Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Guts: The True Stories Behind Hatchet and the Brian Books by Gary Paulsen

Anyone who has read Hatchet or the other Brian books needs to read Guts. Then they need to reread all the Brian books. (Okay, I don't actually expect most readers to go back and reread them all, but if they should, or if rereading books and re-enjoying a successful reading experience is up their alley, then they'll be rewarded.) It's worth it.

Reading the Brian books knowing that his experiences are based on the author's real experiences makes the book all the more enjoyable. And amazing.

Nearly everything in Hatchet happened to Paulsen in some way. He writes of witnessing a man's heart attack while volunteering to answer ambulance calls and of witnessing a plane crash not six days later. He writes of being in a plane flying over Alaska when the engine quit. Hey! There's Hatchet, Chapter One!

Remember when Brian gets flattened by a moose? Gary Paulsen tells numerous similar stories, pausing frequently to remind readers that moose are, in fact, insane. Once, as a young teenager, a moose charged him only to attack a six foot pine tree directly behind him. (Insane, remember?) A year later a moose attacked a truck he and a farmer were sitting in, damaging the grill and radiator, rendering the truck undrivable. Once a moose knocked over his canoe - while he was in it - and then proceeded to attack, you guessed it, the canoe. But the kicker is the real attack, the one where Paulsen curled up into a ball, quit counting the kicks (but guessed them to be dozens) and held his breath. When he had to finally take another breath, the moose heard it and renewed her attack.

Readers are full of questions when reading the Brian books. Guts offers the answers. Were the mosquitoes that swarmed Brian really that bad? (Worse.) Can you really kill large animals with homemade weapons? (Sure, and nearly die trying.) Could Brian really have cooked food like he did? (Yep, but it's easier, as Brian learns, with something as simple as one pot.)

And another question: Can a person really survive on food like that?

Oh, how great Chapter Five is! Eating Eyeballs and Guts or Starving: The Fine Art of Wilderness Nutrition. I'll spare you the details, but yes, it's that gross. (And readers - boys especially - will love it.) When my students read Hatchet in class and comment how nasty it would be to eat raw turtle eggs, I make sure to read aloud Gary Paulsen's experience with raw turtle eggs. Again, no details, but know this: It's the only food Brian eats that Paulsen was unable to eat himself. And the details of Paulsen's failed attempt are better (worse?) than you could imagine.

Hatchet and its sequels are immensely satisfying books, but they are even better knowing their inspiration - the author's real experiences.

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