May 17, 2012 6:11 AM   Subscribe

Jean Craighead George has died.

George was an author of young-adult literature, including the Newbery Medal winning Julie of the Wolves and My Side of the Mountain, which won the Newbery Honor. Her works doubtlessly introduced millions of young readers to the joys of literature.
posted by Aizkolari (51 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I read MSofM to the older kids a year or two ago. They loved it since it was survival stuff but without some of the gore of Hatchet.

posted by DU at 6:17 AM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

That is an amazing list of books for one, non-Michener/Clancy person to produce.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:25 AM on May 17, 2012

Tough week for children's authors.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:30 AM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

My Side of the Mountain was by far my favorite book growing up, and perhaps my first "favorite" anything. I found it on the shelf in Elementary school and felt it was very much my own discovery, something I could champion to others, and have as part of me. I can thank MSotM for inspiring me to seek out music, movies, books, etc that were traditionally off my radar, which certainly is a big part of my life (or was, when I had the time). It's at the top of my list to reread, and remember.

posted by CharlesV42 at 6:31 AM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

On a personal note she, Gary Paulsen, and JRR Tolkien are probably the reasons I am a fairly successful, reading-loving adult today. My family was not religious at all and I derived my whole sense of morality and right and wrong from books.

posted by Aizkolari at 6:31 AM on May 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I wanted my own side of the mountain, when I read the book as a kid. Still do.

posted by rtha at 6:32 AM on May 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

posted by Elly Vortex at 6:33 AM on May 17, 2012

I've read My Side of the Mountain more times than I can count; it was my perfect fantasy life for many of my formative years.

I recognize now that it was also likely the earliest (albeit fictional) example I'd encountered of a young person making it in the world entirely in his own way and, most importantly, almost entirely by educating himself—through books as well as trial and error.

My oldest child is now approaching her own formative years. I think I am going to try to dig up my old paperback copy this weekend.
posted by Mr. Anthropomorphism at 6:33 AM on May 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

From an email exchange with Mrs George from just under a year ago:

Mrs George,

When I was 11 years old, as a city kid at church camp, I wandered away from my group, and I got myself lost in the Pisgah National Forest. I had nothing but the clothes on my back. I was scared, hungry, cold, and (obviously) alone. Having, at that point, pretty much memorized "My Side Of The Mountain", I knew to stick to what few paths there were, to follow the terrain downhill, and to generally keep my head about me. I eventually found a river, at which I made a clumsy attempt to catch a fish. (You're right, it's hard to make a good fishing hook). But I did find some nice grubs and river tubers to eat, and some kind fishermen eventually found me and brought me back to the camp. I think I had been gone a total of 15 hours. Not much time to most, but an eternity to me, at the time.

Anyway, as you will surmise, I survived. I'd just like to thank you for the ensuing 30 years my life. I'd also like to thank you for awakening in me a love of literature that abides to this day.

With Deepest Gratitude,

Jean George ✆


to me
Dear Daryl,
What an extraordinary letter. That you kept your wits about you at 11 is amazing. I am so delighted to know MSM was such a source of your wisdom, but you were the one with fortitude and strength.
Jean Craighead George


What a lovely woman.
posted by Optamystic at 6:33 AM on May 17, 2012 [69 favorites]

I absolutely loved, loved, loved her books as a child. Her descriptions of nature evoked some of the most beautiful images my imagination could ever make. My family was more of a "town" family, so we never camped or hiked or did anything in nature, so until fairly late in life, those images were the only ones I had of being in the wilderness. When I finally did make it to a national park, MSM was what I remembered and compared everything to -- and it was just as wonderful as her books. What a lovely writer.

posted by bluefly at 6:37 AM on May 17, 2012

Likewise, "Julie of the Wolves" was one of my favorite childhood books for its model of independence, and love of animals and nature.

posted by fraula at 6:39 AM on May 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

posted by jquinby at 6:39 AM on May 17, 2012

posted by dlugoczaj at 6:45 AM on May 17, 2012


I read MSotM in 6th grade. It was my favorite book, and gave me a sense of fierce independence that I've never been able to shake.
posted by hanoixan at 6:47 AM on May 17, 2012

How many hours did I spend hunting through my woods for a giant oak to squat in thanks to My Side of the Mountain? I don't know, but undoubtedly each hour was complete enjoyment as I tested every tree hollow I came across and imagined adopting a falcon.

posted by Atreides at 6:51 AM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by bettafish at 6:53 AM on May 17, 2012


Julie of the Wolves was one of those books (like MSotM) I fiercely remember reading at a time in my life when I needed to be fortified by stories of independence and survival and children who found their way. It was one of my happiest moments as a parent when I was able to reread it with my oldest, who, though living through quite different circumstances than I did, connected with it just the same. Now I want to go back and read everything all over again.
posted by mothershock at 7:05 AM on May 17, 2012

posted by Iridic at 7:07 AM on May 17, 2012


I loved all the Julie books and MSotM, but I am particularly grateful to Jean George for Who Really Killed Cock Robin which is the best introduction to the complexities of environmental politics that I've ever encountered. It was eye-opening for me as a child how even well-meaning people could screw up an ecosystem without realizing it, if the complexity of the system was not taken into account.
posted by Wretch729 at 7:13 AM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

My Side of the Mountain was the inspiration for many hours of playing in my backyard as a child -- somewhat impressive considering most of my waking childhood hours were spent inside with books.

posted by fiercecupcake at 7:17 AM on May 17, 2012


I read My Side of the Mountain a hundred hundred times, and never stopped daydreaming of a hollow tree house and my own falcon, despite being a suburban kid with no woodsman skills to speak of.
posted by PussKillian at 7:18 AM on May 17, 2012

For awhile my memory of MSM was tarnished because I was convinced that it was nothing but a libertarian fantasy. But then I remembered that the book was fucking great. RIP
posted by Think_Long at 7:22 AM on May 17, 2012

That woman changed my life, or at least set it on a certain path.

I grew up in the suburbs, in a quiet neighborhood surrounded on all sides by woods and a lake. A lot of the houses were old summer cottages back when rich folk would take the street cars from Boston to the "remote" camps out in what was then the country and his now Suburbia. Most of that woods is now cheap particle board houses, half of which are right up against the Mass. Turnpike, but when I was a kid they were woods. There's still some woods there and occasionally when I'm over doing chores for my mom we'll take a walk and I'll reminisce about my favorite sledding hills or places to ride my Huffy Thunder Road (#4, bitches!) or where the teenagers built their dugout fort or whatever.

We never went anywhere when I was a kid. No camping, no hiking, no long vacations save for maybe one weekend in Maine (rented a pop-up at Point Sebego) or down the Cape. I grew up thinking traveling was something other people did. I used to beg my brother to take me down to the woods and as soon as I was old enough to go myself (which back then was maybe third grade) I would spend hours wandering around.

I didn't read much but every now and then I'd pick up a book that would grab me. Tails of a Forth Grade Nothing, How to Be Funny by a guy named Jovial Bob Stein, who would one day go on to write some other books under the name of R.L. Stein, and one day in forth or fifth grade I picked up a book called My Side of the Mountain.

It was the first book I ever read cover to cover without putting it down. The next day I read it again, and a few more times over the next months.

I started seeing the woods in a whole new light. Rather than being somewhere you could explore for an hour or two, they were somewhere you could live. Sadly, none of the trees in my woods were big enough to hollow out but I would build lean-tos and other shelters and huddle down inside them for a few minutes pretending I was Sam. I built a couple of snare traps but I guess the local squirrels were too smart for me because I never caught anything.

I grew up loving the woods, but the bigger woods might as well have been on the Moon. I couldn't drive and nobody would take me there. A school trip or two showed me that there was more out there but I still had no other chances to get anywhere. I had to live vicariously through Sam Gribley.

Eventually I grew up, got my license and started getting myself and whatever friends I could drag up to the White Mountains in New Hampshire where I'd hike or backpack in that clueless way you do when you're a teenager. What I found was that I was always there for different reasons than my friends. I'd want to explore, to study the land like Sam, go further and higher but my friends just wanted to drink beer and toss their empty cans into the woods. I had to do better.

Eventually I joined a hiking club (the AMC) and found people just like me. Hiking nerds, basically. I got more and more involved and eventually signed up for a leadership training class where I could qualify to lead my own hikes.

One of the instructors and I hit it off really well but due to our age difference of ten nine and a half years and the fact that I had an on-again-off-again girlfriend we flirted but that was about it.

Then, later that summer, both of us were in separate car/moose accidents up in New Hampshire. She used it as an excuse to call me, to talk about our shared experience. Long story short, a few years later our wedding cake was topped with bride and groom moose. It'll be fifteen years this October.

All that might have happened anyway had I never read My Side Of The Mountain, I don't know. But when I think of it that's where it all started. If I didn't pick up that book I may never have learned to love the woods the way I did. I may never have wandered around in my "hiking boots" (Herman Survivors) in my local woods. I may have turned down the offer to join that "Hoods in the Woods" program in high school (Thanks, Mr. Beecher) where I first climbed a mountain (Mt. Liberty, which I climbed again with a Mefite this past winter) and gone on my first camping trip. I may never have spent hours and hours pouring over contour maps of the White Mountains, dreaming of one day reaching such remote places as Mt. Bond and it's neighboring peak, Bondcliff.

My son has already read MSotM, though I don't think it hit him the way it hit me. Fortunately he has parents that take him places and he's been hiking and camping and on trips to amazing places that I could only dream of as a kid. He explores the world of his Minecraft server the way I explored the woods, so maybe when he's my age he'll be taking virtual vacations to Europa, I don't know.

Anyway, this was a long rambling post to say thank you, Ms. George. No other book has had more of an influence on how I live my life. Thank you for providing the spark that set me on this path. It worked for me.
posted by bondcliff at 7:26 AM on May 17, 2012 [19 favorites]

posted by hydropsyche at 7:31 AM on May 17, 2012

My son just tore through her books about six months ago, after his reading group at school read MSoM. The whole group became obsessed with the woods and the outdoors, and in stolen moments from recess and lunchtime, the kids built an entire "survival village" in the woods outside the school. They play in it every day. Thank you, Ms. George.

Oh, and her autobiography about her life and pets, The Tarantula in my Purse, is worth reading as well.
posted by apparently at 7:33 AM on May 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

posted by redbeard at 7:37 AM on May 17, 2012

posted by madcaptenor at 7:37 AM on May 17, 2012

posted by drezdn at 7:46 AM on May 17, 2012

posted by arkham_inmate_0801 at 7:51 AM on May 17, 2012

I adore her books. MSotM gave me and my little brother direction and purpose - every time our parents moved to a new place (often) we scouted out a location for our newest fort, moved in our camping supplies, and always had a safe place to go when life in the house got to be too tense. When I was sixteen, my mother bought a house in the middle of the national forest, and about a quarter of a mile into the woods I found six oaks growing together in a ring, forming a little hollowed out room. I immediately remembered MSotM and it became my last childhood nature refuge.

Julie of the Wolves still resonates with me - something about the complicated bleakness of her home life at the beginning of the book, the family she builds for herself.

Amazing books, that are so ingrained in who I am I don't know if I could ever thank the author.

posted by annathea at 8:05 AM on May 17, 2012

The seeds of so many of my values and sensibilities today are in her books. Love of nature, animals, and the outdoors, respect for the environment, reverence and concern for Native people, all started for me when I was a little girl who liked to sit in the library reading rather than go home.

posted by S'Tella Fabula at 8:12 AM on May 17, 2012

Man, My Side of the Mountain needs to be in my permanent collection. Like so many folks, it had a tremendous impact on the way I looked at the natural world. I still have fantasies about running off to the hills and living off the land. (Although now I'd require a decent internet connection. Being a grown-up is so prosaic sometimes.)
posted by restless_nomad at 8:52 AM on May 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have nothing unique to share, but feel compelled to chime in to the chorus of people for whom discovering MSotM was a watershed moment in their adolescence. Like so many others, I desperately wanted to be Sam when I was growing up.

Thank you ever so much for the stories, Ms. George. You will be missed.

posted by namewithoutwords at 8:56 AM on May 17, 2012

posted by gauche at 9:22 AM on May 17, 2012

My stepmother, born a few years earlier, was a close friend of hers. I remember that one time in the 1980s, after she and my father visited JCG, he told me that the two elderly women talked mostly about grizzly bears.
posted by LeLiLo at 9:26 AM on May 17, 2012 [6 favorites]

I loved MSofM when I was a kid, I was so happy to find out it was a favorite of the woman who became my wife, and I loved reading the book out loud to our kids when they got old enough. I fully expect to read it to my grandchildren when that time comes.
posted by maurice at 9:37 AM on May 17, 2012

My Side of the Mountain is such an amazing book. Ms. George will live on in so many memories!
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:00 AM on May 17, 2012

posted by jann at 10:10 AM on May 17, 2012

"Be you writer or reader, it is very pleasant to run away in a book."

That it was.

posted by Spatch at 10:17 AM on May 17, 2012

posted by IvoShandor at 10:34 AM on May 17, 2012

Before today, I never understood why people cared when celebrities died. I just didn't get why they would be so sad when it was someone they didn't actually know.

But when I heard this news I was instantly saddened. I read so many of Jean Craighead George's books and they meant so much to me when I was a kid.

I can't wait to have my own kids and read her books with them.
posted by jschu at 10:38 AM on May 17, 2012

I read her books as a little girl, and have been reading them now all these years later with my daughter. Then my husband joined in with us, as he'd never come across them, and it led us to vacation in the Catskills - always stopping in Delhi and imagining Sam and Alice Gribley's adventures. My daughter's stuffed owl, which she pretends is a falcon, is named "Frightful" for this reason.

Our lives are so much richer because of her, and I'm genuinely and terribly sad about her passing. I so admire what her children have done with their lives; and she's been an inspiration for how I raise my kid, even if that's just somehow ending up with a few too many pets sometimes. I'm glad that others share this love for her writing with me, so thanks.
posted by peagood at 11:03 AM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

My Side of the Mountain was one of my favourite books as a kid. My Grade Six class read it for a novel study, and I fell in love with it and read it over and over and over. To describe me as "not outdoorsy" is an understatement, yet after reading MSotM, I desperately wanted to live in the woods with a falcon and forage for food and live in a tree stump.

I re-read it just a few years ago, and it held up just as well as ever from an adult perspective.

Thank you Ms. George; you wrote a classic that touched a lot of people and I hope many more generations of kids get to discover its delights.

posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:25 PM on May 17, 2012


The book of hers that really changed things for me was The Talking Earth, which is about a girl surviving in the Everglades. She builds a boat, she adopts animals (though the panther bits are rather far-fetched), she survives a hurricane.

There's a part in the book that's always stuck with me - it's describing the houseboat the girl has built. Something like, "everything has its place, the spiders in the corners, the turtle on the floor, the flowers on the roof." My own house has (harmess moth-eating) spiders in the corners, and ferns growing in the gutters on the roof, and I don't think I would appreciate all of that as much as I do if not for this book. I'd probably exhaust myself trying to kill it all.

She was the first one who showed me how to love this crazy-ass wild place where I live. This is a sad day.

posted by cmyk at 1:58 PM on May 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

posted by lostburner at 5:06 PM on May 17, 2012

The film adaptation of My Side of the Mountain was one of several "back to the woods"-style films that seemed to regularly show up in my grade school curriculum, played on a reel-to-reel VHS tape machine that was so large we had to go into a room where it was permanently installed to watch it. These films were often recorded off television, and so there would be commercials on them, some five or six years old, which was my first encounter with nostalgia.

What were the other films? Let's see, there was the pilot for Grizzly Addams. There was The Adventures of the Wilderness Family. There was 1973's Sunshine movie, in which a back to nature hippie couple living in the woods suddenly deals with one of them dying of cancer (this film made extensive use of the Bob Denver song "Sunshine on My Shoulders"). There was Baker's Hawk. There was The Sea Gypsies. There was The Wild Country. The was One Little Indian. The was Dot and the Kangaroo.

It was like my entire childhood was preparing me to run away (or get lost) and live in the woods. I wonder why that theme was so popular in the 70s? I mean, people had been moving into the cities for the entire 20th century, but, suddenly, in the 70s, there was this whole wave of young adult literature and film that not only rejected city living, but, in many cases, rejected farm living. No, these kids (and sometimes adults) went right back to woods, where they toughed it out and made friends with animals.

Whatever the reason, these stories were enormously appealing. Quite a few of the links I have provided go to YouTube uploads of the films, and I sort of feel a hankering to watch them tonight. But there is a risk I will wander out of my Hollywood apartment and north into the Hills, into Griffith Park, and just locate a tree to live in.

posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:29 PM on May 17, 2012

My Side of the Mountain was the first book I had ever read that was made into a movie not long after I had first read it. It was my first experience of seeing on the screen an interpretation of a story I was well familiar with and loved. I guess I adjudged the effort faithful, although I had always imagined Sam looking exactly like me.
posted by bonefish at 12:39 AM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I only came across her work this year when I read Julie of the Wolves. I enjoyed it, but I think that if I had come across it as a child I would have loved it.

posted by Fence at 8:15 AM on May 18, 2012

MSotM lodged itself in my head as a child and remains there in a way that nothing since has approached.

posted by Skorgu at 8:38 AM on May 19, 2012

posted by clone boulevard at 9:36 AM on May 19, 2012

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