Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Woods Runner

Woods Runner

Spring 2010 Fiction
Ages: 12 & Up
Author: Gary Paulsen
ISBN: 9780385738842
Hardcover Price: $15.99

Young Adult novelist Gary Paulsen - known for his gritty wilderness writing -- visits the American Revolutionary War though the eyes of a 13-year-old boy.

Samuel lives with his parents on a Pennsylvania Colony homestead in 1776. His comfortable life - hunting and fishing, the occasional visitor -- ends abruptly in the third chapter when from the woods, "five ridges away from home," he senses something terribly wrong. He returns to find his entire settlement burned to the ground. A week earlier, he'd heard the grown-ups talk in low voices about war, now here it was. His parents were two of a handful of villagers who were kidnapped and thus survived. The story is Samuel's quest to find them.

Paulsen does not sugarcoat his descriptions, but neither are his images gratuitous. His narrator sees horrible things - his own village burned, his neighbors' corpses riddled with arrows and scalped - but this is war. Intermittent page-length historical notes offer a vivid portrait of how people lived during this time; the period details are exquisitely rendered. Readers can practically smell the stews cooking in cast-iron pots and see the parchment windows of "grease-soaked sheepskin scraped paper thin."

In his forward, Paulsen expresses his desire to show the reality of war, and send a message that the loss of life through violence is a terrible waste. It comes across loud and clear. But while Samuel's journey is gruesome, Paulsen brings an intimate human element to it. People repeatedly risk their lives to help strangers. As Abner, one of many who help Samuel along the way, says to his parents who feel guilty at surviving - "Some get, some don't, some live, some … don't. It's the way of it." This is a superbly written fictional account of some of the bloody events that shaped our nation.

Teresa DiFalco   ©2010 Parents' Choice
Teresa DiFalco is an award-winning ghostwriter, writer, and mother in Vancouver, Washington. She's been a contributing editor for Parents' Choice for over ten years. She's a strong speller, a menace at badminton, and makes a decent soufflé.

Look for this product at:
Random House Children's Book /Wendy Lamb Books

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