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Why so many of us read Gary Paulsen

The Minneapolis-born author died Thursday at the age of 82.

MINNEAPOLIS — A book is oftentimes a gateway to another world, and Gary Paulsen provided portals out of reality for many.

"I do think books like Paulsen's are important because they give kids a chance to try on emotions without having to go through these traumatic experiences themselves," co-owner of Excelsior Bay Books, Ann Woodbeck, said. "But allows them to have that emotional interaction with the character and develop their own life accordingly."

Woodbeck said "Hatchet," along with other hundreds of books Paulsen has written, has been a staple because it has been an important first dip into literature for children.

"I think for boys it's important that they recognize a character," Woodbeck said. "And I think that's one of the things Paulsen does really well, is he gives character qualities that every day kids would recognize and identify with."

Maybe that's why "Hatchet" graced the classroom reading lists of many 4th, 5th and 6th graders, providing one of the first pieces of evidence to them that reading is cool.

"Eight-, 9-, 10-year-old boys, that's when in a period of time, where reading is not really recognized as being a cool trait," Woodbeck said. "I think Paulsen has done a great service to building readers because it doesn't feel like you're reading something that you have to read. It's something they get so involved in and the story just takes them away."

It all apparently started at a library. Paulsen was famous for having said that a librarian approached him, offering him a library card when he was 13 years old. "When she handed me the card, she handed me the world," he said. 

"Like, the pressure is on," Hennepin County Youth Services librarian Dana Strahnson said. "I mean, there's a lot of authors that have said something similar to that — it started in a library — and I don't talk to every kid that walks through the doors, but you do hope that every kid that walks through the doors feels like this place can get started on whatever their adventure is."

Being a connector of worlds is not a task that Strahnson takes lightly. However, she said it's quite easy when a kid is into Gary Paulsen.

"That's one of the greatest things about Gary Paulsen is [he's got], adventure, and survival and really vivid descriptions, but he also knew how to tell a joke, and that helps especially to get kids into reading," Strahnson said. "He's kind of hard to follow up if a kid says they really like Gary Paulsen. Then I sometimes don't know what to do with that because he's so unique, and so I'm very grateful he's written a lot because I can say, 'Ok, what's next on your list?'"

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