Finding a well-written, entertaining book for a boy who hates to read is always a challenge.
Woods Runner, by Gary Paulsen, grabs your attention at the get-go. It opens, “One day, it seemed he was eleven and playing in the dirt around the cabin or helping with chores, and the next, he was thirteen, carrying a .40 caliber Pennsylvania flintlock rifle, wearing smoked-buckskin clothing and moccasins, moving through the woods like a knife though water while he tracked deer to bring home to the cabin for meat.”
This is a book for the reluctant male reader. It is just 164 pages and moves quickly but with plenty of detail in the right places. It has characters that you root for, conflicts that create tension, and plenty of interesting historical information about everyday life during the Revolutionary War. Most importantly, the author makes the reader feel the struggle, the pain, and the chaos of the war, with an appropriate amount of detail (not too much for an eleven year old, but not too little for an adult.) The reader witnesses death, destruction, and disease, as well as heroism that, against all odds, continues to fight for what is good.
Paulsen does not glamorize war. He shines a light on war’s destructiveness, in which we see the very worst of man’s nature, as well as the very best. It’s a tense story with a very real conflict that is deeply felt. To the very end, it is not predictable. In fact, at several points a long the way, Paulsen shocks the reader with something completely unforeseen yet entirely believable.
The main character, Samuel is an ordinary thirteen-year-old boy whose life is transformed in extraordinary ways. The publisher writes, “Gary Paulsen brings readers into the flesh-and-blood reality of one boy’s struggle in the long and savage war that changed people’s lives in infinite ways.” It’s best to just read it, without reading the jacket cover or anything. Is it a sad story? Yes. Is it full of exciting action? Yes. Is it deeply depressing and full of despair? No. Similar to the birth of America, it is a tale of tragedy and triumph. It is just the sort of book that boys (ages 10-14+) should be reading. And the values taught within the tale will be tops on anyone’s list: loyalty, perseverance, self-sacrifice for others, resiliency, and resourcefulness.
Some other good books for boys, related to boys surviving difficult obstacles:
Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen
Holes, by Jeff Sachar
Hoot, by Carl Hiassen
The King of Mulberry Street, by Donna Jo Napoli
The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth George Speare
Percy Jackson and the Olympians (Series) by Rick Riordan
The Secret Benedict Society (Series) by Trenton Lee Stewart
Eragon (Series) by Chris Paolini
On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (Series) by Andrew Peterson
In addition to reading about outdoor adventures, our kids need to get outdoors. So, sign those kids up for summer camps that get them outdoors. Have a campout in the backyard. Go fishing. Try a hike you’ve never been on but have heard good things about. Anything.
Here’s a slideshow from our little Outdoor Camp.