Guts: A Real-life Resource for Teaching Hatchet

Use Paulsen's memoir to engage students in reading Hatchet


Cover of Paulsen's book Guts
Cover of Paulsen's book Guts

Teaching Gary Paulsen's novel Hatchet is in many ways a rite of passage for middle grades teachers.  Brian Robeson's survival story is a great read, and I have taught it for many years (Hatchet celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2017!),  For the past few years, I have paired the novel with Guts, Paulsen's memoir that recounts stories from his real life adventures that inspired Brian's adventures in Hatchet. I don't use the whole book in class; I use excerpts with certain episodes in the book. But every year, this book captures students who will devour the parts of the book we have not read together. Some of my favorite passages from Guts that can be used during your reading of the novel include :

pp. 2-6.  Read after the pilot in Hatchet suffers a heart attack. Compare Paulsen's real-life experience as an ambulance driver working on a local rancher with a heart attack to Brian's experience with the pilot.

pp. 67-73 end of 1st paragraph. Read after Brian finds the gun! Beautifully written explanation of how Paulsen becomes passionate about the outdoors.  Great introduction to a  "passion-type" project.  My prompt: Paulsen says that hunting and fishing were "all he lived and breathed for."  What do you "live and breathe for"? What pulls at you the way that the outdoors does for Paulsen? I love the responses from my class full of hunters, fishermen, ballerinas, actors, etc.

p. 8 (last sentence) through p.11 ('act like concrete").   Read after Brian's crash landing.  This is a real life shark story that also gives insight into Paulsen's thinking when writing about the crash..

pp. 52-56.  This is the story of Paulsen witnessing a deer attacking and killing a child. The excerpt is tragic and riveting but not gory.  I ask students to make a case for who is at fault in the attack- the mom? the park? the visitors who have conditioned the deer to be fed?

The Joy of Cooking  chapter is also an interesting one to share with students. Here's a link to the publisher's Teacher's Guide to Guts. 

 Don't miss Guts as a non-fiction companion to Hatchet!