Wednesday, December 17, 2008
I read aloud the first chapter of Woodsong today. Gary Paulsen describes a scene running a team of sled dogs. He talks about the beauty of a sparkling sunny, but cold day. His dog team was working in tandem and everything was wonderful. Then a doe busts over his lead dog, and onto a mostly frozen lake as she was being chased by a pack of coyotes. The scene turns from one of unbelievable beauty to unbelievable horror. And this led to Paulson questioning his thoughts and ideas about nature.
Later, as I thought about how students responded to this story, it caused me to reminisce about meeting Gary Paulsen. Much in the same manner as the first chapter of Woodsong, he comes across first as this kindly, little old man. Then as he begins to tell his stories, you realize that maybe you don't quite know him.
As each story unfolds, you begin to realize that the more you listen, the less you understand. Obviously the tales from his childhood that forced a premature self-reliance also impacted him in other ways. His love of nature, at first as an escape, and later for the wonderment, always shows through.
Talking to him though, quickly forces a reevaluation of all of the preconceived notions based on reading blurbs and enjoying his books. This is a rough, tough, crude, man's man. This is someone who can stand tall in any crowd, but doesn't care. He has lived his life based on his decisions.
He doesn't write of the horror he witnessed that day by the lake to amaze his audience. He does so to share his feelings and help the reader understand his journeys. I am sure his goal is to write in a way that will cause the reader to think and reevaluate what he thinks he knows. And hopefully the students today did just that.
Several students said they didn't like this book as a read aloud. They wanted me to switch to a happier book. But I am going to read some more. At least then, maybe they will understand how a master writer shocked them, to make them think and make them learn.