Gary Paulsen, whose books taught generations of children how to survive in the woods with only a hatchet, died on Wednesday at the age of 82, according to his publisher.
Though he produced more than 200 books during his lifetime, Paulsen is most known for his wilderness survival stories, and three of his novels, Hatchet, Dogsong, and The Winter Room, were Newbery Honor books.
Paulsen was born in the state of Minnesota in the year 1939. Paulsen wrote about a rough childhood in his memoir, Gone To The Woods, which was published earlier this year. His father was away fighting in World War II, and his mother was an alcoholic, and Paulsen’s earliest memories are of her drinking and partying.
“She’d take me to bars and make me sing for soldiers in order for me to meet men and drink more. I survived on Coca-Cola and a lot of fried chicken from bartenders “In an interview with NPR, he stated.
Alone on the train with a five-dollar bill
Paulsen’s mother placed him on a train with nothing but a $5 money and a suitcase when he was five years old, and left him to live with his aunt and uncle on their farm in Northern Minnesota. There, he learned how to catch and cook fish over a campfire, as well as how to use the smoke to drive mosquitoes away at night – techniques that his later characters would employ to survive.
Paulsen remembered his time with his aunt and uncle warmly, but it was brief. When he was seven years old, he was reunited with his parents and began running away.
He explained, “I ended up in the woods.” “It happens all the time.”
During those bitter Minnesota winters, Paulsen also sought refuge at the library, where a diligent librarian took notice of him and offered him a library card, books, and finally a Scripto notebook and a number two pencil to jot down his thoughts.
“Without that, none of this would have happened,” Paulsen said.
He won a Newbery Honor — and wondered what that meant
Paulsen worked as a farmhand, an engineer, a construction worker, a ranch hand, a truck driver, a sailor, and even a carnival rider during his life. He quit his job as a satellite technician for a California aerospace corporation and worked as a magazine proofreader in Hollywood for the next year.
Under the pen name Paul Garrison, he was paid to write Westerns for the first time. He had no idea what a Newbery Honor meant when he received it for Dogsong in 1986.
“I honestly didn’t think so. My wife handed me the phone while I was up in the kennel with the dogs “According to Paulsen. “After that, we received a check. We were barely scraping by on three to four thousand dollars a year.”