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Children's and Young Adult Literature
Author Study - Gary Paulsen
Biographical Information
  • Gary has been a farmworker, soldier, sailor, trapper, and rancher.  He has worked for a carnival as well as in the construction and aerospace industries.
  • He has lived in Minnesota, California, Illinois, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, and the Philippines.
  • He has sailed boats he has fixed up, motorcycled across country, and driven dogsled teams through Alaska and Minnesota.
  • Many of his plots and characters developed in his fictional works were drawn from his own experiences.
  • Gary Paulsen was born on May 17, 1939 in Minneapolis, Minnesota to Oscar and Eunice Paulsen.
  • His father served in the army during World War II as part of Gen. George Patton's staff - Gary wouldn't see him for 7 years.
  • When World War II ended, Gary and his mother joined his father who had been stationed in the Philippines and lived there for two and a half years.
  • Paulsen family moved to Minnesota in 1949 after his father left the army.
  • Gary's parents were alcoholic and he was often left alone and unsupervised.  He was often sent to spend summers with various relatives.  This was often his only exposure to "normal" family life.
  • Gary didn't make friends easily and spent his time building model airplanes, reading comic books, and being outdoors as much as possible.
  • He ran away from home at age 16, worked on a sugar beet farm.  He quit that job and spent the rest of the summer as a "carnie."
  • He returned home and struggled through high school, graduating in 1957 with a D- average.
  • He then joined the army and was honorably discharged after 3 years.
  • After working at an aerospace company he decided he wanted to be a writer and quit his job.
  • In 1967 he sold his first book SOME BIRDS DON'T FLY, adult nonfiction essays about the missile industry (for which the FBI investigated him for possible information leaks.)
  • Seven months later he had written and sold his 2nd book MR. TUCKET, his 1st middle grade novel.
  • He married Ruth White, his current wife, in 1971.
  • He has written adult mysteries, how-to manuals, biographies, sports books, and nature books.  For young adults he has written adventure and survival stories, westerns, and mysteries.
  • Gary has run a dogsled team in 2 Iditarod races.
  • In 1991 he moved to New Mexico where he and his wife bought a ranch after heart problems forced him to give up his dogsled teams.


Author Bibliography (Selected Works)

The following books were chosen because they were either selected as an ALA Notable or Best Book, or a Newbery Honor book, or both.  They are also very popular in our school district's library with young men, although we do have some young ladies that also like to read them.

Paulsen, Gary.  Dancing Carl.  New York:  Bradbury Press, 1983.

          ALA Best Book - 1983.

________.  Tracker.  New York:  Bradbury Press, 1984.  

          ALA Best Book - 1984.

________.  Dogsong.  New York:  Bradbury Press, 1986.              

           Newbery Honor Book - 1986.  ALA Notable and Best Book - 1985.                                  

________.  The Crossing.  New York:  Orchard, 1987.  

          ALA Notable Best Book - 1987.

________.  Hatchet.  New York:  Bradbury Press, 1987.

          Newbery Honor Book - 1988.  ALA Notable Book - 1987.

________.  The Island.  New York:  Orchard, 1988.

          ALA Best Book - 1988.

________.  The Voyage of the Frog.  New York:  Orchard, 1989.

          ALA Best Book - 1989

________.  The Winter Room.  New York:  Orchard, 1989.

          Newbery Honor Book - 1990.  ALA Notable and Best Book - 1989.

________.  The Cookcamp.  New York:  Orchard, 1991.

          ALA Best Book - 1991. 

________.  The Monument.  New York:  Delacorte, 1991.

          ALA Best Book - 1991.

________.  The Haymeadow.  New York:  Delacorte, 1992.

          ALA Notable and Best Book - 1992.

________.  Harris and Me:  A Summer Remembered.  San

     Diego, CA:  Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich, 1993.

           ALA Notable and Best Book - 1993.

________.  Nightjohn.  New York:  Delacorte, 1993.

          ALA Notable and Best Book - 1993.

Book Analysis

Paulsen, Gary.  2003.  BRIAN'S HUNT.  New York:  Random House Children's Books.  ISBN:  0439676878.

________.  1995.  THE RIFLE.  San Diego, CA:  Harcourt, Brace Javanovich.  ISBN:  0152928804.

     The two books of Mr. Paulsen's that I chose to read and analyze were BRIAN'S HUNT, one of Mr. Paulsen's newer books, and THE RIFLE, which came out in 1995.  I chose these books because they are so popular with males at both the junior high and high school libraries in my school district. 

     BRIAN'S HUNT is the fifth book Paulsen has written about Brian Robeson.  This character first appeared in the book HATCHET and has been a very popular character.  Paulsen had previously said he would not write any more books about Brian Robeson, but "the response from readers is still profoundly overwhelming, hundred of letters a day, all wanting more of Brian, and so this book, and I will no longer say that I will write no more about Brian and the north woods...In  some way he has become real to many, many people and they want to see more of him so, and so...we shall see." (Paulsen, BRIAN'S HUNT p. 101.)  BRIAN'S HUNT is set once again in the Canadian wilderness.  Brian's experience after the plane crash had changed him so much that he is unable to adjust to living in civilization once again.  Brian has persuaded his parents to let him homeschool himself and has set out on his own through the wilderness.  Brian's trip is interrupted when a badly wounded dog gains his attention.  After Brian inspects and treats the dog, he comes to the conclusion that she probably came from a Cree camp and that something about the situation is not right.  Brian also concludes that the dog's injuries were caused by a bear.  Brian sets out with the dog to find the Cree camp and find out what has happened.  When Brian finds the camp, he makes an awful discovery which propels Brian into the hunt of his life.  But who is hunting who?

     Gary Paulsen tells the story from Brian's point of view.  This is an effective technique for the fifth installment of the Brian books.  It is more effective for the readers to know Brian's thoughts and feelings in these books concerning Brian's adventures in the wilderness.  It is more powerful to understand why Brian thinks the way he does and the thought processes that he goes through.  For example, if we didn't know how Brian came to the conclusion that the dog's injuries were caused by a bear, the story would lose some of it's power and feeling.  Knowing Brian's thought processes makes the reader feel that they are more involved with the story.  Paulsen's style of writing is spare and direct.  He writes just enough for the reader to picture the scene without the extra description that some will want to skim through.  "the Brian books reveal nature and humankind's place in it with spare prose that seems ideally suited to the setting and plot." (Voice of Youth Advocates, 01 Feb. 2004.)

     THE RIFLE is a different type of story.  Rather than a central character, the story is about a "sweet" rifle made in 1768 by gunsmith Cornish McManus.  What makes this rifle so sweet, is that it shoots farther and is more accurrate than others that existed at the time.  The rifle's history is traced in this book from it's use in the Revolutionary War, through it's storage for centuries in an attic, through other owners, to finally the auto mechanic who accepts it for trade for a repair.  Paulsen then introduces the reader to fourteen-year-old Richard and begins to subtly hint of the freak accident involving the rifle and the teenager.

     The story of THE RIFLE is told through an omniscient narrator, which is necessary since the tale is about an object, the rifle, and not a character.  The narrator provides details that the reader would not be able to obtain if a character was telling the story.  This is a good book to introduce the theme to young readers that guns don't kill people, people kill people.  "Paulsen could have plucked this plot straight from any newspaper - an accidental shooting with a loaded gun." (Publishers Weekly, 14 August, 1995.)  Young readers can debate the topic and discuss the fatal impact the rifle had on a boy similar to themselves. 

BRIAN'S HUNT and THE RIFLE are two very different books.  They are each told from a different points of view, BRIAN'S HUNT from first person point of view, the character - Brian, and THE RIFLE is told from the narrator's point of view.  BRIAN'S HUNT is part of a continuing series about the character of Brian Robeson and the intended audience is young adults.  THE RIFLE is unusual in the fact that the protagonist is the rifle instead of a character.  The intended audience is more general than the audience for BRIAN'S HUNT, from young adults through adults.  Both books are similar in length, BRIAN'S HUNT is 103 pages long and THE RIFLE is 105 pages long, but I found BRIAN'S HUNT easier, and quicker to read.  THE RIFLE took longer to read because, I believe, it is more thought provoking.  Paulsen brings the issue of gun control to the reader's attention to ponder.  Paulsen also describes several technical details in the process of making the rifle which I needed to read more slowly to comprehend.  Another difference between the two books was that in THE RIFLE, Paulsen included historical facts and BRIAN'S HUNT described survival techniques which you can tell Paulsen is very familiar with from his descriptions.



Cook, Ronda.  1999.  Gary Paulsen.  Virginia Center for Children's Books.  Available from:  Accessed 23 January 05.

Fine, Edith Hope.  Gary Paulsen:  Author and Wilderness Adventurer.  Berkley Heights, NJ:  Enslow Publishers, 2000.

Peters, Stephanie True.  Gary Paulsen.  Santa Barbara, Calif:  The Learning Works, Inc., 1999.

Paulsen, Gary.  Brian's Hunt.  New York:  Random House Children's Books, 2003.

Publisher's Weekly.  14 August, 1995.  Books in Print.  [database online].  Available from:ıAction=Searchıcollection=BIPıQueryMode=SimpleıResultTemplate=mbbookresult_fl.htsıScoreThreshold=0ıResultCount=25ıSrchFrm=HomeıCriteriaText1=0152928804ıInPrint=InPrintıForthcoming=Forthcomingıbook=book&BipAlertDisplayQText=ISBN/UPC:%200152928804;%20Status:%20In%20Print,%20Forthcoming;%20Format:%20Book.  Accessed 28 February, 2005.

Thomson, Sarah L.  Gary Paulsen.  NY:  Rosen Publishing Group, Inc., 2003.    

Voice of Youth Advocates.  1 February, 2004.  Books in Print.  [database online].   Available from:  Accessed 28 February, 2005.

Photo Credit

Keating, Tim.  Obtained from:  26 February 2005.

Interesting Websites
     This is Random House's official page for Gary Paulsen.
      This is the Internet School Library Media Center Gary Paulsen page.  It contains Biographical links, lesson plan links, criticism, a selected bibliography and ERIC resources. 
     This is a link to Web English Teacher and contains lesson plans for Hatchet and other novels.
     This is a link to Scholastic's Iditarod interview with Gary Paulsen.

Gary Paulsen can be contacted through Random House.  A letter can be sent to the author in care of the publisher's publicity department at:  1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.

Author study created by Renee Schneider.

This site was created as an assignment for a Texas Woman's University course.  The course is a graduate level course in Library Science.

Last updated 01/15/2006