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10 Best Gary Paulsen Books (2024)

Best Gary Paulsen Books FeaturedBio

Amazing author Gary James Paulsen was born on the 17th of May, in the year of 1939, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States of America.


Paulsen is most famous for his work in the Young Adult genre, namely the coming of age tales centered around wilderness. Worth noting is that most of the information pertaining to the life of Gary James Paulsen is extrapolated from the prologue and epilogue sections of his works. During his lofty career, Gary has authored north of two-hundred novels, he has written a number of plays, and some two-hundred articles and short tales.

Best Gary Paulsen Books

Life and Achievements

In the year of 1997, Gary James Paulsen was presented with the notable Margaret Edwards Award by the American Library Association in honor of his lifelong contribution in writing for teenagers.

In terms of the private life of Paulsen, he is married to Ruth Wright Paulsen and the two have raised three children, in total. Now, having covered some of the specifics surrounding the life of the author, we can take a look at what the best Gary Paulsen books are.

Brian’s Saga


Famous Series

Brian’s Saga is certainly one of Gary Paulsen’s best books and rightfully so. It is a series comprised of five novels in total and they are the following:

  1. Hatchet
  2. The River
  3. Brian’s Winter
  4. Brian’s Return
  5. Brian’s Hunt

What is the Series About?

The series’ titular character Brian starts out in the series by setting out on his journey towards the United States’ northern neighbor, Canada. The estranged dad of Brian lives in Canada and all is set. Brian is a passenger on a small plane, but the pilot, midflight, sustains a heart attack.

Having no other recourse, Brian maneuvers the plane to crash land in a nearby lake. However, now he is left by his lonesome in the wilderness, with nothing but his clothes and a hatchet given to him by his mother. For quite some time before leaving, Brian had been having a case of ill-will as his mother and father’s divorce was looming along with a secret he is burdened with.

Way to Survive

In the wild, however, no one cares about human grievances, and Brian must find a way to survive and make it to civilization. But having no special insight surrounding the location or even on survivorship, who’s to say that Brian can make it through? A great pick for Paulsen’s survival books.

The Transall Saga



The Transall Saga was published in the year of 1998, just a few short days removed from Gary’s forty-ninth birthday. It spans a hair over two-hundred-and-fifty pages and it is a perfect example of the best Gary Paulsen book series and the favorite book of many of Paulsen’s loyal and fervent fans. The story is one of Paulsen’s most extraordinary, yet it seems to come most natural to the style of Paulsen.

Who Is the Lead Character?

The main character of The Transall Saga is none other than Mark. Mark is dead-set on going on a camping trip in the desolate and barren setting of the desert, but there is a small catch here: he is resolute about going all alone.

Now, as Mark made his way towards his destination, he couldn’t conjecture nor suppose what was to come. How could he? Everything was well, just fine and dandy, until an ominous streak of light catches his attention. Being ever the curious chap, Mark treads towards the light and he soon finds himself on a different world altogether.

At Sixes and Sevens

Stumped and disorientated puts it lightly. Mark can’t make heads or tails of what is going on, how he is now on a totally different planet, and, the most paramount question of all, how to get back home safely.

What’s even weirder is that he deduces that it isn’t even the same time between the two worlds. Having nothing else to do, but to weather the storm that life has thrust him into, Mark is forced to settle down on this world until he can find his way back. Soon, however, he meets this world’s inhabitants. We genuinely think this is one of the best books by Gary Paulsen!




Published in 1994, Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod is one of the best-rated Gary Paulsen books and we will tell you just why. As Winterdance begins, we are sent into the beautiful landscape of Minnesota.

The main character is making a sled that is to be pulled by a dog pack. As the man tries his hand in dog-sledding, it does not take long for him to make a mistake and find himself on the bad end of a cliff’s edge. The man survives the ordeal and the same stands for his pack. Oddly enough, this is not an example of what no to do for the man, but an inspiration to devote himself to the upcoming Iditarod.

The Journey Ahead

Thereafter, the man starts out on an astonishing journey as he has to find just the right dogs for the sled, he has to build up his physical stamina and conditioning, he has to become used to sleep deprivation, and even to inure his body to a lack of food.

However, the man is nothing less than ecstatic, excited, and even exuberant about the prospect ahead of him, and that is why we love this character so much and why Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod is one of the top Gary Paulsen books.

Woods Runner


The Woods Runner’s Might

Woods Runner is a 2009 novel from the exceptionally talented Paulsen. Its page count doesn’t go higher than one-hundred-and-eighty pages, but the tale is woven so perfectly that even then it isn’t a slow read. In our opinion, one can’t make a proper list of Paulsen books without mentioning Woods Runner.


The main character of Woods Runner is none other than Samuel. Samuel is a thirteen-year-old boy. Samuel has a sincere affinity towards forests, the wild, and he often hunts so as to put food in the mouth of his family. Samuel’s life on the American frontier – still a British colony in the tale – sees him removed from the local townships and even more so removed from the events going on in the world.

Rescue Operation

However, as war is wont to do, it finds its way towards Samuel’s home. Samuel sees daily the soldiers of Britain and the Iroquois, and soon his parents are taken as prisoners.

Adamant, however, is Samuel and he won’t step down from his plan to rescue them back. Day by day, he is in direct conflict with his nemesis, with the atrocity and travesty of war. Then, people not too different from him come into his life, and Samuel’s story takes a special turn.

Harris and Me


The Vivacity in the Midst of Youth

Harris and Me is a novel from Paulsen which was published in the year of 1993 and which spans about one-hundred-and-seventy-five pages. It is book number two of the Tales to Tickle the Funnybone series, which itself is comprised of a total of eight novels. Harris and Me being right here makes it clear that we aren’t just going off of Gary Paulsen’s books in order, but are honestly picking those closest to our hearts.

The protagonist of Harris and Me is but a youngster, still very much a boy, who is spending the tenth summer of his life along with his aunt and uncle on their farmland. The boy was adopted, but his foster parents being fans of the bottle aren’t exactly the most suitable for, well, parenting, so he finds himself on the Larson farm.

All Over the Place

Harris Larson, his cousin, however, is a hoot and a half and the two characters are constantly involved in one sort of hijinks or the other, never sitting still, but always active, dynamic, and vibrant.

Harris’, only a nine-year-old, and our nameless protagonist’s adventures seem to reach a climax as they take out a washing machine’s motor and utilize it on their motorbike. A crash, however, did follow from this small ordeal, though no one was left hurt. Even a little bit of barn-jumping isn’t too far off of our main character’s horizons as their tale goes on and our hearts are moved.

The Tucket Adventure Series



The Tucket Adventure series is comprised of a total of five novels, all of which, had we the time to do all of Gary’s works, are more than worthy of being on our list for Gary Paulsen book reviews. The series consists of the following books:

  1. Tucket
  2. Call Me Francis Tucket
  3. Tucket’s Ride
  4. Tucket’s Gold
  5. Tucket’s Home

The Nineteenth Century Tale of Francis

We meet up with our main character, Francis Tucket, as he is a mere fourteen-year-old in the year of 1848, still the Wild West. Francis Tucket is at present going towards the west, following the Oregon Trail. Francis’ inclination and tendency to practice shooting along with his brand new gun leads him to be captured by the terrible Pawnees.

Terror at Hand

Now, most fourteen-year-olds aren’t subject to capture or kidnapping, but Francis is no ordinary fourteen-year-old. The young man’s cunning, unwavering will, and creativity, coupled with the hostile environment of the time give him just the chance to find his footing and weather the terror at hand. One of our favorites and one of the best Gary Paulsen series out there.

Lawn Boy


Financial Bankruptcy

Lawn Boy is the seventh novel of the Tales to Tickle the Funnybone series that we spoke of not too farther up. It was published in the year of 2007 and is less than one-hundred-pages, but it is more than enough to sate all our appetites for Paulsen’s writing. The tale is centered around our protagonist, a boy aged but twelve and on the bad end of financial bankruptcy.


It was then that he was given by his grandmother the old, somewhat beat up riding lawnmower that his grandfather used. Then, having nowhere else to go, the boy set out to do what was only logical: to mow lawns. As his expertise with the mower showed his customers, the young boy got more and more offers for doing just that.

A Tale as Old as Time

One of the many clients that our protagonist had was Arnold, a stockbroker. Arnold introduced the protagonist to the notion of capitalism and all its beauty, all its deceiving facets, and that was all she wrote. The young boy’s lawnmowing business flourished, so did his funds, Arnold continued investing in the boy’s work, and then came the twelfth summer of our protagonist, when things slowly took a turn.



What Does the Title Imply?

Dogsong is a story from Gary Paulsen that will always have its place in the warmth and in the gratitude of our hearts. It was published in 1985, a mere one-hundred-and-sixty pages, but it is one of the most popular Paulsen books out there.

Russel Susskit is our main character and Russel has lately become more and more annoyed by something. His mornings are always graced by his dad’s incessant, guttural coughing, the smell is but always that of diesel oil, and the snow machines’ ratchet only complements the aforementioned two pet peeves. It isn’t so much that the acts themselves bother Russel, but the way that everything has somehow become automized.


Oogruk, a shaman from Russel’s village, is aware of the wistful nature of Russel for the times that have come and passed, for the songs that feted the ways of old. However, Russel’s questions and desires can’t be answered by Oogruk, who can only prepare him for the journey ahead of Russel.

Soon, Russel Susskit finds himself, accompanied by Oogruk’s dog pack, on a journey towards self-realization that will not leave his life without a massive change. Of all the books written by Gary Paulsen, this one would be our number one recommendation.



The Man Clothed in the Night

Nightjohnis the first book in one of Paulsen’s greatest series Sarny, perhaps only second to Paulsen’s Hatchet series – also known as Paulsen’s Brian series. Nightjohn was published in the year of 1993, but its tale is a timeless one, indeed.

The series’ titular character is none other than Sarny. Sarny is a girl and a slave currently working on the Waller plantation, where life is far from being the best version possible. It is here, however, that she first lays her eyes on Nightjohn, the man who is dragged in with a rope about his neck, with his body riddled with lacerating wounds and scars.

Risking It All

The Nightjohn had made his escape towards the north but came back seemingly by his own volition. His reason? To teach the others how to read. The penance for being caught reading? Dismemberment.

Sarny, our twelve-year-old lead, is prepared to risk all that she has so as to learn how to read, which is more than what can be said of the others. The tale is brimming with the heartfelt, touching, and even bittersweet writing that Paulsen is known for. We cannot recommend it enough, and it will surprise absolutely no one to know that it is one of the best-selling Gary Paulsen books.

My Life in Dog Years


Sincere and Genuine

The 1997 publication of My Life in Dog Years represents a special book in the oeuvre of Paulsen and it stands as one of the best Gary Paulsen books. It is generally regarded as a light read, no more than one-hundred-and-forty pages, but as we all know, Gary can do wonders with so few pages.

Paulsen’s life has seen him in the company of many a dog, a number that crosses into the dozens. They were all fantastic, terrific dogs, canines that could never be forgotten, not by a man with so great a heart as that of Gary. In the chapters of My Life in Dog Years, we are introduced to each and every one of the dogs that Gary Paulsen had and one can sense the sincere, genuine, and candid emotion present in the writing.


Among the many dogs that we come to meet is Snowball, a puppy that Gary met and had, as he was but a mere Philippines boy. Then, there’s Ike, a strange, yet welcome companion for hunting. Dirk, a protector like none before nor after. Josh, the favorite and the best dog that Gary ever had. And then we have Cookie; the sled dog to whom Gary owes his life.

We cannot recommend this book just enough and we hope that our readers will pick it up as it is one of the best Gary Paulsen novels. Our recommendations don’t stop just here, but we would also encourage our readers to pick up the Liar, Liar series or some of Gary Paulsen’s new books!

Alissa Wynn

Alissa is an avid reader, blogger, and wannabe writer. (She's a much better cook than a writer actually). Alissa is married, has one human, one feline, and two canine kids. She always looks a mess and never meets a deadline.