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Hatchet

by Gary Paulsen

Book Club: A Literature-Based Curriculum outlines a complete theme-based unit with Book Club lessons focusing on Hatchet.

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Below you will find a synopsis, further reading materials, discussion topics, and reviews that you might find useful during your teaching of Hatchet.

A Synopsis

Thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson is in a small plane flying over the Canadian wilderness when the pilot suddenly has a heart attack and dies. Brian manages to survive the plane crash but finds himself alone and lost to civilization. His only possession is a hatchet that his mother gave him before he boarded the plane. Although Brian is still plagued by painful memories of “The Secret”—his knowledge of his mother’s affair, the reason behind his parents’ recent divorce—he quickly sees that he must focus all his thoughts and energy on his own survival.

He learns, mostly by making mistakes, how to shelter himself, make fire, and find food. As his days in the wilderness stretch out, Brian finds he is becoming more attuned to life. He notices things that escaped him before. He experiences close encounters with a skunk and a wolf and is attacked by a seemingly malevolent moose. Each experience brings knowledge, both of how to survive in the wilderness and of himself. Then a tornado rips through the forest, destroying Brian’s cave and almost killing him. But the storm also dislodges the sunken plane from the bottom of the lake, and Brian resolves to find the plane’s survival pack. After much struggle, he retrieves the pack and begins to enjoy its fabulous bounty of food and supplies. Suddenly, a rescue plane appears, alerted by Brian’s inadvertent signal from the emergency transmitter in the survival pack. His fifty-four days in the wilderness are over, but the ordeal has changed Brian forever.

Further Reading and Links

The following sites can be used to support and enrich the Book Club unit for Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.

About the Author and the Book

  • Gary Paulsen Official Site — This site by the Random House presents a biography, pictures, an interview, a list of his books, and much more.
  • Gary Paulsen — The Internet Public Library site presents an interview and a list of his books.
  • Gary Paulsen Author Profile — The biography written by Jim Trelease talks about the author and the way his life experiences have influenced his writing.
  • Learning About Gary Paulsen — This site features an extensive list of Paulsen's work and includes links to biographies, awards, and book reviews.
  • Common Sense Media — This review gives the book 5 out of 5 stars. See also user reviews and details about the book.
  • Reviews by Future English Teachers — Besides the review, the site features a biography and a clip where Paulsen talks about his childhood experiences.

Related Reading and Media

Novel Setting

  • Exciting Scout Craft — This site teaches and gives some basic advice on how to act and react to a wilderness survival situation.
  • Equipped to Survive — This site offers some useful tips and tricks for any survival situation.
  • Canadian Geographic — Find out about the Canadian wildlife, learn facts about Canada, and check out maps, games, and kids TV.
  • Help Guide — This guide provides some insights and guides to helping a child through a divorce.
  • Government of Canada — Learn about Canada such as anthems, maps, history, and sports and so much more.

Big Theme Questions

What qualities and skills does a person need to survive in a difficult or life-threatening situation?

How can failure lead to important learning experiences?

What do people really need to live? What things do people often want but not truly need?

What kinds of experiences help people grow and learn important truths about themselves?

What do people gain by paying close attention to nature?

Outline of Lesson Plan | Discussion Topics | Writing Prompts

The following section can be used to get discussions started in your classroom. It is based on the Lesson Plan within Book Club: A Literature-Based Curriculum. The Lesson Plan includes blackline masters for the students that support the writing prompts. The writing prompts provided are meant as suggestions only. As students become more comfortable with the Book Club format, they will certainly have ideas and questions that go beyond the prompts. Consider giving students “free choice” as a log option. Book Club Reading Logs help students respond to literature and organize ideas as they participate in Book Club.


Chapter 1 | Language Conventions: Introduction to Book Club

  • Describe what happens to the pilot and Brian’s reaction.
  • How do you think you would feel if you were Brian at the end of this chapter?
  • Good readers make predictions as they read a story. What do you think will happen to Brian as the story unfolds? Why do you think so?

Chapter 2 | Response to Literature: Share Sheets

  • Brian has to make a decision about landing the plane. What do you think he will do? Why?
  • What do you learn about Brian in this chapter? Give examples from the story that support your observations.

Chapter 3 | Response to Literature: Response Choice Sheets

  • Describe the plane crash.
  • What emotions did Brian feel as the plane was crashing? Describe a time in your life when you felt some of these emotions.

Chapter 4 | Comprehension: Drawing Conclusions

  • How is Brian affected by his parents’ divorce? What makes you think so?
  • What words and phrases does the author use to describe the lake and the forest? What images, or pictures, do these words create in your mind?

Chapter 5 | Language Conventions: Qualities of a Good Book Club Discussion

  • Describe Brian’s injuries. How are they affecting him?
  • Brian expects that he will be rescued soon. Do you agree with him? Why or why not?
  • At the end of the chapter, when Brian thinks about things in the forest looking at him, the hair on his neck stands up. Has this ever happened to you? Describe the situation.

Chapter 6 | Comprehension: Summarizing

  • Summarize what happens to Brian in this chapter.
  • The mosquitoes have attacked Brian twice now. What suggestions can you offer him for solving this problem?

Chapter 7 | Language Conventions: Self-Assessment Sheets

  • What did Brian learn from his encounter with the bear?
  • Imagine you are the bear that Brian sees. Write a description of the encounter from the bear’s point of view.

Chapter 8 | Language Conventions: Qualities of a Good Share Sheet

  • Do you agree with Brian that feeling sorry for yourself “doesn’t work”? Do you think Brian was wrong to sit in the cave and cry? Explain.
  • In this chapter Brian has a dream that gives him the solution to a problem. Write about a time in your life when you had a dream that helped you understand something.

Chapter 9 | Comprehension: Vocabulary—Word Wall

  • How do you think Brian’s life will change now that he has fire? Why?
  • Choose some interesting words from today’s reading to add to your vocabulary list.
  • Brian works a long time before he succeeds in making a fire. Write about a time in your life when you worked hard to achieve a result. How did your success make you feel?

Chapter 10 | Comprehension: Intertextuality

  • Compare and contrast Hatchet with another survival story you know.
  • At the beginning of the chapter, the author says the fire was so precious to Brian that he couldn’t leave it. Write a poem or journal entry from Brian’s point of view describing what the fire means to you.
  • At the end of the chapter, the author says that Brian had to keep hoping that the searchers would find him soon. Describe a time in your life when you hoped that something would happen. Did it happen? What did you learn from the experience?

Chapter 11 | Literary Elements: Character Development

  • What are some ways Brian is changing?
  • In this chapter, Brian decides that getting busy with tasks and chores is the best way to keep his mind off his unhappiness at being alone in the wilderness. What are some techniques you use to snap yourself out of a bad mood?

Chapter 12 | Comprehension: Visualizing

  • How do you think Brian is feeling at the end of this chapter? Why does he feel that way?
  • Draw a picture of a scene from Chapter 12.

Chapter 13 | Literary Elements: Setting

  • Discuss the setting of this chapter. What clues does the author provide to help you understand the passing of time?
  • How have Brian’s hopes changed?
  • In this chapter, Brian experiences the wonder of nature up close. Describe a time when you experienced a beautiful natural scene. How did it make you feel?

Chapter 14 | Response to Literature: Me & the Book

  • Mistakes. Brian has made a lot of them. What does he learn from his mistakes? Describe an important lesson you learned from a mistake.
  • At the end of the chapter, Brian realizes the importance of thinking ahead. Do you try to think ahead? Describe a time in your life when thinking ahead really paid off for you.

Chapter 15 | Comprehension: Vocabulary—Concept Web

  • Brian learns to look differently in order to catch the foolbirds. Describe a situation in which you learned to look at a problem differently in order to solve it.
  • “Patience,” thinks Brian, “waiting and thinking and doing things right.” Why do you think it is so difficult for some people to be patient?

Chapter 16 | Response to Literature: Share Sheet Options

  • How does Brian’s response to the tornado show that he is a different person than he was when he first came to the lake?
  • Make a prediction about how discovering the tail of the plane will change Brian’s life.

Chapter 17 | Comprehension: Sequencing

  • If you were Brian, would you try to get the survival pack out of the plane? Why? If so, how would you do it? How would you weigh the advantages and disadvantages of attempting it?
  • Create a sequence of story events using one of the formats we discussed.
  • Describe a time when you made a plan to solve a problem. Did you have to change the plan once you got started?

Chapter 18 | Comprehension: Predicting

  • Make a prediction about the end of the story. On what do you base your prediction?
  • Write a journal entry from Brian’s point of view about how he felt when he dropped his hatchet, saw the pilot in the plane, or finally crawled up on the beach. Include details from the story in your entry.

Chapter 19 and Epilogue | Comprehension: Author’s Purpose

  • The text says that the survival pack gave Brian “up and down feelings”. What do you think this means? Why might Brian feel this way?
  • Did your predictions about the end of the story come true? What, if anything, surprised you about the ending?
  • How has Brian’s life been changed permanently by this experience? Explain.
  • What did the epilogue tell you about Gary Paulsen’s purpose for writing this book?