Woods Runner Summary

Gary Paulsen

Woods Runner

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Woods Runner Summary

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Woods Runner is a 2010 young adult novel by American author Gary Paulsen. Taking place during the year 1776, it is the story of 13-year-old Samuel and his life during the Revolutionary War. When British soldiers burn down his family’s house and his family goes missing, he determines that his parents are not among the dead and begins a journey to find them by traveling to New York. His journey is perilous, and he only survives thanks to the help of rebel soldiers, especially a mysterious man named Abner, who becomes his companion on the journey. As in many of Paulsen’s books, one of the primary themes in Woods Runner is man vs. nature, as the uncompromising elements threaten Samuel’s journey. It also explores the choices people make during wartime, as well as the nature of family—both biological and found. The book also contains historical footnotes about the period and some of the historical figures, putting the events the fictional characters encounter into context for readers. Critically acclaimed and receiving awards from the Junior Library Guild and the Parents’ Choice Foundation, Woods Runner joins many of Paulsen’s popular earlier works as mainstays in school libraries.

Woods Runner begins by introducing the reader to Samuel Smith, a thirteen-year-old boy living in Western Pennsylvania in 1776. He lives with his parents, Olin and Abigail, in a settlement of small cabins surrounded by a thick wood. He and his parents are newcomers to the frontier, his parents having been raised and educated in large cities out East. Samuel, however, has grown up in the frontier and feels at home hiking and hunting in the thick woods. He’s become much more skilled at hunting and scouting than his parents, which has led to him becoming the family’s provider and spending a lot of his time walking the woods, trying to bring home food.

One day, while hunting alone in the woods several miles from home, Samuel sees a plume of smoke rising from the direction of his settlement. He rushes home through the woods and sees that the small settlement has had all its cabins burned down. The bodies of several settlers litter the camp, but using his tracking and observation skills, Samuel is able to tell that his parents are not among them. Knowing his parents were likely taken as captives, he sets out to recover them. He learns from people he talks to along the way that the attackers were British soldiers, backed up by Iroquois Indians. The Revolutionary War, far from the concerns of the small settlement, has broken out and reached their little corner of the colonies.

As Samuel trails the soldiers who captured his parents, he comes across Annie Clark, an eight-year-old girl wandering the wilderness alone. She tells him her parents were killed by Hessian mercenaries hired by the British, and he vows to protect her. They stay in the woods to avoid detection, and make their way to New York City where Samuel has heard his parents are being kept as prisoners of war. On the road to New York City, they encounter Abner McDougal, a Scottish man. He is a tinker by trade, doing odd jobs when he can, but once he begins to trust Samuel, he reveals to the boy that he’s actually a spy, working to find out information about British operations and relay them to the colonists.

With Abner’s help, Samuel is able to sneak into British-controlled New York City and find his parents. He helps them escape New York in a dramatic flight across the Hudson River to New Jersey, where he introduces them to Annie. After hearing that Annie is an orphan and helped Samuel on his journey, the family decides to adopt her. The new, expanded family begins to make its way to Philadelphia, a safe zone held by colonial forces. The family has a close call in their cross-country journey when they encounter a British detachment in the woods. A group of rebel soldiers save them by firing on the British unit and escorting the family to safety. The novel ends with Samuel and his family safely making it to Philadelphia where they settle down, though later, Samuel chooses to go join the war effort in the service of the riflemen corps.

Gary Paulsen is a popular American author of young adult and children’s books, best known for books in the coming-of-age genre dealing with survival in the wilderness. He is the author of more than two hundred novels, as well as a wide variety of magazine articles, short stories, and plays. He is perhaps best known for the Hatchet series, also known as Brian’s Saga, a series of five books about a boy’s struggle to survive after being stranded in the wilderness by a plane crash, and how the experience changes his life. An avid outdoorsman and sportsman himself, Paulsen is a three-time runner-up for the Newbery Medal, and the 1997 winner of the American Library Association’s Margaret Edwards Award for his lifetime work in writing for teens