Monday, April 20, 2015

MMGM: Woods Runner

I’m not generally a big fan of American history. I chalk it up to overexposure. Everything about the Revolutionary or Civil War generally has a been there, done that sort of feel to it. So, normally I wouldn’t pick up a book set in the Revolutionary War. But WOODS RUNNER was different. When I saw the author was Gary Paulsen, who is one of my favorite writers of survival fiction, I knew I had to read this.

I loved it. And, surprisingly, I learned a few things about the Revolutionary War.

Here’s the synopsis (from Amazon):

Samuel, 13, spends his days in the forest, hunting for food for his family. He has grown up on the frontier of a British colony, America. Far from any town, or news of the war against the King that American patriots have begun near Boston.

But the war comes to them. British soldiers and Iroquois attack. Samuel’s parents are taken away, prisoners. Samuel follows, hiding, moving silently, determined to find a way to rescue them. Each day he confronts the enemy, and the tragedy and horror of this war. But he also discovers allies, men and women working secretly for the patriot cause. And he learns that he must go deep into enemy territory to find his parents: all the way to the British headquarters, New York City.

What I loved about this book:

1. It was focused on survival, not the war. This appealed to my love of survival fiction, but also it made a story about this time period fresh and new.

2. Stark, realistic images. This is what I love about Paulsen. Sometimes his images are gritty and hard to swallow, but they are always real.  You will walk away from this book knowing how difficult it was to survive in the woods in the midst of war and enemy raids.

3. An interesting protagonist. There were so many interesting facets to Samuel: his intense love and loyalty to his parents, but also his struggle with being more comfortable in the wilderness than they are. This made for many shades of conflict, internal and external, but also made for a highly realistic and sympathetic protagonist.

4. Interesting minor characters. This story was a journey, so often characters would appear and then fade as Samuel made his way to New York. I particularly Coop, who nurses Samuel after a redcoat raid, Annie, the girl Samuel saves from a Hessian raid, and Abner, a spy.

5. Real historic facts written like broadsheets throughout. I thought this was an interesting choice for a historical novel. Instead of inserting historical facts in the actual narrative, Paulsen included articles after each chapter, explaining an aspect of the time period, from rifles to spies to covert communications. Although I thought this would be distracting, it actually worked really well—giving the reader background without slowing down the actual story.

I think this would work great in the classroom for a study of the Revolutionary War, especially since it focuses on how the war affected ordinary people,. As Paulsen says in the Afterword: "The men fighting and dying, in the War for Independence were, for the most part, average young workingmen with little or no military training...That these young men and boys stood to as they did, in the face of withering odds, and actually won and crated a new country with their blood, is nothing short of astonishing."

Its focus on survival and all the gritty details of the war would especially appeal to boys, but all MG readers, especially those who love survival fiction, like JULIE OF THE WOLVES or HATCHET, would enjoy this. Due to the gritty details and violence at times, I would not recommend it to younger middle grade readers or more sensitive readers.

Have you read any good novels about the Revolutionary War?

If you're looking for Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog.


  1. Sounds like a great read. I've never read anything by Gary Paulsen, but I've heard great things about his books.

  2. Jenni, I'm laughing about the overexposure. My problem is underexposure, esp. when it comes to American history. So I always appreciate a spotlight on good books that educate and entertain me in this area. Thank you.

  3. I enjoy Gary Paulsen so much and hadn't heard of this title. Thanks for sharing and I plan on reading it for myself. And no, I don't recall reading any other books about the Revolutionary War. This will be a good place to start.

  4. Oh, I haven't heard of this one! My daughter and I really like Gary Paulsen's books so I'm going to look for it. I'm intrigued by the idea that he adds in historical facts like broadsheets. An interesting structural choice.

  5. I like the way he gave background information.

  6. I remember being very impressed with this book when I read it, though it's been a few years. Violent, yes. But so is war. This was one of my favorite Paulsen books, after Hatchet.

  7. Sounds really cool. I have read several on the revolutionary war, and one of my favorites when I was younger was a short biography called The Secret Soldier. It's a true story about Deborah Sampson, a woman who pretended to be a man so she could fight for freedom. I found it really inspiring and interesting, and I think this one will be, too. Thanks for the review!


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  9. I love Gary Paulsen books but somehow missed this one. My grandson is crazy about that period. I think he and I will both like this one. Thanks for the review.

  10. Hatchet, by Paulsen, is my all-time favorite middle grade book! And survival books are good for my reluctant-reader kids, so I'll have to check this one out! Thanks!