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  • Alida's Song
  • Written by Gary Paulsen
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  • Alida's Song
  • Written by Gary Paulsen
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Written by Gary PaulsenAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Gary Paulsen


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On Sale: December 24, 2008
Pages: 96 | ISBN: 978-0-307-51216-1
Published by : Yearling RH Childrens Books
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A remarkable novel about one of the most important, and loving, relationships in Gary Paulsen's life.

The wonderful grandmother seen through the eyes of a young boy in The Cookcamp reaches out to him at 14, offering him a haven from his harsh and painful family life. She arranges a summer job for him on the farm where she is a cook for Gunnar and Olaf, elderly brothers. Farm life offers the camaraderie and routine of hard work, good food, peaceful evenings spent making music together, even learning to dance. Life with Alicia gives the boy strength and faith in himself, drawing him away from the edge and into the center of life.


Saturday came fast, too fast for the boy, but not so fast that he did not have time to think of the problems he faced.

He had never been to a party.

He did not know any of the people who would be there.

He had never been to a dance.

He could not speak to girls.

He could not be with crowds of strangers.

He could not, he finally decided, go.

The boy started in early in the day on Saturday. As they did morning chores he mentioned that he was not feeling well. His grandmother felt his head and Olaf and Gunnar both looked at him strangely.

"You did not seem sick at breakfast," Olaf said. "You ate good."

"He ate more than me," Gunnar said. "More than both of us."

"I just feel kind of sick," the boy said, knowing it was a lost cause. "It only came over me now."

"Well," his grandmother said, "I'll just have to stay home tonight and make sure you are all right."

The looks Olaf and Gunnar sent him were withering and he knew it was over. "I think it will be all right. I think I just drank too much milk. I'm still not used to whole milk."

Preparations began right after evening chores.

From the Hardcover edition.
Gary Paulsen|Author Q&A

About Gary Paulsen

Gary Paulsen - Alida's Song

Photo © Tim Keating

“We have been passive. We have been stupid. We have been lazy. We have done all the things we could do to destroy ourselves. If there is any hope at all for the human race, it has to come from young people. Not from adults.”—Gary Paulsen

A three-time Newbery Honor winner, Gary Paulsen is also winner of the 1997 Margaret A. Edwards Award, which honors an author’s lifetime contribution to writing books for teenagers.


Writing is so much a part of the way I live . . .

Writing is so much a part of the way I live that I would be lost without the discipline and routine. I write every day—every day—and it gives me balance and focus. Every day I wake up, usually at 4:30 a.m., with the sole purpose of sitting down to write with a cup of hot tea and a computer or a laptop or a pad of paper—it doesn’t matter. I’ve written whole books in my office, in a dog kennel with a headlamp, on more airplanes than I can remember, on the trampoline of my catamaran off the shores of Fiji—it never matters where I write, just where the writing takes me.

Everything else I do is just a path to get me to that moment when I start to work. Sometimes I’m lucky and the living part of life gets folded into the writing part, like with Dogsong and the Brian books and Caught by the Sea and How Angel Peterson Got His Name. Those books were based on personal inspection at zero altitude, I took experiences that I had and turned them into books. I’ve spent a great deal of time in the outdoors, but not with the specific goal of writing about it later. I’ll be honest, though, and tell you that I enjoyed writing about those times as much as, if not more than, I enjoyed living through those times in the first place. I didn’t start writing until I was 26 years old. I look back now and wonder what I thought I was supposed to be doing with my time before that.

I’ve experimented with different voices and styles . . .
Sometimes the way to tell a story is even more important than the story itself. I’ve experimented with different voices and styles and genres over the years. The Glass Café and Harris and Me were born of the voices of people I could not get out of my head. Tony was a boy I knew back when I lived in Hollywood and Harris was a cousin from my childhood. To honor their voices, I wrote the books in very different styles. Tony had a fast-paced, breathless speaking style and I had fun trying to capture that on paper. And the best way to paint a picture of Harris was to detail all those crazy stunts of his.

Nightjohn and Soldier’s Heart were the result of studying history. Sarny came from the research I did in the National Archives when I stumbled across the Slave Narratives. And I discovered Charley Goddard when reading a book about the Minnesota First Volunteers. I hadn’t expected to find characters for books of my own when I started reading, but I could not shake them until I tried to figure out on paper what their lives must have been like.

I am still amazed by the gifts that writing gives to me . . .
Even after all these years, I am still amazed by the gifts that writing gives to me. There is not only the satisfaction from the hard work—and even after all this time and all these books, it is still very hard work for me to make a book—and the way the hair rises on the back of my neck when a story works for me, but also the relationships I have made with the people who read my books.

The one true measure of success for me has always been the readers . . .
People ask me about the kind of money I make and how many awards I’ve received, but the one true measure of success for me
has always been the readers. I give the checks to my wife and my agent keeps the awards for me. The only thing I have in my office, other than junk and work and research, is a framed letter from one of my readers. That means more to me than just about anything else, the letters
I get from the people who read my books.

Thank you for reading my books and for writing to me. Read like a wolf eats. Read.


Born May 17, 1939, Gary Paulsen is one of America’s most popular writers for young people. Although he was never a dedicated student, Paulsen developed a passion for reading at an early age. After a librarian gave him a book to read—along with his own library card—he was hooked. He began spending hours alone in the basement of his apartment building, reading one book after another.

Running away from home at the age of 14 and traveling with a carnival, Paulsen acquired a taste for adventure. A youthful summer of rigorous chores on a farm; jobs as an engineer, construction worker, ranch hand, truck driver, and sailor; and two rounds of the 1,180-mile Alaskan dogsled race, the Iditarod; have provided ample material from which he creates his powerful stories.

Paulsen’s realization that he would become a writer came suddenly when he was working as a satellite technician for an aerospace firm in California. One night he walked off the job, never to return. He spent the next year in Hollywood as a magazine proofreader, working on his own writing every night. Then he left California and drove to northern Minnesota where he rented a cabin on a lake; by the end of the winter, he had completed his first novel.

Living in the remote Minnesota woods, Paulsen eventually turned to the sport of dogsled racing, and entered the 1983 Iditarod. In 1985, after running the Iditarod for the second time, he suffered an attack of angina and was forced to give up his dogs. “I started to focus on writing with the same energies and efforts that I was using with dogs. So we’re talking 18-, 19-, 20-hour days completely committed to work. Totally, viciously, obsessively committed to work, the way I’d run dogs. . . . I still work that way, completely, all the time. I just work. I don’t drink, I don’t fool around, I’m just this way. . . . The end result is there’s a lot of books out there.”

It is Paulsen’s overwhelming belief in young people that drives him to write. His intense desire to tap deeply into the human spirit and to encourage readers to observe and care about the world around them has brought him both enormous popularity with young people and critical acclaim from the children’s book community. Paulsen is a master storyteller who has written more than 175 books and some 200 articles and short stories for children and adults. He is one of the most important writers of young adult literature today, and three of his novels—Hatchet, Dogsong, and The Winter Room—are Newbery Honor Books. His books frequently appear on the best books lists of the American Library Association.

Paulsen has received many letters from readers (as many as 200 a day) telling him they felt Brian Robeson’s story in Hatchet was left unfinished by his early rescue, before the winter came and made things really tough. They wanted to know what would happen if Brian were not rescued, if he had to survive in the winter. Paulsen says, “I researched and wrote Brian’s Winter, showing what could and perhaps would have happened had Brian not been rescued.”

In Paulsen’s book, Guts: The True Stories Behind Hatchet and the Brian Books, Paulsen shares his own adventures in the wild, which are often hilarious and always amazing: moose attacks, heart attacks, near-misses in planes, and looking death in the eye.

Paulsen has written a time-travel novel, The Transall Saga, which was named an ALA Quick Pick. And in the heartwrenching story Soldier’s Heart, Paulsen brings the Civil War to life battle by battle, as readers see the horror of combat and its devastating results through the eyes of 15-year-old Charley Goddard.

Paulsen and his wife Ruth Wright Paulsen, an artist who has illustrated several of his books, divide their time between a home in New Mexico and a boat in the Pacific. For more information about Gary Paulsen, visit www.garypaulsen.com


“Readers will want to savor this stirring book.”—Starred, Kirkus Reviews

“The ultimate coming-of-age story. . . . Exceptional and so heartbreakingly real.”—Starred, Booklist

“Paulsen crafts a companion/sequel to Hatchet containing many of its same pleasures. . . . Read together, the two books make his finest tale of survival yet.”—Starred, Kirkus Reviews

“These episodes will not only keep young readers, of both sexes, in stitches, they’re made to order for reading aloud.”—Starred, Kirkus Reviews

“Superb characterizations, splendidly evoked setting, and thrill-a-minute plot make this book a joy to gallop through.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly

“A treat to make Paulsen fans sit up and beg for more. . . . His writing percolates with energetic love.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly

A Life Remembered
“A satisfying sequel. . . . It is a great read, with characters both to hate and to cherish, and a rich sense of what it really was like then.”—Starred, Booklist

“The novel’s spare, simple language and vivid visual images of brutality and death on the battlefield make it accessible and memorable to young people.”—Starred, Booklist

“A riveting science fiction adventure. . . . Captivating.”—Starred, Booklist

Author Q&A

author fun facts

May 17 in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Previous jobs: Farm hand, ranch hand, truck driver, sailor, dogsled racer, teacher, field engineer, editor, soldier, actor, director, trapper, professional archer, migrant farm worker, singer

Hobbies: Sailing, collecting and riding Harley Davidsons; twice ran the Iditarod, the challenging 1,000 mile dogsled race across Alaska

Inspiration for writing: After a librarian gave him a book to read--along with his own library card--Gary was hooked. He began spending hours alone in the basement of his apartment building, reading one book after another.

From the Hardcover edition.



"Leisurely paced and never melodramatic, the slender plot is as integral ... as the glowing character of the grandmother, whose goodness intensifies. "-Booklist

"This is an affectionate character study that will appeal to readers moved by The Cookcamp, wherein they first met Alicia."
-The Bulletin, Recommended
Teachers Guide

Teacher's Guide


Life with a boy’s loving grandmother gives him strenght and faith in himself, drawing him away from the edge and into the center of life, in these two remarkable novels based on one of the most important relationships in Gary Paulsen’s life.

In The Cookcamp, it’s 1944 and a 5-year-old boy’s mother works in a factory while his father is away at war. Soon the boy is sent to stay with his grandmother, who cooks for a work crew building a road from Minnesota to Canada. Although living in the forest is a great adventure, the little boy misses his mother. His grandmother teachers him about love and friendship–something his mother is unable to do–and also helps him find a way to return home.

The boy is now 14 in Alida’s Song. A failure at school, and painfully shy, the boy is facing another ordinary summer working at odd jobs for extra money when he receives a letter from his grandmother Alida inviting him to take a job at the farm where she works. Once again, Alida realizes that his life is in trouble and only she can help him find himself and begin his journey toward becoming a man.


Three-time Newbery Honor winner Gary Paulsen developed a passion for reading at an early age. Running away from home at the age of 14 and traveling with with a carnival, Paulsen acquired a taste for adventure. His realization that he would become a writer came suddenly when he was working as a satellite technican for an aerospace firm in California. One night he walked off the job, and spent the next year in Hollywood as a magazine proofreader, working on his own writing every night. He completed his first novel later that year.


Ask students to bring a picture of one of their grandparents or another important adult to class. Encourage them to share a story about a special time spent with that person. Then have them write an appropriate caption for the photograph and place it on a bulletin board in the classroom.


SURVIVAL–How might The Cookcamp and Alida’s Song be considered survival novels? What is the boy’s greatest challenge? Discuss what the boy learns from his grandmother about survival.

INTERGENERATIONAL RELATIONSHIPS–How does Alida’s intuition guide her to know that the boy needs her help? In The Cookcamp, she tells him “I’m here…I’ll always be here” (p. 25). Discuss how Alida always seems to reappear in his life just when he needs her most? What does he learn from Alida during the summer of his 14th year? At what point does he learn that his grandmother in the most important person in his life?

LONELINESS–The boy is a lonely 5-year-old in The Cookcamp. His loneliness has grown more severe by the time he reaches junior high school in Alida’s Song. Discuss the classic symptoms of loneliness. Have students compare and contrast how the boy deals with his loneliness at age 5 to how he deals with it at age 14.

FAMILY–Discuss the boy’s relationship with his mother in The Cookcamp and with both his parents in Alida’s Song. Why is his mother so eager to send her 5-year-old son to his grandmother? How do the boy’s parent’s contribute to his loneliness and shyness?

In The Cookcamp, the boy “had an intense feeling of missing something and he did not know even what it was…”(p. 110). Discuss what the boy is missing. Does he find it in Alida’s Song?

GROWING UP–The boy spends nights with the road builders, and feels “the edges of being a man” (The Cookcamp, p. 93). What are the qualities of manhood? When does he begin putting together all of its pieces? Divide the class into small groups. Have each group draw an outline of the boy on a sheet of paper and cut the drawing into puzzle pieces. Instruct them to connect the edges, then fill in the pieces as the boy learns about being a man, writing what the boy learns on each piece. Display the puzzles and discuss the boy’s growth.


LANGUAGE ARTS–The boy’s grandmother is angered when she finds out about his mother’s friend whom he calls Uncle Casey. Write the letter that Alida might have written to the boy’s mother on the day he tells her about Uncle Casey. What does Alida mean when she tells the store clerk to mail the letters “good and hard” (The Cookcamp, p. 84)?

The Cookcamp and Alida’s Song are written in the third, and the boy is never called by name. Why do you think Paulsen chose not to name the boy? Ask students to select a short chapter from either novel and rewrite it in the first person from the boy’s point of view.

SOCIAL STUDIES–The Cookcamp is set during World War II. The boy’s mother works in a factory because so many men are away fighting; the men building the road in Norther Minnesota are too old to go to war. Divide the class into two groups. Ask one group to research the jobs that woman did to help the war effort; have the other find out jobs that employed men unable to fight.

In Alida’s Song, the boy works for the summer on Nelson farm. There are fields of oats, barley, wheat, and corn. Ask students to use an encyclopedia, world almanac, or the Internet to find out how much farmland is in Minnesota today. What are the primary crops?

SCIENCE/HEALTH–Harvey, one of the road builders in the The Cookcamp, goes into shock when a tree falls on him. Ask students to find out the treatment for shock. Then have them make a list of supplies that should be included in a first aid kit.

In Alida’s Song, geese attack the boy. His grandmother explains that geese have triggers in their wings. Ask students to think of other animals that the may encounter on the farm. Have them find out how these animals defend themselves.

MATH–In Alida’s Song, the boy sells newspapers. He usually sells 40 newspapers a day, making a nickel a paper in commission. Ask students to find out how much commission a person can make selling newspapers today. Calculate how much a person can make in a week if they sel 40 newspapers a day.

MUSIC–Alida is from Norway and often sings Norweigan folk songs as she works. Edvard Hagerup Grieg, a distinguished Norweigan composer of the 19th century, based many of his compositions on Norweigan folk music. Play recordings of Grieg’s music for the students. Ask them to describe the folk music qualities.

ART–In The Cookcamp, the grandmother gives the boy a thimble that has been in her family for generations. She tells the boy that the figure decorating the thimble reminds her of him. Ask students to select one character from the book and decorate a wooden thimble to resemble that character.


Ask students to search for unfamiliar words and try to define them from the context of the story. Words in The Cookcamp may include snose (p. 27), mimic (p. 40), lilting (p. 76), and placard (p.111).

Words in Alida’s Song may include solemnity (p. 9), foundered (p. 46), and fiends (p. 53).


Coast to Coast
Besty Byars
Intergenerational Relationships • Family
Grades 4-6 / 0-440-40926-8

Patricia MacLachlan
Intergenerational Relationships • Family • Loneliness
Grades 4-7 / 0-440-40809-1

Lily’s Crossing
Patricia Reilly Giff
Intergenerational Relationships • Family • Loneliness
Grades 4-7 / 0-440-41453-9


Prepared by Pat Scales, Director of Library Services, the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, Greenville.

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