Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
A review of our July read:
Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet won the Newbery Medal in 1988, which means that last year signalled the 30th anniversary of this modern children’s classic. It’s a book that remains in circulation and finds its way into library groups, classrooms, and reading lists to this day.
Hatchet tells the story of 13-year-old Brian, a city kid on his way to visit his father in the oilfields of Canada. Brian thinks his toughest challenge will be navigating the strange newness of his parents’ divorce, and holding on to a secret he should never have had to keep. But en route, the pilot flying the small aircraft suffers a massive heart attack and dies, leaving Brian stranded, mid-air, above miles and miles of unpopulated bushland.
What follows is one of humanity’s great plots — boy against nature — and the result is a gripping story of terror, adaptation, and resilience as Brian, armed only with a tiny hatchet, must navigate his internal battles and his external environment in order to keep himself alive.
Hatchet discussion questions:
Respond to these questions here, use them in a discussion with your favourite young readers, or take them as jumping-off points for written responses in your homeschool or classroom.
What works about this story? What doesn’t? What did you love? What did you hate?
If you had to write a five-word review of Hatchet, what would it be?
Is there one main theme in Hatchet? Explain your answer.
How might Brian’s story have been different if he had a companion in the wilderness? Does his aloneness make the story more compelling, or less? How does the author, Gary Paulsen, maintain tension when there are no other human characters for Brian to talk to?
Do you think the wilderness could be considered a character in this novel? Why or why not?
Consider the symbolism of Brian’s hatchet. What does the hatchet represent to Brian? Could it be considered a metaphor?
What keeps Brian going, physically and mentally?
Creative writing: Rewrite a chapter of Hatchet imagining how the story would unfold if the pilot had survived his heart attack. How would the pilot’s presence in the wilderness change the story for Brian?
Media (for older kids): Watch the 2000 film, Castaway, starring Tom Hanks, and compare Chuck’s story with Brian’s. How are the two similar? How are they different? How does film director Robert Zemeckis maintain tension throughout the story? Note: the film is rated PG-13, and contains some coarse language, brief non-sexualised nudity, and intense/scary scenes.
Topography and design: create a visual representation of Brian’s shelter area in the wilderness, including nearby landmarks.
Research and nature appreciation: Research survival techniques and make a how-to brochure for surviving a night alone in your local area. Consider the weather, geography, and wildlife. Make a list of the edible plants that grow in your area, and include sketches or photographs so you can learn to identify them.