Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood

Farrar. Jan. 2021. 368p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780374314156.
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.

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