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Gone to the woods : surviving a lost childhood
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Booklist Reviews

Paulsen mines his hardscrabble childhood to create this middle-grade memoir, divided into five titled sections that highlight significant events that shaped his life. He recounts a solo train trip from Chicago to northern Minnesota at age 5 (The Farm); his introduction to canoeing, camping, fishing, and harvesting mushrooms with Uncle Sig (The River); his journey across the Pacific to the Philippines to meet his father (The Ship); his love of reading and writing, which blossomed at the public library (Thirteen); and his impulsive enlistment in the army at age 17 (Soldier). Overall a grim saga of survival (in particular, avoiding his drunken, abusive parents), the narrative includes lighter moments as well: slipping into a train toilet at age five, defending himself from some meddlesome farm geese, and accepting the soothing ministrations of a ship's steward who treated him for chickenpox. Employing a somewhat rambling, conversational style, Paulsen creates a safety zone for readers unprepared for his stark realities, while allowing others to fully comprehend. Beautifully written, Paulsen's memoir demonstrates that good can triumph over bad beginnings.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: With three Newbery Awards in his rucksack, Paulsen writes reliably great books, and everybody will want to get their hands on his latest. Grades 5-8. Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.

Publishers Weekly Reviews

In this third-person memoir told in five sections, Newbery Medalist Paulsen (Hatchet), best known for his riveting survival stories, shares the turbulent early life experiences that led to his writing career. After his mother finds munitions plant work in 1944 Chicago, "the boy," then five, accompanies her to bars and "sing to draw men" for her. Scandalized, his grandmother arranges for him to stay at his loving aunt and uncle's Minnesota farm. After a few idyllic months enjoying the outdoors, however, Paulsen's mother insists they join his father, stationed in Manila, but the overseas journey and witnessing brutal killings in the wake of WWII prove difficult. As a teen in North Dakota, Paulsen repeatedly runs away from his increasingly volatile parents and befriends a kind librarian, who encourages him to write. But it isn't until he enlists in the military and is faced with inflicting the same brutality that he saw in Manila that he knows he wants something different in life. Told in the third person, Paulsen's raw memoir renders "the boy" a curious and savvy protagonist who constantly forges ahead, resulting in a riveting, hopeful survival story about personal resilience amid trauma. Ages 8–12. Agent: Jennifer Flannery, Flannery Literary. (Jan.)

Copyright 2020 Publishers Weekly.

School Library Journal Reviews

Gr 7 Up—Paulsen's autobiography for middle schoolers reads quite a bit like his "Hatchet" series because of his turbulent childhood and teen years. The text is organized into five sections: "The Farm," "The River," "The Ship," "Thirteen," and "Soldier." Each chapter describes a turning point or defining moment in Paulsen's life. The second and fourth sections show the influences that would eventually lead to the "Hatchet" series. In "The River," a very young Paulsen is taken on a canoe trip into the forest to pick mushrooms. The trip allows Paulsen to fall in love with the woods. He learns how to fish, light a fire, paddle a canoe—skills his characters need to use in Hatchet. Later, the woods become a refuge from drunken, abusive parents. Paulsen is mostly sustained by what he can scrounge and catch. The book chronicles his younger years and includes some difficult topics, such as living in an armed conflict zone and watching people drown during a boat trip. He battles poverty, neglect, and uncertainty, but he does overcome these challenges to become an admired author, which ultimately offers an inspiring narrative. There is some graphic and violent content that takes place in Manila during an armed conflict and some scenes on the high seas, which may not be appropriate for younger students. Overall, this exciting, fast-paced title reads like fiction. The tone matches Paulsen's style and echoes themes from his novels. VERDICT A wonderful way to introduce middle grade and high school readers to the excitement and beauty of biographies.—Sara Kundrik, Gilbert Paterson M.S., Alta.

Copyright 2021 School Library Journal.


The three-time Newbery Honor-winning author of Hatchet shares the story of his turbulent childhood, his escape into military service and the life-changing impact of an encouraging librarian who handed him his first book. - (Baker & Taylor)

The three-time Newbery Honor-winning author of Hatchet shares the story of his turbulent childhood, his escape into military service and the life-changing impact of an encouraging librarian who handed him his first book. 75,000 first printing. Simultaneous eBook. - (Baker & Taylor)

“A riveting, hopeful survival story.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

A mesmerizing memoir from a living literary legend, giving readers a new perspective on the origins of Gary Paulsen's famed survival stories.

His name is synonymous with high-stakes wilderness survival stories. Now, beloved author Gary Paulsen portrays a series of life-altering moments from his turbulent childhood as his own original survival story. If not for his summer escape from a shockingly neglectful Chicago upbringing to a North Woods homestead at age five, there never would have been a Hatchet. Without the encouragement of the librarian who handed him his first book at age thirteen, he may never have become a reader. And without his desperate teenage enlistment in the Army, he would not have discovered his true calling as a storyteller.

A moving and enthralling story of grit and growing up, Gone to the Woods is perfect for newcomers to the voice and lifelong fans alike, from the acclaimed author at his rawest and realest.

- (McMillan Palgrave)

Author Biography

Gary Paulsen is the winner of the ALA Margaret Edwards Award for his contribution to young adult literature, and is a three-time Newbery Honor winner, for Hatchet, Dogsong, and The Winter Room. He lives in New Mexico. - (McMillan Palgrave)

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