Paulsen is known primarily for his Newbery medal book Hatchet (the story of a boy stranded in the Alaskan wilderness with only a hatchet,) but in a way, The Voyage of the Frog, is superior, having a soul-searching beauty missing from the mosquito horrors of the woods-survival story. Fourteen-year old David sets out to spread his late uncle's ashes on the open sea, using the sailboat The Frog that he inherited from him and on which his beloved uncle had taught him to sail. Of course, the young boy sets out in the night, doesn't check out the weather , and has no working radio on board. He thought he would be gone a day at most, but then the freak storm came, the swinging boom knocks him out, and he wakes to a nightmare of battling for survival at sea. How David copes takes up the rest of the story: falling back on what his uncle taught him, and humbled by his own stupidity. There are moments of amazement at dolphins and whales, terror at sharks and awe at sunsets. He learns that if thinks a thing like hunger, then he surely can unthink it and thus discovers the power of mind over matter. And finally, he finds the key to his own survival-realizing it's all down to him: "I'm all I've got ." Some masterful lessons for him and for all of us. There is an ending with a bit of a twist that reinforces how far David has come, and some afterwords by the author that let you imagine how many of the encounters with ocean and wind are probably based on truth and the author's own experiences.
Recommended by Betsy Schroeder