by Gary Paulsen, published 1988
“…he learned the most important rule about survival, which was that feeling sorry for yourself didn’t work. It wasn’t just that it was wrong to do, or that it was considered incorrect… the self-pity had accomplished nothing.“
I’ve heard about this children’s book for at least a year, enthusiastically embraced by middle school boys especially. The book itself has been around for quite a while, much to my surprise. I finally got around to reading it this week. At first, I was a little put off by all the drama. I felt like I had stepped into a middle-school reality show that was over the top. However, about a third of the way through the book, when it became clear this was really about survival in it’s truest sense, I was hooked.
A children’s book that takes on survival could become either too boy-scoutish, or too grizzly. This book avoids any extremes. Rather, it deals with the truly important issue first, of how we deal with our minds. What a fabulous subject to offer to middle-school children. The truth that nothing can save you in the end but your own steady wisdom is such a liberating idea. Along the way, of course, Brian, the hero of this children’s book, acquires many useful survival skills. But at heart, what makes this book truly outstanding is that physical survival becomes only part of the picture. The inner character of Brian is truly transformed by the time the story ends.
This children’s book is honest and perhaps not easy to read. Certainly not a book for the squeamish. But I consider myself squeamish and made it through quite well, learning to love it, and even take to heart what it really means to develop my own inner courage. This is an especially good book for boys, and I would think 11 and up would be fine, though 12-years-old is ideal.