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In Memoriam: Jean Craighead George June 5, 2012

Posted by ccbooks in Analysis.

We lost another grand dame of children’s literature a few weeks ago. I hope that Jean Craighead George is now in a place with no pollution, no forests being cut down and animals such as hawks and otters able to live their lives in peace.

I can’t remember when I first read My Side of the Mountain, but it  had a strong impact on the way I viewed nature and the outdoors. Along with Island of the Blue Dolphins, it fed my elementary school games of turning wood chips, magnolia leaves and rock dust into pretend food and tools that I used to survive my wanderer’s life somewhere out in the woods. The level of detail in the books helped me imagine what exactly it would be like to live on my own, away from civilization. And for a girl who never really had any pets to speak of, it helped me understand that animals have personalities similar to humans. George says in her introduction to the book that the story fulfilled an abbreviated adventure of her own, when she told her mother she was going to run away, but got only as far as the edge of the woods near her house. I agree wholeheartedly that, as she says, “it is very pleasant to run away in a book.”

If My Side of the Mountain was the book that made me excited and ready to start off on adventures as a child, the book that made me cry as an adult was probably The Talking Earth. Not as well known, it follows a Seminole girl named Billie, who is sent by her tribe out into the Everglades to live on her own until she can tell what the animals and the earth is trying to say. I was at least somewhat familiar with the kind of landscape that Sam explores in My Side of the Mountain, but the Everglades was a totally alien world. The descriptions of the trees, islands, underground shelters and animals that Billie encounters were mind-boggling to me. I’ve still never had the chance to visit Everglades National Park, but I’m sure that if I ever go, I will spend the entire time thinking of Billie’s final revelation–that this Earth is the only one we have and so we must protect it.


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