My Side of the Mountain
First edition cover
|Author||Jean Craighead George|
|Genre||Children's adventure novel|
|Publisher||E. P. Dutton|
|Media type||Print (hardcover and paperback)|
|Followed by||On the Far Side of the Mountain, Frightful's Mountain|
My Side of the Mountain is a middle grade adventure novel written and illustrated by American writer Jean Craighead George published by E. P. Dutton in 1959. It features a boy who learns about courage, independence, and the need for companionship while attempting to live in the Catskill Mountains of New York state. In 1960, it was one of three Newbery Medal Honor Books (runners-up) and in 1969 it was loosely adapted as a film of the same name. George continued the story in print, decades later.
It's the 1950s in New York City. 14-year-old Sam Gribley lives with eight brothers and sisters in his family's crowded New York apartment. Unsatisfied with the situation, Sam plans to run away to his great-grandfather's abandoned farm near the small town of Delhi, New York, to live off the land.
Sam studies survival skills from books at the New York City Public Library. Sam's father permits him to go to Delhi if Sam will let people in town know he is staying at the farm. He believes he'll come back in a few days once he realizes how hard it is to live without things like electricity and running water. A bus takes Sam to Delhi.
Sam fails to locate his farm. While searching he meets Bill, who lives in a cabin. Bill teaches him how to make fire. Sam soon leaves the cabin and continues to search for the farm. Once he finds it, he discovers that a stone foundation is its only remains.
Self-sufficient, Sam forages for plants and traps small animals. He makes a hollow tree his home. As Native Americans used fire to create dugout canoes, Sam uses fire to enlarge the interior of the hollow tree.
While checking his traps, Sam spots a peregrine falcon hunting for prey. Wanting a falcon to hunt game, Sam studies falconry at the town's library. He camps for days to seek out the falcon's eyrie. After finally piecing together its location, he steals a baby falcon and names her Frightful.
A forest ranger investigates one of Sam's fires, forcing him to hide in the woods as the ranger lingers overnight. Later, one of Sam's traps catches a weasel instead of game. Sam adopts it and calls the weasel The Baron.
Sam trains Frightful, now his loyal companion, to hunt. They hunt frogs, pheasants, rabbits, and sparrows. In order to have a good stock of food for winter, he preserves wild grains and tubers, as well as smoked fish and meat. He makes storage spaces in the trunks of other trees.
Sam returns to his hollowed out tree home and finds a man there. The man is a professor of English literature. Sam nicknames him Bando, while Bando gives Sam the nickname "Thoreau". He spends 10 days with Sam. They build a raft and catch fish. He teaches Sam to make a whistle from a willow branch. Bando leaves when he must return to work but promises to come back for Christmas.
Sam makes a clay fireplace to keep his home warm during the winter. Sam insulates the treehouse too well, however: the fire fills the trunk with carbon monoxide. To solve the problem, Sam carves out holes which ventilate the house.
On Christmas Eve, Bando comes back. On Christmas Day, Sam's father visits. Sam is overjoyed to see his father. The three have Christmas dinner of venison. Sam's father is relieved that Sam is all right.
Spring arrives. Matt Spell, a teenager who aspires to be a reporter for the newspaper, arrives at Sam's treehouse. Matt wants to write about Sam's presence on the Gribley farm. Sam offers Matt a deal: Matt can visit for a week during spring if Matt keeps everything secret. Matt agrees.
Matt spends the week with Sam. Matt is thrilled to be there, but Sam is sad. It reminds him too much of life in New York City.
Bando returns to check on Sam. Sam asks Bando for some jeans and a shirt. In June, Sam's father, mother, and all his siblings arrive. Father announces the entire family is moving to the farm. Sam is overjoyed the family has come. He is also upset. It is the end of independence, living off the land.
Sam's father begins building a proper house for the family on the land. Sam is upset about the traditional home; it means abandoning the treehouse. His mother reprimands him, saying he can go off on his own at age 18, reassuring Sam of his own independence.
- Sam Gribley – a 14-year-old boy who leaves home to live in the wilderness.
- Dad Gribley – Sam's father. He lets Sam leave home, believing Sam will return after just a day or two. He is surprised at Sam's independence and tenacity.
- Bill - the man that helped Sam to learn how to fish and make a fire.
- Mrs. Thomas Fiedler – a 97-year-old woman who forces Sam to help her pick strawberries for her famous jam and betrays Sam by reporting him.
- Miss Turner – a librarian at a public library in Delhi, New York who befriends Sam.
- Frightful – Sam's peregrine falcon. Sam trains Frightful to hunt for food that Sam can eat.
- Baron Weasel – a weasel that Sam accidentally traps. The weasel is Sam's best friend.
- Bando – an English professor who is lost in the woods, and spends 10 days with Sam. He becomes a father-figure to Sam over the next year.
- Jesse Coon James – a raccoon that Sam befriends. Sam learns how to hunt for mussels by watching Jesse.
- Matt Spell – a teenage boy who writes for a local newspaper and visits Sam. He writes about Sam in the newspaper. He pretends to be a friend but betrays Sam.
- Aaron – a Jewish songwriter who visits the wilderness near Sam's home to get inspiration.
- Tom Sidler – called "Mr. Jacket" by Sam, Tom is a boy who lives in the town of Delhi in the state of New York.
- Alice Gribley - Sam's younger sister.
- Mom Gribley - Sam Gribley's Mother
Critical reception and impact
My Side of the Mountain won critical plaudits upon its release. Numerous reviewers praised the novel for its detailed depiction of the wilderness and animals, its unsentimental treatment of animals and nature, and its characters, their maturation, and development. The New York Times in 1959 gave the novel a solid review, calling it "a delightful flight from civilization, written with real feeling for the woods." Children's author Zena Sutherland, writing in Children & Books at the time, called Sam's development from immature, impulsive child into a mature young adult "wholly convincing". Ruth Hill Viguers, reviewing the book in The Horn Book Magazine, concluded in 1959, "I believe it will be read year after year, linking together many generations in a chain of well-remembered joy and refreshment."
In addition to being named to the Newbery Award Honors list, the book was also an American Library Association's Notable Book for 1959, was placed on the Hans Christian Andersen Award 1959 honors list, was given a Lewis Carroll Shelf Award citation (in 1965), and won the 1959 George G. Stone Center for Children's Books Award.
The book continued to be praised in the 1990s and 2000s. Book critic Eden Ross Lipson included it in her 2000 list of the best children's books, and said it "skillfully blends themes of nature, courage, curiosity, and independence". Librarians and authors Janice DeLong and Rachel Schwedt listed the book as one of a "core collection for small libraries" of the contemporary fiction section. Author Charles Wohlforth, writing in 2004, agreed that it was a classic of contemporary children's literature. By 1998, the book had been translated into numerous foreign languages, and visitors to the Cannon Free Library in Delhi, New York, often asked to see the abandoned farm where the novel was set. (The abandoned farm does not actually exist; the Gribley farm is entirely fictional.)
The book has not always won uncritical praise. In 1999, reviewer Mary Harris Russell noted that "the narrator, Sam, speaks with a tone more measured than that of most teenagers. That tone grates on some readers."
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has cited My Side of the Mountain with inspiring him to become a falconer, which led him into a career in environmental law and environmental activism. Television host and pet advice author Marc Morrone and award-winning natural history author Ken Lamberton also credit the book with generating their interest in falconry.
Based on a 2007 online poll, the National Education Association named the book one of its "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children". In 2012 it was ranked number 77 among all-time children's novels in a survey published by School Library Journal.
A film adaptation directed by James B. Clark was released by Paramount Pictures in 1969. The film My Side of the Mountain is set in Toronto and the Notre Dame Mountains, a Quebec province section of the Appalachians, rather than in New York City and a New York state section.
A sequel written and illustrated by George was published in 1990, more than three decades after the original. Over the next 16 years there were three more sequels, a third novel illustrated by George and two picture books illustrated by Daniel San Souci. All the sequels were published by Dutton Children's Books, an imprint of Penguin Books since its acquisition of the original publisher E. P. Dutton in 1986.
- My Side of the Mountain (1959), illus. George OCLC 276356
- On the Far Side of the Mountain (1990), illus. George OCLC 20631814
- Frightful's Mountain (1999), illus. George OCLC 41445775
- Frightful's Daughter (2002), illus. Daniel San Souci, 32 pages OCLC 50556042
- Frightful's Daughter Meets the Baron Weasel (2007), illus. San Souci, 48 pp. OCLC 76863950
In 2009, Dutton published A Pocket Guide to the Outdoors: Based on 'My Side of the Mountain', by George and her daughter Twig C. George. According to a library summary: "This guide to the outdoors provides advice and instructions on camping, building shelters, finding water, and cooking outdoors. Some activities may require adult supervision." Inside responsibility credits John C. George and T. Luke George as well. OCLC 311783530
- Hendrix, Steve (October 11, 2009). "Into the Woods". The Washington Post. Washington, D.C. Retrieved 7 July 2015.
- Horning, Kathleen T. The Newbery & Caldecott Awards: A Guide to the Medal and Honor Books. Chicago: American Library Association, 2009, p. 54.
- Cullinan, Bernice E. and Person, Diane Goetz. The Continuum Encyclopedia of Children's Literature. New York: Continuum, 2005, p. 311.
- "Third Avenue Thoreau." New York Times. September 13, 1959.
- Viguers, Ruth Hill. "Review: My Side of the Mountain." The Horn Book Magazine. October 1959, p. 389.
- Lipson, Eden Ross. The 'New York Times' Parent's Guide to the Best Books for Children. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2000, p. 327.
- DeLong, Janice A. and Schwedt, Rachel E. Core Collection for Small Libraries: An Annotated Bibliography of Books for Children and Young Adults. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 1997, p. 141.
- Wohlforth, Charles P. The Whale and the Supercomputer: On the Northern Front of Climate Change. New York: North Point Press, 2004, p. 14.
- Sive, Mary Robinson. Lost Villages: Historic Driving Tours in the Catskills. Delhi, N.Y.: Delaware County Historical Association, 1998, p. 167.
- Russell, Mary Harris. "Welcome Back". New York Times. November 21, 1999. Retrieved 2012-02-12.
- Silvey, Anita. Everything I Need to Know I Learned From a Children's Book: Life Lessons From Notable People From All Walks of Life. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2009, p. 137.
- Morrone, Marc and Ellis-Bell, Nancy. A Man for All Species: The Remarkable Adventures of an Animal Lover and Expert Pet Keeper. New York: Harmony Books, 2010, p. 46; Lamberton, Ken. Beyond Desert Walls: Essays from Prison. Tucson, Ariz.: University of Arizona Press, 2005, p. 146.
- National Education Association (2007). "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children". Retrieved 2012-08-22.
- Bird, Elizabeth (July 7, 2012). "Top 100 Chapter Book Poll Results". A Fuse #8 Production. Blog. School Library Journal (blog.schoollibraryjournal.com). Archived from the original on July 13, 2012. Retrieved 2012-08-22.
- Thompson, Howard. "A Boy Grows Up". The New York Times. June 26, 1969.