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Woods Runner    by Gary Paulsen order for
Woods Runner
by Gary Paulsen
Order:  USA  Can
Wendy Lamb Books, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Gary Paulsen takes a very interesting - and informative - approach in Woods Runner. He conveys what the Revolutionary War was like for many ordinary families, through the story of thirteen-year-old Samuel who seeks his parents after they are taken by the British. And he supplements the fictional tale by interspersing its chapters with sections - on subjects including Communication, Frontier Life, Weapons, War Orphans, and Treatment of Prisoners of War - of historical explanation.

Living in far Western Pennsylvania, the frontier of the British colony, with his bookish parents Olin and Abigail Smith (seekers of 'a quiet life of hard physical work and contemplation'), thirteen-year-old Samuel ('a child of the forest') regularly hunts in the woods to feed the family. He's doing this in 1776 when British soldiers and Iroquois slaughter most of his family's settlement but take his parents and some others prisoner. They had barely heard that war had been joined when it swept them up.

Samuel does what he can to quickly bury the dead and follows. Just as he catches up to the redcoats, their convoy is attacked by rebels. Though Samuel suffers a head wound, they take him with him and save his life. After he continues his quest, Samuel is joined by Annie, orphaned when her parents are killed by Hessians. They travel together towards New York, helped by 'old coot' Abner, who gathers intelligence for the rebels. With his assistance and advice, Samuel is able to reunite his family (with a new addition) and lead them home.

In his Afterword, the author speaks of the horrendous casualty rate - for eight long years - of young workingmen during the War of Independence. He reminds us: 'That these young men and boys stood to as they did, in the face of withering odds, and actually won and created a new country with their blood, is nothing short of astonishing.' I highly recommend Woods Runner as an exceptional middle school read.

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