Paulsen's talent for scene-setting, especially in an exciting wilderness drama, is paired here with a vivid story of the American Revolution…The story is instantly involving…
The New York Times
Set during the American Revolution, Paulsen's (Hatchet) slim novel candidly and credibly exposes the underbelly of that war. Sam is a skilled hunter with an instinctive knowledge of the western Pennsylvania forest—a “woods runner.” When word of fighting between the British and the colonists reaches his family, the 13-year-old realizes that his life will change (“The loud outside world his parents had escaped by moving to the frontier had found them”). It is a brutal change: Sam returns from a hunting expedition to find houses in their settlement burned to the ground and the scalped bodies of neighbors. His harrowing quest to locate and rescue his parents—taken prisoner by the culprits, British soldiers aided by Iroquois—involves a nearly fatal run-in with a tomahawk-wielding native; a narrow escape from marauding Hessian mercenaries; and a fortuitous encounter with a Scottish tinker who's a spy for the patriots. Paulsen fortifies this illuminating and gripping story with interspersed historical sections that offer details about frontier life and the war (such as technology, alliances, and other period information), helping place Sam's struggles in context. Ages 12–up. (Jan.)
School Library Journal
Gr 6–9—Samuel, 13, lives in the British colony of Pennsylvania. He spends his days exploring and hunting in the woods far from civilization. His father wants to live a quiet life learning to use tools and build a house, while his mother tries to get the garden to grow. There are rumors that American patriots have begun a bloody war against the English but news takes weeks to arrive and the fighting seems far away from the peaceful frontier. Suddenly, the war comes to Samuel. While he is hunting, British soldiers and Iroquois attack, taking Samuel's parents prisoner and killing many in the settlement. He follows their trail determined to rescue them. Paulsen takes readers inside the reality of this war, revealing the horrific conditions of the civilians who were taken prisoner. Between each chapter Paulsen includes information on various aspects of the war such as weapons, civilian deaths, orphans, and communication. Through Samuel's story, readers discover the brutality and cost of war. In the afterword, the author informs readers that he is not attempting to write the history of the Revolutionary War but instead to clarify some aspects of it. His story will leave readers with a new sense of admiration for those who lost their lives in the creation of the nation. This fast-paced novel will appeal to Paulsen fans and is a good choice for reluctant readers.—Denise Moore, O'Gorman Junior High School, Sioux Falls, SD
Thirteen-year-old Samuel is a courier du bois, or woods runner, a wilderness expert who provides meat for his entire settlement in the British colony of Pennsylvania. When he returns from hunting one day to find all of the cabins in his settlement burned to the ground and everyone slaughtered or missing, he must rely on those skills and the help of good folk along the way to the British garrison in New York to find his parents. Not a war novel of "patriotism, all clean, pristine, antiseptic," as Paulsen explains in his afterword, this is a vivid and graphic tale of one boy caught up in a harsh war, a side of the American Revolution not often told. The author structures the narrative in an unusual fashion, alternating fictional scenes with nonfiction information related to the story line-brief segments on spy networks, weaponry, war orphans, Hessians and floating prisons. Though no sources are provided for the nonfiction elements, the effective pairing of fiction and nonfiction makes this a superb reflection on the nature of war. A good match for the author's Soldier's Heart (1998). (Historical fiction. 11 & up)
From the Publisher
Starred review, Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2010: "A superb reflection on the nature of war."
Children's Literature - Greg M. Romaneck
Samuel is thirteen years old and lives on the edge of a wilderness in colonial Pennsylvania. The Revolutionary War rages but for Samuel all that seems to matter is the life he leads in the woodlands that surround his family's cabin. Samuel feels at home in the woods. He loves to track game, hunt, and study all aspects of the world that exists within the forest. Samuel thinks of himself as a woods runner, a person so at home in the forest that they become a part of it. But then the soldiers and Iroquois come. Samuel's cabin and the nearby settlement are destroyed by the invading British forces. Samuel's parents are gone, taken captive by the enemy. Faced with this crisis Samuel decides to track his parents in a seemingly vain attempt to rescue them. This decision begins an epic journey for Samuel. On the journey he sees the face of war in all its grim aspects. In the end, Samuel discovers a great deal about the kindness and the cruelty that people are capable of. In this historical tale, the renowned author Gary Paulsen once again takes up the task of telling the story of a bygone era. In the past Gary Paulsen has consistently demonstrated his ability to capture the nuances of a time period while crafting believable characters. In Woods Runner Paulsen once again captures a moment in time and the people who lived it in a way that will educate and touch his readers. This is a fine historical novel and one that allows its readers to better appreciate all the costs that war exacts. Reviewer: Greg M. Romaneck
VOYA - Jane Van Wiemokly
Reading this novel will show anyone who believes war is glorious that combat, in Paulsen's words, is "never, not ever, clean." Thirteen-year-old Samuel sees it firsthand as the British and their hired Iroquois savagely attack the few homes on the edge of a forest in western Pennsylvania in 1776. His gentle parents are taken captive; all others are scalped and killed. He escapes this fate because he was in his beloved woods hunting for food. Determined to follow and rescue his parents on their way to a prison in British-controlled New York City, he again sees another family slaughtered. The daughter, Annie, survives and travels with Samuel. On the way, many men and women working covertly for the Americans aid him in his journey. What he encounters on the way is harrowing, yet offers moments of goodness that save his life. With help from others in navigating the consequences of war, Samuel grows and matures. The skills he learned in the forest greatly aid in his survival. Paulsen intersperses the fictional chapters with short historical sections that contribute to the understanding of life during the Revolutionary War in general and as it relates to Samuel in particular. Paulsen does not attempt to sanitize the destruction war brings; death and casualties are ever present. This wonderful tool will spark discussion about history, ethics, and the realities of war. It is also a wonderfully written, fast-paced, coming-of-age story that forces the reader to think about the horrifying side of war. Reviewer: Jane Van Wiemokly
Read an Excerpt
He was not sure exactly when he became a child of the forest.
One day it seemed he was eleven and playing in the dirt around the cabin or helping with chores, and the next, he was thirteen, carrying a .40-caliber Pennsylvania flintlock rifle, wearing smoked-buckskin clothing and moccasins, moving through the woods like a knife through water while he tracked deer to bring home to the cabin for meat.
He sat now by a game trail waiting for the deer he knew would come soon. He had heard it, a branch brushing a hairy side, a twig cracking, smelled it when the wind blew toward him, the musk and urine of a buck. He checked the priming on his rifle while he waited, his mind and body relaxed, patient, ears and eyes and nose alert. Quiet. Every part of him at rest, yet focused and intense.
And he pictured his life, how he lived in two worlds.
Sometimes Samuel thought that a line dividing those worlds went right through their cabin. To the west, beyond the small parchment window made of grease-soaked sheepskin scraped paper-thin, lay the forest.
The forest was unimaginably vast, impenetrable, mysterious and dark. His father had told him that a man could walk west for a month, walk as fast as he could, and never see the sun, so high and dense was the canopy of leaves.
Even close to their homestead--twelve acres clawed out of the timber with a small log cabin and a lean-to for a barn--the forest was so thick that in the summer Samuel could not see more than ten or fifteen yards into it. Some oak and elm and maple trees were four and five feet in diameter and so tall and thickly foliaged their height could only be guessed.
A wild world.
And while there were trails made by game and sometimes used by natives, settlers or trappers, the paths wandered and meandered so that they were impossible to use in any sensible way. Except to hunt.
When he first started going into the forest, Samuel went only a short distance. That first time, though he was well armed with his light Pennsylvania rifle and dry powder and a good knife, he instantly felt that he was in an alien world.
As a human he did not belong. It was a world that did not care about man any more than it cared about dirt, or grass, or leaves. He did not get lost that first time, because he'd marked trees with his knife as he walked so he could find his way out; butstill, in some way he felt lost, as if, were he not careful, a part of him would disappear and never return, gone to the wildness. Samuel had heard stories of that happening to some men. They entered the forest to hunt or trap or look for new land to settleand simply vanished.
"Gone to the woods," people said of them.
Some, he knew, were dead. Killed by accident, or panthers or bear or Indians. He had seen such bodies. One, a man mauled to death by a bear that had attacked his horse while the man was plowing; the man's head was eaten; another, killed by an arrow through the throat. An arrow, Samuel knew, that came out of the woods from a bow that was never seen, shot by a man who was never known. And when he was small, safe inside the cabin near the mud-brick fireplace with his mother and father, he had heard the panthers scream; they sounded like a woman gone mad.
Oh, he knew the forest could kill. Once, sitting by the fire, a distant relative, a shirttail uncle who was a very old man of nearly fifty named Ishmael, had looked over his shoulder as if expecting to see monsters and said, "Nothing dies of old age in the forest. Not bugs, not deer, not bear nor panthers nor man. Live long enough, be slow enough, get old enough and something eats you. Everything kills."
And yet Samuel loved the forest now. He knew the sounds and smells and images like he knew his own mind, his own yard. Each time he had entered he'd gone farther, learned more, marked more trees with his knife, until he always knew where he was. Now he thought of the deep forest as his home, as much as their cabin.
But some men vanished for other reasons, too. Because the forest pulled them and the wild would not let them go. Three years ago, when Samuel was ten, he had seen one of these men, a man who moved like smoke, his rifle a part of his arm, a tomahawk through his belt next to a slab-bladed knife, eyes that saw all things, ears that heard all things. One family in the settlement had a room on their cabin that was a kind of store. The man had come to the store to buy small bits of cloth and powder and English flints for his rifle at the same time Samuel was waiting for his mother to buy thread.
The man smelled of deep forest, of smoke and blood and grease and something green--Samuel knew he smelled that way, too. The stranger could not be still. As he stood waiting, he moved. Though he was courteous and nodded to people, as soon as he had the supplies for his rifle and some salt, he left. He was there one moment and gone the next, into the trees, gliding on soft moccasins to become part of the forest, as much as any tree or leaf or animal. He went west.
Away from man, away from the buildings and the settled land.
From the Hardcover edition.