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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen

I’m working my way through the books on this year’s Grades 6-8 Sunshine State book list, and the list is, so far, pretty good. I’ve only read a third of them, and the ones I’ve read have been good – some were even great.

Summary: Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen is a gripping historical fiction novel set during the American Revolution. Each chapter is followed by historical notes about some aspect of the main character, Samuel’s, experiences in the previous chapter. This was a great way to integrate some historical information into the story, as each was short and easy to read.

Samuel and his parents live in the frontier of Pennsylvania. The year is 1776 and Samuel, at the age of 13, is the main hunter for his family. His parents, despite living in the woods, have no real interest in exploring or understanding it as Samuel does.

One day when Samuel goes hunting for bear, his home is attacked by Red Coats and Indians. Although most of his neighbors have been slaughtered, Samuel sees signs that his parents and a few others have been taken prisoner. His knowledge of the woods must now be used for a new goal: to find and save his family.

Along his journey, Samuel finds friends who help him in his journey, including Coop, who nurses him after he is attacked by an Indian, and Abner, who uses forged passes to move freely through the British lines.

I really enjoyed Woods Runner, and liked it much more than I usually like Paulsen’s books. As a reader, it kept the action going and kept me wondering what would happen next. Samuel seemed very real to me, and I sympathized with his mixed emotions regarding the killing of his fellow man.

My only problem with the book is one that the average reader probably won’t even notice, but as an English teacher who spends a lot of time trying to get my students to understand the importance of citations, it stuck out. The book is full of great factual historical information, including an afterward that includes statistics about deaths due to various causes during the Revolutionary War. But there is nothing telling where he got these numbers or any of the other great historical information. It’s difficult to convince my students that citing sources matters when they don’t see examples of this in the books they read. This is a problem I see in most young adult and children's historical fiction - can we please get some citations in there, folks?  Can you let your young readers see that you really do research for these books? That’s just my English teacher soapbox for this post.

Coming of age

Age Appropriateness:
10 and up

Areas of concern (content):
Foul Language: none
Nudity/Adult Content: none
Violence: moderate – not gory, but sometimes descriptive

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