My Side of the Mountain, Jean Craighead George, 1959, Dutton
Perhaps this is one of those “blemished” books because I don’t know that homeschoolers recommend it much. I wonder if that’s because it is usually described as the story of a boy who ran away from home. (Which is why it almost didn’t get published.) Well, the main character, Sam Gribley, did leave home, but it turns out his parents knew where he was and they let him do it.
My Side of the Mountain is another of my favorite books from childhood. And as I reread it recently I found it just as delightful as I did 50 years ago, and loved it as much as I did 30+ years ago when I read it to my children, who also loved it.
In my review of Swiss Family Robinson I mentioned a genre of fiction I have dubbed “scientific fiction.” Like historical fiction only based on science. This book might just go in that category.
Sam Gribley was a boy who lived with his large family in a crowded New York City apartment. He left home, with his parents’ knowledge and permission, to see if he could live off the land on his great-grandfather’s homestead in the Catskill Mountains. The difficulties he faced – finding a place to live, finding food, making clothes for himself – and his ways of overcoming them, make for a great story.
And it’s a very educational story; in it you find yourself learning about all kinds of wild foods, how to get them, and how to cook them. Freshwater mussels, cat tails, spring beauties, dandelions, crayfish, Jack in the Pulpit, puffballs, watercress…the list goes on and on. The book shows how to build traps for rabbits and deer, how to tan the deerskins, how to make salt from hickory bark… Sam’s neighbors are a duck hawk he caught and tamed, named “Frightful,” a weasel, raccoons, flying squirrels, as well as the more common birds.
And Sam succeeds in his mission – he makes it through the winter, successfully living off the land. But in the end he lets himself be found, realizing that he misses the company of human beings.
But, some gentle readers will ask, is it a Christian book? Well, that depends on how you figure it. I came across a biography once called Mary Todd Lincoln – the Christian. Turns out the author categorized her as a Christian because of the frequent use of God’s name in Mrs. Lincoln’s letters. Hmmm…if that makes someone a Christian there are a lot of them on the internet.
Well, the Bible says we judge a person by his fruit. So for Sam Gribley what do we get? There’s no profession of faith, no mention of praying. However, like the majority of people a couple generations ago, Sam does appear to have a Christian Worldview: he appears to love and honor his parents, has a high regard for the truth, doesn’t steal, and is hospitable.
My Side of the Mountain is a book I think anyone would enjoy and learn from, and it’s a book that doesn’t require any editing of language or bad attitudes. It’s one of the few works of fiction I’d pass as entirely safe to hand to a child to read to himself. But it’s a lot more fun to read it aloud and enjoy it together!
There are two sequels, written much later, which to me, lack the charm of this first book. I’m not going to review them; I don’t want to reread them.