Publishers' Preview: Middle-Grade: Five Questions for Gary Paulsen

This interview originally appeared in the January/February 2021 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Middle-Grade, an advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood is a memoir in all but name, as Paulsen revisits his difficult — and filled with some unlikely work experiences — youth.

1. I thought the geese were bad, but then sharks?

I seem prone to being in the wrong place at the wrong time, as with the sharks. And triggering the attack response of geese…and moose…and bears…and mosquitoes…and a mother cat under the porch of my mountain shack, although, to be fair, we have a lot of rattlers and she had a new litter, so I can’t blame her for launching a preemptive strike.

2. What’s it like knowing that some book you wrote surely did for some kid what “Green Hope” did for your hero?

Extremely humbling. I just made friends with a doctor on the front lines of COVID; his mother got in touch with me when he caught it and asked if I would write to him because he had read my stuff as a kid, and it would mean something to him to hear from me as he was battling this virus. Another time, a while back, a kid had gotten lost on a camping trip and was missing for a few days. A reporter asked the dad how he could stay so calm, and the guy — he was so cool — said, “We’ve read Gary Paulsen’s outdoor survival books together; he’ll be okay until we can find him.” That was a great moment for me, when the boy was found safe.

3. What transferable skills did you acquire as a bowling-alley pinsetter?

I move like greased lightning, with the reflexes of a Condylostylus fly, which has come in handy. And I can pick up three bowling pins in each hand, which, I am the first to admit, has limited use in day-to-day life.

4. Do you feel like you have a home yet?

Anytime I’m on the ocean, or in a forest, next to a dog, or reading or writing a book, I’m home. I am — I know — a very lucky man.

5. Can you fix my television?

Yes, if it was manufactured before 1967 and has a high voltage flyback network. Otherwise, have you tried unplugging it and then plugging it back in? I might also suggest new batteries for the remote, but that’s only because I’m a trained professional.

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Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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