Do You Have Anything to Read Besides Gary Paulsen?


Lauren Petri’s classroom library

One of the biggest hurdles I faced in my first year of teaching in a small rural high school was finding books that reflected the lives of my students who spent most of their time farming or hunting. They’d burned through Gary Paulsen at a young age, and had tried or had read every other book from the section of the library geared toward outdoor life. For many of them, their reading lives had grown stagnant or had diminished entirely. I was frustrated for a number of reasons, but primarily because our students need to see their lives in stories. Many of these kids, mostly boys, had stopped seeing their lives in stories after 5th or 6th grade. Armed with a deep desire to convince all of my students that reading is worthwhile, I set out to find new stories to line my shelves with. Some of my purchases were total duds, but others have invigorated the reading lives that had remained dormant for far too long. Here are five books that have renewed a desire to read in my farming and outdoor enthusiasts:

1. Open Season by CJ Box

Goodreads Rating: 3.93

Brief Summary: I cannot praise CJ Box enough for his intriguing characters, suspenseful plots, and well-researched stories. Open Season is the first novel in a series of twenty-two (and growing) about Joe Pickett, a game warden in Wyoming who finds a local hunting outfitter dead on the land he is responsible for. As more deaths without reason begin to happen on his land, Pickett takes it upon himself to find out the truth. This series is widely circulated in our school and I’ve heard students who claim to “not read at all” develop strong connections with the characters in these stories and opinions about the situations Joe finds himself in.

2. This is Our Story by Ashley Elston

Goodreads Rating: 4.09

Brief Summary: When five boys go hunting, but only four return alive, the town of River Point is sent into a frenzy to figure out who killed him. Kate Marino, an intern at the local district attorney’s office, is determined to uncover the details of that day. This book hooks those drawn to the mystery genre and can serve as a springboard for discussing author’s craft in writing fiction.

3. Meat Eater: Adventures from the life of an American Hunter by Steven Rinella

Goodreads Rating: 4.37

Brief Summary: When a student seems entirely at a loss for what to read, I will ask them to get on Amazon and do some searching for books based on their interests. That is how this book made its way onto my shelves. Many of my students who hunt know Steven Rinella from his show MeatEater, currently streaming on Netflix. In this book, Rinella writes of his hunting experiences from age ten to age thirty-seven. He weaves in a historical understanding of the land he is hunting on and the history of hunting itself. For many students, this provides a layer of knowledge to an activity they care deeply about.

4. Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz

Goodreads Rating: 4.45

Brief Summary: While this book does not necessarily fall into the categories of outdoor or farm life, it has made willing readers of many of my reluctant readers. If you are able to put any Alan Gratz book in the hands of your students, do it. I have yet to see a student start and not finish one. Based on a true story, Prisoner B-3087 follows the experience of a young boy in World War II who is forced to experience ten different concentration camps. Gratz writes this story with a fast pace and incredible detail that will have students reaching for their book instead of their phone in the last two minutes of class.

5. The Greatest Hunting Stories Ever Told by Lamar Underwood (editor)

Goodreads Rating: 3.98

Brief Summary: As the title suggests, this book will take you through nine true tales of great hunting excursions. Each tale brings you to an entirely new landscape and a new type of game to hunt. I’ve found this book to be a great way to get a student who has largely fake read for the past few years into a book. The short stories allow for them to start and finish a story within a day or two and they are able to make choices about which story is most intriguing to them and go there first.

Lauren Petri is in her fourth year of teaching at Dike-New Hartford High School. While she spends a good amount of time finding books her students might love, the last novel she fell in love with was Dry by Neal Shusterman.