Today’s post comes from Marriah K. Nissen, who wrote this for my blog. Here’s Marriah:
Every night at bedtime, my daughter and husband crack open a book and wander through a story someone else has dreamed up. My daughter is more of the fairytale fanatic, enjoying journeys that take place in a realm that I read about as a child. Her most recent personal read has been the original story of The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson. My husband, on the other hand, tends to be more of a realist. The middle ground they both decide on means that the book they choose has to have adventure. Lately, the type of adventure they’ve both been seeking has centered on the works of one author in particular – Gary Paulsen.
The fact that my husband enjoys Paulsen’s work comes as no surprise. I never read any of Paulsen’s books while I was growing up, and when I saw the tomes lining my shelves after I got married, I wasn’t surprised to see why I hadn’t. Paulsen has a flair for writing more from the young boy perspective, which sadly enough, I feel is lacking in MG and YA literature today. That’s not to say that works aren’t being written for boys, but the most popular ones tend to hinge on fantastical elements and far-fetched storylines, like Percy Jackson and Harry Potter, both of which still hit the tops of most MG and YA lists. What’s missing in these books is real-life adventure, something a boy can go out and experience on his own.
You might be asking then why my daughter loves Paulsen’s books so much. Mainly because the stories hinge on that big “S” word we all like to find in our novels – Suspense. In Paulsen’s stories, like Dogsong, The Voyage of the Frog, and Hatchet, the main characters are boys, but these are kids around her age, kids going through real-life conflicts and hardships. They find themselves in uncertain, often times harrowing circumstances, and she’s just hoping that they survive in the end. She loves anything that will take her on a great adventure as seen through the eyes of a child around her age.
In Dogsong, young Russel Suskitt leaves the modern world with nothing more than a dog sled and a chance to find his own “song” inside himself. In The Voyage of the Frog, David Alspeth sets out to fulfill his uncle’s final wish and sets sail in the Frog. And in Hatchet, Brian Robeson finds himself stranded in the wilderness of Canada and must somehow stay alive. In all of these stories, unknown adventures await the main characters, adventures they never knew they’d encounter. What makes these stories so wonderful to read is that the characters come out better for it on the other end:
- Russel finds his “song” and helps a young girl along the way.
- David, even after being lost at sea, knows he’s fulfilled his uncle’s last request.
- Brian not only survives the wilderness, but teaches others how to as well in The River, the sequel to Hatchet.
In all, Paulsen writes stories about survival, something for which children today still hold a keen interest. Not only do they get to read a story that puts them on the edge of their seat, but they also absorb a learning experience about how to hack your way out of the wilds of Canada or survive a storm at sea in a tiny sailboat. If we are to believe as writers the old saying, “Write what you know,” much like Paulsen did, then we should also take it one step further. Add a little excitement and suspense into the mix. After running away from home at the age of 14, Gary Paulsen used his experiences in his writing when he embarked on a life filled with odd jobs, such as traveling with a carnival, being a sailor, and entering the Iditarod. When he decided to write about his journeys in life, he managed to do it with a suspenseful flair. To this day he remains a mainstay in the young adult market and continues to show his “intense desire to tap deeply into the human spirit and to encourage readers to observe and care about the world around them.”*
If you’ve never taken the opportunity to read one of Paulsen’s many stories, then I encourage you to do so. You just might glean a little insight into your own life.
Marriah K. Nissen is an adult historical author and co-author of the award-winning blog The Writing Sisterhood. Her previous work has won both regional and national competitions, including the Soul-Making Keats Literary Awards, the Southwest Writers Literary Contest, and the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest. For the third straight year, she has recently received the New Mexico Press Women’s Award for best informational blog. She has her M.A. in French language, literature and culture and is an active member of SouthWest Writers in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She is currently working on her latest novel, which centers on the building of the first atomic bomb in Los Alamos, New Mexico.