Do We All Need to Read “Hatchet”?
I was attending a middle school book fair and was perusing the shelves for something to purchase. There were the usual Harry Potter series, multiple items from Rick Riordan, and lots of books that alarmingly have more pictures than print in them. There sitting on the shelf, was this book without the usual supernatural vampires who know magic and live in a dystopian future. It was simply what looked like the image of an ax. I was quickly corrected as I read the title to be “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen. This was a book that was very familiar to me, having seen it on the shelves in many classrooms over the 22 years of my teaching career or in the hands of many a middle school boy. I had even been at a conference the week before where one of the presenters was using “Hatchet” as an example of how to teach depth and complexity. I thought to myself,
Why have I never read this book before?
This was a bit perplexing. The book came out in 1987 when I would have just been entering high school. Even then I was an avid reader, often drowning out my chemistry or Geometry teachers as I read the latest Stephen King book at my desk. Not only that, it was the ultimate boy’s book. While the more popular books of that era were geared towards girls such as VC Andrews and Judy Blume, here was a book that every red-blooded boy should want to read, and yet I hadn’t. What had I been missing out on in life because I had not yet read this book? What advantages did those who had read it hold over me? What would I say if anyone ever asked me if I had read the book at a conference or dinner party?
These pangs of guilt caused me to snatch it from the shelf and quickly buy it before anyone had figured out I was doing so because I had not read it before. In my continued shame, I would only read the book in private, not wanting anyone to find out the horrendous truth. The further and further I read, the less concerned I became. About a quarter of the way through the book I realized, I really didn’t need to have read “Hatchet.” Sure, it is a pretty well-written book, and I was enjoying it, but if I had never seen it that day at the book fair, would my life had been the less for it?
I decided that no. I had survived my first 46 years of my life without having read the book and seemed to be doing just fine. I am positive I could have gone another 46 without reading it and have been great too. Well, as long as I don’t go down in a plane and crash in the woods in the wintertime.
This got me thinking. How important is it for students to be learning all of the content they are learning?