Tuesday, 5 July 2016

My Side of the Mountain / Jean Craighead George

3 out of 5 stars
Every kid thinks about running away at one point or another; few get farther than the end of the block. Young Sam Gribley gets to the end of the block and keeps going--all the way to the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York. There he sets up house in a huge hollowed-out tree, with a falcon and a weasel for companions and his wits as his tool for survival. In a spellbinding, touching, funny account, Sam learns to live off the land, and grows up a little in the process. Blizzards, hunters, loneliness, and fear all battle to drive Sam back to city life. But his desire for freedom, independence, and adventure is stronger. No reader will be immune to the compulsion to go right out and start whittling fishhooks and befriending raccoons. 

 ***Wanda’s Summer Carnival of Children’s Literature***

This was one on my favourite novels as a youngster and it was a pleasure to revisit it. It is a completely unrealistic fantasy about a young boy who runs away to the ancestral land in the Catskills mountains and who proceeds to learn how to live off the land for a whole year.

First let’s point out the obviously unreasonable plot points—a young boy runs away from a large New York family and no one comes after him. Not until Christmas, several months into the adventure, does his father show up to see what he’s doing. Adults along the way help him to get there and keep his secret instead of turning him in. No matter how successful his venture, they should have been intent on returning him to his family and getting him back in school. Sam is very much a Gary Stu character. He is able to train a falcon by reading about it in a book, seems to be surrounded by careless hunters who helpfully “lose” deer that they have shot, and has more of a taste for cat tail roots and flower bulbs than most young men of my acquaintance.

Despite all of those fantasy elements (or maybe because of them) I really got into this book as a kid. I loved the idea of living in a tree, of having a falcon as a companion, learning to live with friendly racoons and weasels. I was a farm child, so I could at least experience the local wildlife (weasels, ground squirrels, hares) somewhat like Sam, and that was enough for me.

This book really spoke to my early love of nature. I don’t think I ever thought of it as a “how to” guide, I recognized the fantasy aspect. (And I think that most children do recognize the fantastic elements of things, whether adults give them credit for it or not).

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