Gary Paulsen's Hatchet is an interesting adventure story of a boy, Brian, who tries to live in the wilderness after a plane crash. A background lesson on the northern Canadian forests and wildlife will help students better visualize this remote setting. As a fun pre-reading activity, your class can take a quiz on wilderness survival and learn basic survival skills. With this knowledge, they can assess how successfully Brian lives in the forest and note any mistakes he makes.

Brian struggles in an environment associated with the primitive world as he discovers how to make fire, tools, and shelter with little more than a hatchet. Students can discuss Brian's transformation into a primitive survivalist and his relationship with nature. During this discussion, you can also analyze the symbolic significance of the wolf and the rifle.

While Brian's experiences in the forest will seem unfamiliar to most students, his isolation and conflicting feelings toward his parents, especially his mother, during their divorce will likely be emotionally relatable. Students can talk or write about feeling alone or their own emotionally trying experiences and how they learned to cope just as Brian does.

Summary of Hatchet

Key Facts

  • Publication Date: 1987
  • Length: 189 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 1020
  • Recommended Grade Band: 6-8
  • Newbery Honor (1988)
  • Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children's Book Award (1989)

Brian Robeson, the thirteen-year-old son of recently divorced parents, is traveling from New York to visit his father in the oil fields in northern Canada. Before he leaves in the small plane, his mother gives him a hatchet. When the pilot suffers a heart attack, Brian crash lands the plane into a lake in a remote forest. He must then learn to survive in the wilderness and faces various natural threats including wild animals and a tornado. As he develops survival skills, he also copes with his loneliness, his parents' divorce, and the knowledge that his mother had had an affair.

Content Warning: Hatchet contains death, a suicide attempt, and mentions of adultery.

What Your Students Will Love About Hatchet

  • The wilderness adventure story
  • Brian's perseverance and determination

Potential Student Struggles With Hatchet

  • The repetition and slow pacing of the novel

Learning Objectives for Hatchet

  • Compare and contrast the main character's relationship to nature at the beginning of the novel and his relationship to it at the end.
  • Write an essay identifying those qualities one needs to survive alone in the wilderness.
  • Comment on the author's style of writing and how his style is similar to or different from the style of other authors you've read.
  • Discuss why this novel may appropriately be called a coming-of-age novel.
  • Trace how Brian comes to terms with his parents' divorce.

Literary Elements in Hatchet

  • Flashback
  • Foreshadowing
  • Repetition
  • Sensory Images
  • Simile
  • Symbolism
  • And more!

Major Themes in Hatchet

Survival — After his plane crashes, Brian must survive in the Canadian wilderness with nothing more than the clothes he is wearing and a hatchet. He deals with the hazards of nature and learns how to find food and create fire and shelter.

Related Works:

Isolation — Before leaving to visit his father, Brian seems emotionally isolated; he barely speaks to his mother because he is upset about his parents' divorce. After the pilot has a heart attack and the plane crashes, Brian is the sole survivor. He lives in physical isolation for weeks.

Related Works:

Coming of Age —  As Brian relies on himself to survive and overcomes physical and psychological challenges, he matures from a boy into a capable young man.

Related Works:

Other Resources for Hatchet

Order Hatchet Resources from Prestwick House

Resource Format
Hatchet Paperback Student Edition
Hatchet Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Hatchet Activity Pack Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Hatchet Response Journal Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Hatchet Complete Teacher's Kit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set

This free guide was originally posted in October 2016. It has been updated as of September 2020.