Saturday, September 27, 2008

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George is the story of Sam Gribley, a young boy, who runs away from his New York City home to live in the wilderness of the Catskill Mountains near his great-grandfather's abandoned farm. The story is told in the first person through a smooth balance of narration and journal entries. It begins in the midst of Sam's fist winter, flashes back to his arrival to the mountains in the previous spring and then follows Sam's initial survival and eventual settlement over the course of a full year.

As Ms. George states in her "author's preface" -- "Almost everyone I know has dreamed at some time of running away to a distant mountain or island, castle or sailing ship to live there in beauty and peace. Few of us make it, however it is one thing to wish to go, and another matter to do it..." I was just such a child -- I pretended I was running away, but never did. The very idea was for me and is for many children (and yes, even some adults) both exciting and intriguing. The idea succeeded in this novel.

For the most part, Ms. George's knowledge and research paid off. How Sam learned to survive: the food he ate, the friends he made, and the shelter and clothing he made were relatively believable. Not to say there weren't times when I had to suppress my disbelief. One such instance was the fact that Sam's parents let him run away and waited months before looking for him. I mean... they are loving parents, you can see that clearly in the story, but in real life what parent would let their child (be they 10, 12, 15, 18) run away and live in the wilderness without doing something after they didn't return home within hours? Was it that different fifty years ago? Or is it just part of the magic of the book? Such questions aside, My Side of the Mountain is an enjoyable and fascinating story. Ms. George's writing displays such creativity and resourcefulness in the character of Sam that it in turn sparked my own imagination in ways that haven't been explored in a long time.

Written in just two weeks My Side of the Mountain almost didn't make it to print. The editors felt publishing a story about a boy who was successful in running away from home was taboo. It wasn't until they looked at the story from a different angle that they realized what a clever and potentially successful book they had in their hands. This wasn't a story about a boy running away, this was a story about a boy running to the wilderness and learning to live off the land. My Side of the Mountain was published in the spring of 1959 and was a success. Not only did it earn Ms. George a Newbery Honor Award, but it also led her to write two sequels: On The Far Side of the Mountain and Frightful's Mountain, and was loosely adapted to film in 1969.

I really liked this book and am interested to read the rest of the trilogy at some point in the future. This story makes for a great story to be read by any child (boy or girl), but might make for even more fun if read together with a parent or as a family.

Long ago I remember hearing about this book, but I'd never read it. I don't think I've even seen the film. However, after stumbling upon the book while browsing the youth/children's section of my local library I knew I had to read it. My copy, at 177 pages, was a quick read -- although life didn't allow me much reading time over the last several days, so it took me the entire week to finish. Because My Side of the Mountain is so widely read it is easily attained through libraries or bookstores and is inexpensive for anyone wishing to add it to their library.

** Note: You can read more about Jean Craighead George, author of over 80 books by visiting her website here.


Carrie said...

I'm going to come back to this review and read it later because I JUST picked up a used copy of this book yesterday, came home, and discovered your review. So I guess I'll read it sooner than planned. ;D

Maw Books said...

I've got this book on my bookshelf but haven't read it yet. What are the other titles in the trilogy?

MelADramatic Mommy said...

My son is getting more into chapter books. I think he'd like this but I'm not sure I want to give him any ideas!

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