The book that I remember reading on my own the most as a young reader was Hatchet. I read the book in the fall of fifth grade and I wanted to be Brian. I wanted to: hunt, build a shelter, and survive a moose attack. For Christmas I even got my very own Hatchet. The hatchet went into the neighborhood woods with me, and I tried to create a shelter following Gary Paulsen’s description.
This winter our local library spent most of their children’s budget to bring Gary Paulsen to town. Gary Paulsen is even more popular 18 years later than he was when I read “Hatchet”. The buzz of Gary’s visit started soon after the start of the year. I kept hyping it as a “once in a lifetime opportunity”.
Instead of just meeting my students at the W.K. Kellogg Auditorium I decided that we needed to go all out and make this a total reading celebration. Many students in my class bought me a bunch of gift cards for a local book store. I decided that I was going to allow the class the opportunity to decide how we would spend the money for books in the classroom. After many recesses where most of the class stayed inside we had a plan. After school I went straight to the bookstore taking one of my students with me. On the way he told me that this would be his first ever trip to the mall. I was shocked.
At the book store I was greeted by 15 of my 24 students. They each had a job that they assigned themselves, and within 30 minutes we had a stack of about $400 worth of books. The students then divided the books into three piles: books we must buy, books we really want, and books that we could probably live without. It was so impressive to see them take so much ownership in this process. We left with $200+ of student selected books.
Our next stop was McDonald’s where most of the students from the book store joined me, and a few others that hadn’t been at the book store showed up. We laughed, ate, and talked books for a little over an hour. It was amazing watching the class get more and more excited as we got closer to hearing Mr. Paulsen speak.
At the auditorium we gained a few more students. In the end 21 out of 24 students came to at least part of our reading night. Our class sat in the first and second rows. It felt like our class had a real presence in the auditorium. It was magical.
The class was amazed by the life story Mr. Paulsen told. He left out no details, and at times I was a little worried about some of the things he talked about. It was amazing to listen to the man that had such a huge impact on myself and so many of my young readers. It truly was a “once in a lifetime opportunity”.
We ended the night by waiting in line for over an hour to get his autograph. I dared my biggest Gary Paulsen fan to shake his hand. I was so proud of him when he look Mr. Paulsen in the eye and said, “Mr. Paulsen would it be okay if I shook your hand.” As they shook hands and looked into each others eyes, my eyes filled with tears.
After getting a class picture taken with Mr. Paulsen I took home a student. When I left his home it was 10:30. I had spent 14 straight hours with my fourth graders, and it was perfect. Perfect.