Post by Kelly Greenwood
I heard once that the books you read when you are eleven are the most formative books you will read in your life. Sounds like pretty soft science, unprovable in the tangled mess that is human life, but interesting to think about. Especially given that the books I read when I was eleven were among the genre of The Call of the Wild and My Side of the Mountain, and now I lead wilderness expeditions and teach environmental education. So maybe there is something there.
Among the many tasks in getting the expedition program I work for in the summer ready, myself and a coworker were given several boxes of books to sort through and decide which to keep around for campers and which to donate. As we sorted through piles of teen and pre-teen lit, it became a trip down library aisles of our pasts. A Wrinkle in Time! The Boxcar Children! And a group favorite, Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen. Hatchet tells the story of a young boy who is the sole survivor of a bush plane crash in the Canadian wilderness, and must learn to survive with only one tool on hand–surprise, it’s a hatchet. It’s a classic tale of adventure and survival, one that I read over and over again as a child. So, too, had many of my fellow expedition leaders.
We found six copies of Hatchet that went into the “keep” pile, and then a seventh that we decided to sacrifice to the “donate” pile. It sat at the top of the pile, and, without fail, everyone who passed us as we worked that day picked Hatchet up, talked about how much they loved the book, and tried to move it to the “keep” pile, only relenting when we explained how many we had already kept. Is it coincidence that almost every single one of our trip leaders read Hatchet in their childhood and now works in the outdoor industry, or did our eleven-year-old selves make a larger decision than they were aware of when they pulled that book off a shelf? There is no way to know, but either way, if you have an eleven year old in your life, I have a book for them.
What were you reading when you were eleven, and does that relate to who you are today?