Tuesday, August 12, 2008

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George - review

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
When was the last time you read this book? It might be time to do it again.

My Side of the Mountain was published in 1959, one of Jean Craighead George's first books. I must have first read it in maybe 1972. But last week, when I slotted it into the CD player in the minivan and we heard Sam Gribley describe his first attempts to catch a fish, start a fire, and spend the night outside, it was as if Sam was sitting right there with us. We hung on his every word. Cheered when he caught that fish. I checked the rearview mirror when he described shivering under his makeshift canopy of hemlock boughs, and all three boys (my camp carpool) were listening with their eyes wide, worried expressions on their faces.

The descriptions are so concise and yet so atmospheric. Sam's feelings are so unambiguously rendered. The whole book is as clear and bracing as the stream that runs down the mountain.

Are there some dated aspects? Well, certainly it is a little odd that Sam's dad is supportive of him running away from home to live in the Catskills. Then there's the hitchhiking. And I'm here to tell you that no librarian nowadays would allow some kid to leave the library if she knew that he was fixing to live on his own outside. Consequences are thin on the ground on Sam's side of the mountain. I think the author makes clear, however, that Sam's good experience is due to planning, research, and a hefty slab of luck as much as his native perseverance and resourcefulness.

On our daily drive to camp, we often see big birds over the highway. Usually they're carrion birds - black vultures or buzzards - but from time to time we see the distinctive silhouette of a raptor. The other morning, I noticed one of those, pointed it out to the kids and said, "Think that's Frightful?" And a clear, distinct memory came to me - of wondering that exact thing whenever I saw a hawk or falcon when I was a kid.

Every kid deserves the door to the imagination that is this book.


Collagemama said...

We need this book more than ever before in our libraries and classrooms. Kids desperately need the chance to imagine living off the land and being so close to wild animals. They need that chance to imagine library resourcefulness, too, even if it's unrealistic. For me, Jim LaMarche's "The Raft" is the only book that comes close to "My Side of the Mountain."

Charlotte said...

I have loved this book for years, and went so far as to pack it to take on a recent trip as a possible read out loud to my boys (which didn't happen--we read Kipling instead).

I had hopes for The Hatchet, which I read as an adult, but it didn't come close.