on . . . inspiring many a young - and reluctant - reader.

  4. I have been deeply saddened when favorite authors die. I reflect on all the pleasure and stimulation that they have given me, and I mourn that it has all come to an end. After all, they are the source for the love of reading! I don't have children, so I didn't know of this author, but it sounds as though he had a great positive influence on many. It's a tribute to him and his work that he will be so missed.

  5. What a lovely tribute to an author I did not know about! Thank you so much for sharing (my household was obsessed with Star Wars, Harry Potter, and eventually all the Tolkien novels!)

  6. In one of those odd coincidences, I learned of his passing because a friend put out an email request for book titles for 8-12 year olds. A group she belongs to is purchasing chapter books for a Christmas project.
    Having a son, my mind immediately went to Gary Paulsen. My son was an avid reader and Paulsen was one of his favorites. I vividly remember his (and his friend's) obsession with trying to build themselves leaf shelters after reading Hatchet.

    Oh look, here's a bunch of kids doing the same:

    What a legacy that man has left to us.

    1. It's heartwarming to me seeing the current generation of kids enjoying Hatchet and building leaf shelters. I read Tracker, Brian's Winter, and Brian's Return over the weekend and I think I need to read Hatchet to remind myself of the details. I think you're right; Gary Paulsen has left a wonderful legacy.

  7. Gary Paulsen is a popular recommendation at my library, for sure. It's so great to recommend his books to kids who otherwise might not read.

  8. These books were never on my radar, and I thank you for sharing. I think Junah would be interested in these in a couple of years.

  9. What a nice tribute. My son read some of Paulsen's books. More often than not a teacher or librarian takes an interest in a student and makes a huge difference in a life. It's a good reminder that one person can make a difference.

  10. I thought of you when I heard he had died; I remember that you've mentioned how important his books were in your family. I have never read any of his books (they never appealed to me as a kid), but I was well aware of them and know they were well loved.

  11. Like Vicki (another girl mom), I hadn't even heard of Paulsen ... thank you for this tribute and an author I might be able to share with Charlie and Sam!


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