Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Gary Paulsen's Newest -- Woods Runner

On my latest trip to Cover to Cover, a wonderful children's bookstore, I picked up a copy of Gary Paulsen's latest book, Woods Runner. It is historical fiction, set in the time of the Revolutionary War.

The main character is Samuel, a 13 year old boy living in the wilderness of Pennsylvania. Samuel is a boy very attuned to the nature around him. He is far more comfortable roaming and exploring the dark woods that surrounds his family's cabin than he is inside. The reader first meets Samuel on a day he has gone hunting, and comes back to find a horrible tragedy that involves his parents, his home, and the surrounding homes.

This book is not for the faint of heart. Paulsen doesn't pull too many punches when describing the homes burned down, and the people killed in various manners. He also is very clear about the horrors of war, as Samuel tracks his parents to New York City from Pennsylvania and sees the destruction that the armies have left behind along the way. I wasn't personally disturbed by it, but realized that the graphic nature of the descriptions would not make this the best choice for every child.

In an afterword, Paulsen states that the Revolutionary War is actually romanticized by some. It is easy to forget that with our nation's independence from Britain came a huge toll on lives. Paulsen doesn't allow the reader to forget; he painted pictures with his words that I will remember for a long time to come.

And in this day and age, where many of my students are fascintated by war and war games, this book is sobering. War is not glamorous. War may have its reasons, but it always comes with a great quantity of human casualties.

All that being said, I was enthralled by Woods Runner. The descriptions of nature, the survival skills that Samuel shows, a glimpse into the underbelly of the Revolutionary War, Samuel "adopting" a sister along the way, and his pursuit of his captured parents all make for fascinating reading.

In addition, Paulsen throws in a nonfiction twist to this historical fiction story. In strategic points in the book, Paulsen gives the reader detailed information about different topics that will better help them understand certain events from this historical period of time. At first this technique threw me, jumping from fiction to nonfiction, but as the story progressed, I found it to be incredibly helpful. I realized how little I knew about certain historical moments; Paulsen's inserts really helped build my background knowledge which in turn helped me understand the story better.

Woods Runner
reminded me of another book I really enjoyed, Blood on the River, which was a different take on the historical view of the Jamestown colony. Woods Runner has a great storyline with many plot twists along the way. Factor in its graphic view of war, and I think Paulsen has a winner.


  1. Thank you for sharing your review. I had the opportunity to listen to Paulsen speak several years ago, and he had some great stories. I'm glad to know this one is also an enthralling story.

  2. I'm a fan of Paulsen but I missed seeing this one come out. Thanks for the review and the heads up.

    I just finished Lawn Boy, and thought it worked as an essay but not really as a story.

  3. I have friends who teach both 5th and 8th grades. They are always on the look-out for more Revolutionary fodder. I am intrigued by the nonfiction inserts. Sounds like a painless way for me to swallow my daily dose of reality.

  4. I just purchased this book. I can't wait to read it.
    Please stop by my site as I have and award for you.

  5. Lester Laminack just came to our school last week and did a wonderful professional development session on how to use picture books to give our students a better understanding of huge historical events that are often the focal point of YA novels. It sounds like from your review, Paulsen, included some of this background information in the novel. Thanks for sharing, Karen!

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  7. Thank you for the review. This sounds like a wonderful addition to my classroom library, as well as for a lit circle choice. I agree with Beth's assessment of "Lawnboy", though - I was rather disappointed in that one.