Talk about prolific. Young adult writer Gary Paulsen has written more than 200 books, 200 magazine articles and short stories, and several plays. His awards are too many to name.
But don’t look to Paulsen for either a “Harry Potter” substitute or a Digital Age drama. As widely as Paulsen has written, his fields of interest remain somewhat narrow. He loves nature and he favors coming-of-age stories – especially when the two can be brought together.
Woods Runner (Wendy Lamb Books, 176 pp., $15.99) has many of the makings of a classic Paulsen story. The story is set during the American Revolution, and 13-year-old Samuel is living with his parents in a British colony deep in the Pennsylvania woods – really deep.
“The forest was unimaginably vast, impenetrable, mysterious and dark. His father had told him that a man could walk west for month, walk as fast as he could, and never see the sun, so high and dense was the canopy of leaves.... It was a world that did not care about man.”
But like it or not, man has left his mark and Samuel returns from a hunting trip one day to discover that his parents – gentle souls who love books and music but don’t quite grasp the physical world – have disappeared. They have been kidnapped by an alliance of British soldiers and Iroquois Indians and it is now Samuel’s job to find them and bring them to safety.
Paulsen does not hesitate to deglamorize war. Samuel’s quest blends harsh scenarios with moments of unexpected camaraderie. The result is a gripping read that delivers a dark slice of history even as it spins a compelling survivalist drama.
In a lighter vein, Paulsen has also penned a sequel to last year’s “Lawn Boy.” In Lawn Boy Returns (Wendy Lamb Books, 112 pp., $12.99), the 12-year-old narrator of both books has a serious problem on his hands. His wildly successful lawn-mowing business is just plain too successful and he suddenly finds himself juggling a business manager, an accountant, and several attorneys – when all he ever really wanted was a summer vacation and a new tire for his bike.
Paulsen creates a likeable character facing a humorous dilemma – just the thing for a lazy summer afternoon read.
Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.