NOTE TO TEACHERS
Grades 5 up
Brian’s Winter and The River, the exciting companions to the Newbery Honor-winning Hatchet, appeal to the sense of adventure in all young readers and are ideal for integrating into the curriculum as well as for classroom read-aloud.
The themes of survival, nature, making choices, and self-discovery can be explored in the classroom. Teachers may want to divide the class into smaller groups, each reading one of the books, to allow for more complete discussion of the activities included here.
We hope you find this guide useful in introducing your class to Gary Paulsen’s two award-winning adventure tales.
ABOUT THIS BOOK
In Hatchet, 13-year-old Brian Robeson learned to survive alone in the Canadian wilderness, armed with his hatchet and resourcefulness. In two gripping companion books, Brian again must survive in the woods.
In The River, Brian is asked to return to the woods to teach Derek, a government psychologist, survival techniques. But when Derek is struck by lightning, Brian’s survival skills are further tested as he must find a way to get the seriously injured Derek out of the woods.
Brian’s Winter begins where Hatchet might have ended: Brian is not rescued at the end of summer, and must now build on his survival skills to face his deadliest enemy–winter.
Paulsen’s companion novels masterfully explore how a boy’s determination and resourcefulness help him to survive and connect with nature in a way he didn’t know was possible.
A word from Gary Paulsen...
The River was a direct response to readers who sent letters telling me that Brian’s story wasn’t done at the end of Hatchet. So many wanted to know what happened to Brian after the rescue that I started wondering about him myself. What if Brian went back to the woods with the knowledge he’d gained, but this time were also responsible for the life of another person?
When I finished The River I thought I’d taken his story as far as it could go. And then the next batch of letters started showing up. Again readers wrote that there had to be more to the story, but this time, they told me Brian had been rescued in Hatchet too soon–before “it became really hard going.” What would he have done, they wanted to know, if he had to survive on his own through the winter? 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.
And so now the letters read, “What happened to Brian then . . . ”
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
Three-time Newbery Honor winner Gary Paulsen developed a passion for reading at an early age. Running away from home at the age of 14 and traveling with a carnival, Paulsen acquired a taste for adventure. His 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, and spent the next year in Hollywood as a magazine proofreader, working on his own writing every night. He completed his first novel later that year.
May 17 in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Southern New Mexico and on a boat in the Pacific
Farm hand, ranch hand, truck driver, sailor, dogsled racer, teacher, field engineer, editor, soldier, actor, director, trapper, professional archer, migrant farm worker, singer
Sailing, collecting and riding Harley Davidsons; twice ran the Iditarod, the challenging 1,000 mile dogsled race across Alaska
Inspiration for writing
After a librarian gave him a book to read–along with his own library card–Gary was hooked. He began spending hours alone in the basement of his apartment building, reading one book after another.
SCIENCE–Brian learns a lot about animals and how they communicate. Encourage students to select one animal that Brian encounters in The River or Brian’s Winter and research that animal’s method of communication, how it marks its territory, and how it protects itself from predators.
MATH–During his time in the wilderness, Brian draws on various math skills to help himself survive. He has to calculate how many days his food will last, and he must estimate distances when he is hunting. Ask students to create a math problem based on a specific incident or situation in either The River or Brian’s Winter.
ART–In Brian’s Winter, Brian takes charcoal from the fire to make sketches of the events of the day on his shelter wall. Invite students to select a favorite scene from either novel and sketch it on poster board. Display the drawings around the room and ask the students to place the scenes in sequential order. Then ask them to brainstorm an appropriate title for each sketch.
SOCIAL STUDIES–Brian hunts with tools similar to those used by early hunters. How does Brian know which tools to use in specific hunting situations? Ask students to use the library to research ancient hunting methods. Have them construct a pictorial time line that traces the development of various hunting tools.
LANGUAGE ARTS–Gary Paulsen uses imagery to appeal to all of the senses–sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Allow students to browse the books and find examples of such imagery. Ask them to use Paulsen’s images to create similes.
SURVIVAL–In The River, when lightning strikes Derek, Brian must find a way to get out of the woods and find medical help for the unconscious man. Ask students to discuss the difficult task of dealing with Derek after the accident. How does the accident further challenge Brian’s survival skills?
Ask students to compare and contrast the skills Brian used to survive the summer months in Hatchet with those he uses to survive in Brian’s Winter. How does his knowledge of summer survival contribute to his ability to make it through the brutal winter?
APPRECIATION OF NATURE–While Brian must depend on nature for food and clothing, he also develops a keen appreciation for the wilderness and has great respect for the animals that inhabit the woods. Find evidence throughout the novels that Brian is a careful hunter and understands the concept of wildlife conservation.
MAKING CHOICES–In The River, one of the most difficult decisions that Brian must make is what to do with Derek after the accident. Should he leave him there and go for help? Should he take him downriver on a raft? Encourage students to discuss the pros and cons of Brian’s choices. What are the many factors that Brian considers before making his decision? Ask students to find incidents in Brian’s Winter where Brian is faced with making important decisions. How do his decisions impact his health and safety?
SELF-DISCOVERY–After Brian’s 54 days in the wilderness in Hatchet, his parents insist that he see a counselor. The counselor thinks that Brian is “mentally injured.” Brian, however, feels that he was changed in a more positive way. Ask students to discuss what Brian discovers about himself. In The River, Brian says that he was “reborn in the woods” (p. 9). What does Brian mean? How might his “rebirth” affect his future relationships?
Exploring beyond Brian’s World — taking these ideas a step further...
CONSERVATION–Numerous organizations in America are involved in game management. Have students find out the purpose of each of the following organizations: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, and Ducks Unlimited. Ask them to create a poster advertising one of these organizations.
Each state in the United States has game laws. Many states require a hunting and fishing license. Ask students to find out the laws regarding hunting and fishing in their state. Why is it important to have such laws?
SURVIVAL–There are wilderness camps located throughout the nation to teach people survival skills. Encourage students to use the Internet to locate a wilderness camp in their state or region. What is the age range of the campers? What type of activities does the camp offer? How long is the camp in session? How much does it cost? Students may also enjoy locating a camp in another part of the country. How does the locale of the camp affect the type of survival skills taught?
Hands-on, in the Classroom...
“We settled on transforming our room into Brian’s Winter, then taking the younger students in our school through a guided, literary tour of the book. We formed a snow-covered pathway around the perimeter. Students transformed a tent into Brian’s shelter. The crash scene was created from a wading pool. Students wrote scripts for our tour guides and station narrators. Our visitors entered a semi-darkened room with a tape of forest sounds playing. Many of my students chose this activity as their favorite experience in my classroom this year!"
–Megan Blair-Cabasco, Teacher, Issaquah, Washington
In Brian’s Winter, The River, and Hatchet, Brian Robeson must survive in the northern woods. His most important resource is his own ingenuity. Divide the class into small groups and have them list items they think are necessary to include in a survival pack. Then challenge each group to decide which five items on their list are the most important. Ask each group to share and support their decision.
OTHER TITLES OF INTEREST
The Incredible Journey
Adventure • Friendship
Adventure • Coming of Age
The Voyage of the Frog
The Sign of the Beaver
Elizabeth George Speare
Survival • Making Choices