Woodsong: A novel that shows the survival and life bonds between man and animal!

Paulsen, Gary. Woodsong. Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing. 1990

"Perhaps the greatest paradox about understanding "the woods" is that so many who enjoy it, or seem to enjoy it, spend most of their time trying to kill parts of it" Paulsen. Woodsong is a gripping story in which Gary overcomes cold, hardship and loneliness. He illustrates these hardships in a realistic way that shows his true-life experiences. He uses his knowledge about the wilderness, combined with the instinctual knowledge of his sled dogs, in which he can attribute to his own as a means of survival, especially when dangers arises. Paulsen details the encounters that come into the path of he and his dogs, through gory, mysterious and heartfelt entries in every chapter - leaving the reader hungry for more adventure! He concludes the novel with words of encouragement, which satisfies the adventurous and aspiring hearts.

Woodsong begins with Paulsen sharing the part of his life when he was first a beaver trapper and how he found that to be a dead end. At the time, he had no money, no help and saw no promising future for himself. From that point, he was determined to take the road less traveled and race sled dogs He has so many connections, but one in particular, shapes his thoughts and views on animals. Certain victories of circumstances were from the contribution of his dogs and his own determination to cling to life.

The Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race is a famous race held each year between Anchorage and Nome, Alaska. This race is, in part, a major motivation for every trial that Paulsen has to overcome in order to get to this point. The distance between these two places is nearly 1200 miles! This race carries the weight of extreme cold, snow and hunger. Paulsen embarks on this race with the mentality that this is more than just a race; it is days and nights where sleep deprivation causes hallucinations and major distractions from the race. This can be he worst nightmare that has come true! There are many things that are hard to stomach before the Iditarod begins.

With the happy and Bambi-like teachings ingrained in his mind, Paulsen could never have fathomed that life is not a Disney movie. What appeared to be a beautiful, winter morning, turned into the darkest storm for all of his prior beliefs. Out of nowhere, comes running a doe with a stench of fear trailing behind and all around her! A pack of wolves had caught on to her scent and their hunting nature made them pursue her to the final hour. Paulsen witnessed the poor doe's life taken from her, in such a gang way, with no escape, although he had seen many predators fail. Hoping that this would be the case - it surely wasn't! "Wolves do not kill "clean." (If there is such a thing). It is a slow, ripping, terrible death for the prey and only those who have not seen it will argue for that silly business about the prey actually selecting itself." "I did not have a gun or I think I would have used it." Paulsen then felt hatred towards all wolves for the horrific feast that they just had - with the doe being the main course. "Leave her..." "I wanted it to be over for her." Witnessing something that has totally contradicted everything that Paulsen had ever learned about "natural" wildlife, he was confused about nature. Surprisingly, when all of the wolves stopped indulging in the blood bath that they had created, in response to Paulsen's cry for justice of the doe, he then questioned if he had the right to interrupt nature - something of which doesn't have a moral value to it. He realized that animals are not supposed to think that way that he does, but it's gut-wrenching that this new found understanding began with the eye-opening sight of blood!

Paulsen, in no way, tries to sugar-coat the experiences in this novel. He wanted to illustrate that survival is not for the ones who can't weather the storm. His idea of survival is having to know when to keep quiet when danger is near so that you won't be the next prey on the list of the predator. He learns this again when he comes face-to-face with a bear. The nature in the bear wanted to about in the burning garbage, but for some reason, Paulsen wanted to intervene in this instant, and realized again, that that wasn't the best action, when his common sense later told him, that he'd get a reaction from the bear! When the bear decided to give him a second chance, he later decided not to terminate the bear - simply for understanding the animal again. Their natures are different and this understanding is what will help Paulsen get closer and closer to his destination.

Paulsen targets the demographics of male teens, specifically with sharing his experiences in Woodsong. He shares adventure and fear, which all are exciting ingredients to the young and grown male. The bond between man and his "best friend," will resonate with a lot of males. He also shows that pushing through hard issues are not always easy. He illustrates, again, in the most graphic of ways, that life is not always simple. Sometimes you might have to take the back way through, get lost, nearly die and have a team of dogs save your life...but you can make it through it all! The fact that Paulsen stayed consistent with his themes from beginning to end, convinced his readers, as well as received praise in his reviews, supports this novel being critically and well written. His portrait of the test of man, will show the lessons and can influence even the withdrawn!

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23384_paulsen_gary.jpgRecommendations for Teachers
Woodsong should be a fairly easy and straightforward book to teach, but the content about life and death have to be considered when planning a curriculum around it. It's a story of bonding, survival and friendship. There are a great deal of morals to be taught and that is a current topic for young adults, in every classroom. Paulsen is a hero to young adults everywhere and those who take time to read his books. This book should be recommended for the strategy of hope; if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything! Also, there can be the focus of learning experiences to your advantage, and gaining knowledge from them. Your young adults need to know that they can still be a winner, regardless of any circumstance! In that, you will have helped your students identify with Gary Paulsen's determination and fortitude about conquering the odds. This will encourage maturation and such. Here is a link that you might enjoy for other books by Gary Paulsen Young Adult Books-BookSpot ! This will give you ideas on what teens want and what they like! Questions that can be posed for riveting discussion, are as follows:

1.) What is the moral of the story? (This question can do wonders following the explanation of morals and will allow them to offer opinions on what it means to have morals and values. They may even become engaged enough to share their own life experiences that relate to the topic).

*Survival Views
2.) How would you describe survival of the fittest?

What does it mean to be a survivor? (These two follow-up questions can make the students recap on excerpts from the book to give examples with their explanations). For example:
3.) Discuss how Gary Paulsen survived in the most dangerous of conditions. A discussion can be started about their own person journeys.

*Critical Thinking
4.) Describe what strategy is?
How can you develop it fully? (This is a great leeway into a fun conversation, which will expose a lot of creativity and showcasing of one's talents)!

Useful site for teachers regarding Vocabulary within Woodsong. This provides flash-cards for important vocab based on the reading level of your students.
Here is another link for some hot topics for Young Adults! Information about health, growth and emotions for Teens

About Gary James Paulsen

(Website for image: Gary James Paulsen.Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org )
Born May 17, 1939, Gary Paulsen is one of America's most popular writers for young people. Although he was never a dedicated student, Paulsen developed a passion for reading at an early age. After a librarian gave him a book to read — along with his own library card — he was hooked. He began spending hours alone in the basement of his apartment building, reading one book after another.
( Can you believe this?) Running away from home at the age of 14 and traveling with a carnival, Paulsen acquired a taste for adventure. A youthful summer of rigorous chores on a farm; jobs as an engineer, construction worker, ranch hand, truck driver, and sailor; and two rounds of the 1,180-mile Alaskan dog sled race, the Iditarod; have provided ample material from which he creates his powerful stories.
Paulsen's realization that he would become a writer came suddenly when he was working as a satellite technician for an aerospace firm in California. One night he walked off the job, never to return. He spent the next year in Hollywood as a magazine proofreader, working on his own writing every night. Then he left California and drove to northern Minnesota where he rented a cabin on a lake; by the end of the winter, he had completed his first novel.
Living in the remote Minnesota woods, Paulsen eventually turned to the sport of dog racing, and entered the 1983 Iditarod. In 1985, after running the Iditarod for the second time, he suffered an attack of angina and was forced to give up his dogs. "I started to focus on writing the same energies and efforts that I was using with dogs. So we're talking 18-, 19-, 20-hour days completely committed to work. Totally, viciously, obsessively committed to work, the way I'd run dogs....I still work that way, completely, all the time. I just work. I don't drink, I don't fool around, I'm just this way....The end result is there's a lot of books out there."
It is Paulsen's overwhelming belief in young people that drives him to write. His intense desire to tap deeply into the human spirit and to encourage readers to observe and care about the world around them has brought him both enormous popularity with young people and critical acclaim from the children's book community. Paulsen is a master storyteller who has written more than 175 books and some 200 articles and short stories for children and adults. He is one of the most important writers of young adult literature today and three of his novels — Hatchet, Dogsong, and The Winter Room— were Newbery Honor Books. His books frequently appear on the best books lists of the American Library Association.
Paulsen has received many letters from readers (as many as 200 a day) telling him they felt Brian Robeson's story in Hatchet was left unfinished by his early rescue, before the winter came and made things really tough. They wanted to know what would happen if Brian were not rescued, if he had to survive in the winter. Paulsen says, "Since my life has been one of survival in winter — running two Iditarods, hunting and trapping as a boy and young man — the challenge became interesting, and so I researched and wrote Brian's Winter, showing what could and perhaps would have happened had Brian not been rescued."
Paulsen and his wife, Ruth Wright Paulsen, an artist who has illustrated several of his books, divide their time between a home in New Mexico and a boat in the Pacific. (About Gary James Paulsen. http://www.randomhouse.com/features/garypaulsen/about.html)

An Interview with Gary Paulsen!

In this video Gary Paulsen describes why he became a writer. He establishes different ideas of thought and describes what it is to be a significant!
Watch closely to get a better idea of Mr. Paulsen and learn how you, too, can live a worthy life as well!

Additional Resources:
These are just some additional resources that have to do with the incredible Gary Paulsen! These links give answers and pictures and can answer any questions you may have. Enjoy!

Look into this cool interview with Gary Paulsen..hosted by Scholastic!


-Names of Reviewers:
Sheila Shipp
Kindra Peterson
Kory Heerspink
Dan Sommerville

-Final Reviewer:
Kindra Peterson