Gary Paulsen's Latest

Adventure writer talks about his two new books

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

As a child growing up in Minnesota, Gary Paulsen faced many hardships—some of the same hardships the characters in his books encounter.
The son of alcoholic parents, Paulsen was often left to take care of himself. At first he wasn't a very good student or even a very good reader.
"I had an awful childhood and flunked everything," he told the Scholastic Kids Press Corps. "A public librarian finally got me to read."

As a teenager one cold night in Minnesota, Paulsen ducked into a library to escape the frigid weather. The librarian offered him a library card and helped him check out his first book. Six weeks later, he finished that book. From then on, he was hooked.
Today, Paulsen is an avid reader, and a prolific writer. He has been received not one, but three Newbery Honors for his books Hatchet, Dogsong, and The Winter Room. He has written more than 200 books for children and adults.

Two new books just hit bookstores: Woods Runner and Lawn Boy Returns. The author was in Houston, Texas recently promoting his new titles.
"If I can make it, anyone can make it, " he told a crowded library in Houston's Pershing Middle School. "I didn't plan on being a writer, it just happened."
The road to his success was not easy. For the first 20 years as a writer, he starved. Then he wrote Hatchet, a book based on his own life.

"I often write about myself, like in Hatchet—all that stuff happened to me," he said. "I fostered myself to the woods when I was a kid. I trapped and hunted and fished."

Many of his books are also based on history. To research his books, he likes to go to the historical archives in Washington, D.C. He reads original documents, like letters written by soldiers.

"You can find out a lot about people and how they lived just by studying their lives and then writing as if you were there," he said. "The research is real. Everything in Wood's Runner happened to some person."

Another research message is to actually participate in what he is writing about. Paulsen has run two Iditarod dog sled races. He busted his arm and his leg and almost bled to death. The Iditarod is a 1,100-mile race across the Alaskan wilderness. It is run on a single sled pulled by 16 or fewer dogs. He also wrote two books based on the race: Woodsong and Winterdance.

author gary paulsen with kid reporter erin sheena
Kid Reporter Erin Sheena talks to author Gary Paulsen in Houston, Texas. (Photo courtesy Erin Sheena)

"The Iditarod is a completely life-altering experience," he said. "It is the hardest thing I have ever done, but also the most rewarding thing I have ever done. It is very cold with awful wind. Moose attack you and wolves come in on your team. It is very hard, but very beautiful."
New Books

Woods Runner is Paulsen's latest historical book. It tells the story of a teenage boy who faces dangers in the Revolutionary War.

"I wrote Woods Runner because I wanted the Revolutionary War to be seen in its reality," Paulsen said. "I wanted to dispute the mythic, clean, even antiseptic qualities in many histories, because war is never—not ever—clean."
His other recent release, Lawn Boy Returns, is about a boy who makes a fortune mowing lawns—and then loses it.
"I had a dog handler in Minnesota who made $35,000 one summer by working hard and mowing lawns," Paulsen said. "I wanted to show that once you got money, the next thing that would happen is that you lose money."
To write the book, Paulsen studied economy and used quotes for each chapter from economists.

His advice for future writers?

"Kill your TV. Don't ever watch TV again," he said. "Don't turn it on. It is like intellectual carbon monoxide."

But that's just the start of his advice.

"Then you read," he said. "Read until you puke. Read like a wolf. Read what they tell you not to read and read when they tell you not to read. Carry a book with you all the time. When you are at a bus stop, read. Read some of the books two or three times. When I decided that I did not know how to write well enough, I read two or three books a day. The writing takes care of itself once you have read enough to take care of the language."
So, if you are looking for a great summer read, pick up a copy of Gary Paulsen's latest books, Woods Runner or Lawn Boy Returns. Or you could check out one of his other 200 books. All you need is some time and a library card.

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