Imagine growing up in the woods, surrounded by towering trees, bubbling streams, chirping birds, and roaring bears. Now imagine living there with just the company of a wise, old man. In his latest novel, Fishbone’s Song, author Gary Paulsen shines a spotlight on unconventional friendships. He does so through the eyes of an orphan who lives deep in the woods with his caretaker, an old man named Fishbone.
While the story is told through the eyes of the boy, he remains unnamed in the book. He does not know exactly how old he is, nor how he came to live with Fishbone. He grows up in the forest, hunting and observing the natural world. The boy hears Fishbone’s personal tales about how the elder got his name, and his tales of love, stock cars, and the Korean War.
Paulsen has written many books, including three Newbery Honor titles: Dogsong, Hatchet, and The Winter Room. He talked to TFK Kid Reporter Benjamin Who about his childhood, his life as a writer, and Fishbone’s Song.
TIME FOR KIDS:
What was your childhood like?
I grew up in Minnesota. Now I live on a New Mexico ranch, on a boat in the Pacific, or at my dog kennels in Alaska. [Living in the woods was] just the best. I couldn't stand people or school and I never felt like I fit in or belonged. When I slipped past the tree line, I could breathe, and everything made sense. It was quiet, beautiful, logical. Peaceful. Once I got into books, I read like a wolf eats. I fished, hunted, trapped, canoed—anything to be away from people and in the wild. I was a terrible student, couldn't stand school, and failed the ninth grade.
Who or what inspired you to become a writer?
I just had to write. It came to me suddenly and unexpectedly. I was married with two kids and I was employed as an electrical engineer. I got up, walked away from my job, and told my wife I needed to be a writer. I went to work for a magazine to learn how to dance with words. I have written every day of my life since then. [I enjoy writing] as much as I like breathing.
What is an average day like for you?
I hike in the mountains with my dog if I'm at the ranch. Or I fix broken things in my sailboat because there are always broken things on a sailboat. Or I feed dogs and clean up after them and inspect paws and ears and eyes and teeth and coats if I'm at the kennel. And then I write. I sit at my laptop or with a notebook and a pen and I write until it is time for another hike, or [there is] another broken thing to mend, or more sled dogs to tend to.
Unlike your previous books like Hatchet and Dogsong, Fishbone's Song is written in a very "free" style. What inspired you to write in such a way?
That's how the story came to me. I didn't consciously decide to write in one style or another. I just knew that, to tell this story, I had to use these rhythms.
Why should young people read this book?
I'd never say anyone should read anything I write. I hope young people will read my books, of course, and this one in particular. I hope they'll understand the story I was trying to tell about finding your own way and paying attention to stories from the people in your lives, even if they don't seem to make sense or be connected. The best stories, I think, have an elegance and a disarray to them, like Fishbone's songs.