Title: Brian’s Winter Realistic Fiction
Genre: Brian’s Winter (Paulsen, 1996) is certainly a great example of ‘Realistic Fiction,’ though the events involved are hardly commonplace events for modern they are painstakingly kept as real as possible, and the facts and methods of the survival techniques Brian has to use or reinvent are deeply rooted in real practices.
Book Summary: While I had read Hatchet many times as a child I wasn’t aware this book even existed until I saw it on the reading list. Now having read it I think it is actually the better ending to the original book – Brian is not rescued during the summertime, but has to survive a harsh Canadian winter with only his new skills and a few tools to survive, including having to make more powerful weapons to hunt and defend himself with, learn how to make a better shelter and clothing, and even snowshoes.
Impressions: Brian’s Winter is of the kind of books I wish we saw more new of in the last decade or so. High adventure with responsible and independent (if not always by choice) protagonists, and real problem solving skills highlighted without sugar-coating the problems involved. It is also important in the level of detail included about skills and tools that were commonplace among mankind for centuries, only to be replaced by newer technology, from flint napped arrowheads to sewing crude clothing from dried animal skins.
Professional Review: From Publishers Weekly (2017)
First there was Hatchet, Paulsen's classic tale of a boy's survival in the north woods after a plane crash. Then came a sequel, The River, and, last year, Father Water, Mother Woods, a collection of autobiographical essays introduced as the nonfiction counterpart to Hatchet. Now Paulsen backs up and asks readers to imagine that Brian, the hero, hadn't been rescued after all. His many fans will be only too glad to comply, revisiting Brian at the onset of a punishing Canadian winter. The pace never relents-the story begins, as it were, in the middle, with Brian already toughened up and his reflexes primed for crisis. Paulsen serves up one cliffhanger after another (a marauding bear, a charging elk), and always there are the supreme challenges of obtaining food and protection against the cold. Authoritative narration makes it easy for readers to join Brian vicariously as he wields his hatchet to whittle arrows and arrowheads and a lance, hunts game, and devises clothes out of animal skins; while teasers at the ends of chapters keep the tension high (``He would hunt big tomorrow, he thought.... But as it happened he very nearly never hunted again''). The moral of the story: it pays to write your favorite author and ask for another helping. Ages 12-up.
Library Uses: Brian’s Winter is a short enough novel that it would be perfect for a ‘boys adventure club’ setting, essentially an older storytime like event, perhaps read in monthly installments over the course of an actual winter. It would work better if the boys had read Hatchet first, or at least knew what it was about, but then, that could just be made part of the program – start with Hatchet in the Spring/Summer, and read both across the year, along with activities tied into the events of the book, like crafts to make paper bag ‘leather’ or have demonstrations of arrowhead making, things of that nature.
Readalikes: Brian’s Winter is part of a fairly broad category of adventure/survival stories which seems to have peaked a couple decades ago, though it has roots going back much farther. Jack London’s The Call of the Wild or White Fang would be good companion books, or My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. While it is somewhat thematically different Julie of the Wolves would also be a good choice, also by Jean Craighead George.
Paulsen, G. (1996). Brian’s Winter. New York, NY: Dell Laurel-Leaf.
Publishers Weekly. (2017). Brian’s Winter. [Review of the book Brian’s Winter]. PWxyz, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-385-32198-3