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Woods Runner

 “He was not sure exactly when he became a child of the forest,” but 13 year-old Samuel, the hero of Gary Paulsen’s new book Woods Runner,  has a profound gift for hunting and understanding “sign” in the wild. Not only does Samuel supply meat for his parents, but he is the main hunter for the frontier community in which he lives.

Samuel is part of two worlds – the green world of the forest, “unimaginably vast, impenetrable, mysterious and dark,” and the world of civilization, of shelter and books and contemplation. On the frontier of western Pennsylvania, life is rigorous, brutal, and often violent.  Samuel’s life as hunter and provider seems peaceful, until the fateful day when he is out hunting and smells “wrong” smoke on the wind from the direction of his home. He fears that something has happened to his parents, and runs the eight miles home in a panic.

 He’s right. The people in his community have been butchered, and their homes burned to the ground. Fortunately, his parents were not among the bodies that Samuel had to bury that day, and he sets off to find and rescue them. From that day on, his life is never the same.

Samuel’s journey is not for the fainthearted. He encounters British troops, Iroquois Indians with whom they have partnered, and the coldblooded Hessian mercenaries from Germany who slaughter without discrimination. Paulsen does a wonderful job of bringing both the terrible conditions and the simple human struggle of the frontier alive in Woods Runner.