War Isn’t Pretty: Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen

War is not pretty.  It is not easy.  It is not comfortable.

Thirteen year old Samuel Smith grew up in the wilderness of the Pennsylvania colony.  Sam loves the woods.  He loves hunting, tracking and providing for his bookish parents.

But the year is 1776 and one day Sam’s comfortable life is taken away from him.  Returning from an extra long hunting trip Sam finds his home ransacked and burned, his neighbors murdered and his parents missing.  Sam knows that he must find his parents, so using his tracking and survival skills he sets off to find  and rescue his parents from the English Redcoats and their Indian allies.

Through his journey Sam meets with others affected by the Revolutionary War; men joining the American side, families escaping the Hessians and English troops, and those trying to survive when their whole world has been turned upside down by war.

Paulsen manages to write a historical fiction novel for teens that is pretty fast-paced and adventurous (I’m not surprised with his massive list of past works).  What I, as an educator, really, really love about Woods Runner is that Paulsen includes intercalary chapters that provide readers with information about the Revolutionary War on a  bigger scale than just Sam’s story.  I frequently see students who have little to no background knowledge struggle while attempting to read and create a context for a historical fiction novel.  Whats so (soooooooooooo) incredibly helpful is that Paulsen provides the context and background information for the reader so they don’t have to guess, wonder or be confused.  Paulsen even explains in his Author’s Note that he wants “readers to understand what it was really like to live on the frontier at that time with…no money, no electricity, no towns, [and] few neighbors”.

Although Paulsen does portray the realism of life during the Revolutionary War well, he also does so with the knowledge that this book is intended for middle grades readers; i.e. the violence is not described graphically.

I’m hoping that my students will get past the “history=boring” mindset and read this novel because I really think they’d enjoy it if they give it a chance.  Plus the way Paulsen describes the war…its not boring!  This book would also be an excellent addition to a middle school level American History curriculum, especially with the intercalary chapters (the lesson plan possibilities floating around in my mind are endless!!)

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