“She was only eight, he thought, maybe nine, and her whole world had been absolutely destroyed. Were there many like her? Everything gone because of this war? The innocent ones were the worst part of it all. His mother and father making a life on the frontier, just wanting to be left alone, his mother trying to get the garden to grow, his father learning how to use tools, how to make his own house, only wanting to work and read and think and live a quiet, simple life with his family. All gone. His own life gutted, not as much as Annie’s, but enough” (Paulsen, 2010, p.91-92).
Thirteen-year-old Samuel lives on the edge of the Pennsylvania wilderness with his parents. Rumors of a war between American patriots and the English reach Samuel and his family at their frontier home, and shorty after, so does the war itself. While Samuel is out hunting in the woods one day, his parent are captured by British soldiers and their settlement burned to the ground. Samuel, determined to find his parents, follows the soldiers’ trail into enemy territory.
In the Afterword of his novel Woods Runner, Gary Paulsen states, “there is a tendency to clean up the tales of war to make them more palatable, focusing on rousing stories of heroism and stirring examples of patriotism, all clean, pristine, antiseptic” (Paulsen, 2010, p.162). Woods Runner, however, provides readers with an honest, de-glorified depiction of what it was like to live on the frontier during the Revolutionary War. Though Samuel’s story is often devastating, Paulsen’s novel is still appropriate for tweens. The novel alternates chapters of Samuel’s story with historical notes that provide readers with some background information on what life was like during the war. This information, I believe, added a lot to the novel as it added some context to Samuel’s situation. Overall, Woods Runner was an addictive novel (I read it in one sitting!) that not only entertains, but teaches as well.
Genre: historical fiction
Reading/interest level: ages 11 and up
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