I once told someone that I thought Gary Paulsen was the Hemingway of children's fiction, and I stand by that. His writing is at once spare and very rich. One of the most personally influential books I've ever read is his novel Hatchet. It was the first novel I ever taught; I've probably read it at least 20 times, most of those aloud, and I can honestly say that not only did I never tire of the tale, but I found something new each time.
In Paulsen's elegant prose, the book tells the story of 13-year-old Brian Robeson who, through a series of events, is stranded alone for the summer on the shores of a lake in northern Canada. Ultimately, Brian learns to survive by drawing on his prior knowledge and his ingenuity. His experience is not without its challenges and ordeals, but in the end he grows from a dependent, reactive child to an independent and resourceful young man.
Before I read Hatchet, I don't think I ever thought about what would happen were I to be in a situation where I needed to survive in the wild. As much as I enjoyed hiking and camping, it was all pretty much a pleasant green blur to me; nothing really stuck out, because nothing had to. Hatchet put the individual components of nature into context for me, and in the seventeen years since, my knowledge of the outdoors has increased exponentially, and I love every minute I spend there.
Could I could survive on my own with nothing but a hatchet? Who knows? Probably not, but I'd definitely last a lot longer having read that book.