I think I had vaguely noticed on Facebook the May 15 death of children’s book author Jean Craighead George but it wasn’t until today, reading the obituary in The Washington Post, that I realized she was the author of one of my favorite books growing up: My Side of the Mountain. There was also a movie version, which I also remember vividly (that snow!).
In it, a boy runs away from home into the wilderness of upstate New York and lives on his own in a hollowed-out tree. He befriends some animals and there are plenty of challenges, but overall, he does well...so well that an impressionable reader (ahem) might dream about running away herself. I loved books about animals, and I loved books about kids on their own (looking back, it’s amazing how few parents were in the books I read back then!), and although I wasn’t especially nature-oriented in my daily life, I longed to be and so I loved books about nature. I still find myself drawn to books about survival...not that I want to give up restaurants and cute shoes!
In the obit, George is quoted as saying of My Side of the Mountain, “It took me only two weeks to write. It was basically about my own life.”
Also in the obit:
Ms. George regularly received fan mail from her young readers.“A lot of them write to tell me they want to run away like Sam did,” she told a Post reporter, referring to the hero of My Side of the Mountain. “I tell them to run away in a book. It’s easier, and warmer.”
So, thank you, Ms. George—and all the authors of all the books I remember deep in my bones, children’s books and adult books—thank you for allowing me to run away, in the reading and in the memories of what I’ve read. It’s interesting that now if someone mentions a book that they like, I automatically ask who wrote it. As a child, I barely gave any thought to the people behind the books, unless it was because I needed to know their last name so I would know where to find the books on the library shelves.
If you’re a fan of My Side of the Mountain, you’ll like this Washington Post article in which a reporter goes to the Catskills in homage to Sam, the book’s hero.
Here is George’s author website.
Go ahead and buy the book and reread it…you know you want to!