Thursday, September 17, 2009

Surviving the Wild

Sam Gribley is terribly unhappy living in New York City with his family, so he runs away to the Catskill Mountains to live by himself. With only a penknife, a ball of cord, forty dollars, and some flint and steel, he intends to survive on his own. Sam learns about courage, danger, and independence during his year in the wilderness, a year that changes his life forever.

Title: My Side of the Mountain
Author: Jean Craighead George
Series: Mountain, Book 1
Start & Finished: 3/21/09
Published: 1959
Publisher: Puffin Books
Pages: 177
Genre: Children's Literature

This year is the 50th anniversary of one of Jean Craighead George’s most famous books My Side of the Mountain. Like the majority of her books, this story deals "with topics related to the environment and the natural world" and also of living off the land. Sam’s story is completely made up by the author and “his adventures are the fufillment of that day long ago when [she] told [her] mother [that she] was going to run away, got as far as the edge of the woods, and came back… but not Sam.” Growing up with a father who was both a naturalist and a scientist, Ms. George learned at an early age many of the things Sam learns from books as well as trial and error in his quest to live off the land.

“With ideas coming fast, the first draft [of My Side of the Mountain] was done in two weeks. Five revisions later, it was finished and off to the publisher,” but the author almost wasn’t able to get it published as the publisher didn’t believe that children should be encouraged to leave home. However, he soon changed his mind when he realized that “it was better for children to run to the woods than the city.” Even if they aren’t ill-treated (like Sam), there are quite a few kids who want to run away from home and some did after they read this story. I doubt they lasted as long as Sam does nor do they have an adventure quite like his either.

Learning to live with the weather and living by learning animal and bird habits, Sam survives and thrives in the wilderness and that is what makes this story so magical even today. I stumbled across this book for the first time in middle school and just loved how the author makes you feel like you’re on the adventure too. Several years later I had forgotten everything but Sam and ‘Bando’ making the clay jars and blueberry jam so re-reading this story again was like reading it for the first time. Becoming reacquainted with Baron Weasel again who is “a fearless wild animal” with “something human about his beady glance” and seeing Sam train Frightful were some of the very best parts that I can’t believe I had forgotten them!

This clever book was recognized by several prestigious children’s book awards like the Hans Christian Anderson International award, and the ALA too, however most importantly, it was nominated for the Newbery award in 1960. Nine years later it even became a film set in Toronto, Ontario and Sam runs away to the Laurentian Mountains in the adapted version instead of The Catskills like in the book. Sam’s adventure inspired people everywhere to appreciate nature and many environmentalists today read it when they were children. It took the author until 1991 that she began to write sequels to her Newbery Honor book and so far there are four. Although none of them could ever hope to measure up to the original, they should still help keep interest alive in it and the 2007 release is probably going to be the last one.

Jean Craighead George dedicated My Side of the Mountain “to many people-
to that gang of youngsters who
Inhabited the trees and waters of the
Potomac River so many years ago, and
to the bit of Sam Gribley in the
Children and adults around me now.”

My Side of the Mountain Series
1. My Side of the Mountain (1959)
2. On the Far Side of the Mountain (1990)
3. Frightful's Mountain (1999)
4. Frightful's Daughter (2002)
5. Frightful's Daughter Meets the Baron Weasel (2007)

First Paragraph: I am on a mountain in a tree home that people have passed without ever knowing that I am here. The house is a hemlock tree six feet in diameter, and must be as old as the mountain itself. I came upon it last summer and dug and burned it out until I made a snug cave in the tree that I now call home.


  • Wikipedia lists Jean Craighead George's works and includes a short biography.
  • There is also a Wikipedia page on My Side of the Mountain that has a complete plot summary (with spoilers)
  • On the author's official website under What's New, there is a video talking about the upcoming 50th anniversary edition of My Side of the Mountain. She also reads from her story.

    The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) interviews Jean Craighead George about My Side of the Mountain


  1. You are on a major children's lit glom! But a really good one. Gosh, I wish I'd known this book as a kid. It looks great.

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  2. I'll have to add this to my list. Sounds like one my daughter would enjoy.

  3. I'm not familiar with this book but my son loved Julie of the Wolves by the same author.

  4. I read and loved this when I was eleven. Most of it has faded now, but I still remember how much Sam's home fascinated me. I wanted to live in a tree too!

    I had no idea there were sequels. I want to check them out now, and reread this one.

  5. Carolyn Crane: Yeah, I was on a major YA kick for awhile. This is a great story and I liked it just as much as I did as a kid.

    CarolsNotebook: I'm sure she would!

    Bermudaonion: I haven't read Julie yet but I wouldn't be surprised if I like it just as much. She's an amazing author.

    Memory: I didn't know there were sequels either until I re-read this. I hope you enjoy it again just as much!

  6. I read this over and over as a kid, and would constantly imagine running away to go live in the woods... despite the fact that there weren't any woods nearby big enough to get lost in for an hour, let alone for a year. :)

  7. Hi LadyTink!

    I haven't read any of these books, sorely lacking I guess.

    Dottie :)

  8. You know, I have not read this one nor do I really recall the title! I am going to check into after reading this!!

  9. Fyrefly: My mom would hate when I'd run off for hours at a time in the woods. I would get lost at least twice a summer but for some reason I've always had a good sense of direction thankfully. Never wanted to live in the woods though...

    Danni: Me too!

    Dottie: It's very good, you should give it a try :)

    Naida: It is! I really loved it when I was a kid. Plus, the survival techniques are real.

    April: I really hope you do :). It's one of my favorite Newbery Honors.

  10. I can't believe I hadn't even heard of this before! To the list it goes, though.

  11. How to Make Pemmican The Ultimate Survival Food

    People really should avert their gaze from the modern survival thinking for just a bit and also look at how folks 150 years ago did it. These guys were the last generation to practice basic things-for a living-that we call survival skills now.

    Click on the link bellow to find out how the early pioneers - who had a long hard journey ahead - built the Self-Feeding Fire in order to take a much needed refreshing nap (no need to add logs).

    How to Start a Self-Feeding Fire That Lasts All Night Long

    People really should avert their gaze from the modern survival thinking for just a bit and also look at

    How folks 150 years ago did it.

    These guys were the last generation to practice basic things-for a living-that we call survival skills now.

    Survival Things Our Great Grandfathers Did Or Built Around The House.

    Remember... back in those days, there was no electricity... no refrigerators... no law enforcement... and certainly no grocery store or supermarkets...

    So I really can't think of anyone more qualified in sharing real-life survival lessons than people who lived through times like these.

    Survival Things Our Great Grandfathers Did Or Built Around The House.



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