My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George – Review by Maria Selke
Those of you who know my online persona may be surprised by the book I’ve chosen to review today. It’s true; I do tend to gravitate toward science fiction and fantasy novels. My students also lean in that direction. Yet a healthy reading diet includes books of all flavors.
So when I was looking for books to add to the choice list for my “survival” themed unit, I knew I needed to pull in some old favorites. I may have been an indoor kid who preferred burying my nose in a book to burying my hands in the dirt, but I could appreciate book like My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. Ever since I was little, I’ve loved falcons. My upcoming trip to Ireland includes a mandatory falconry event. Even the cover calls my name!
Can a book about a child who runs away to live on his own in the wilderness appeal to kids today, though? Will children who are surrounded by constant entertainment, convenience foods, and “always on” communication with their parents and peers be able to connect with Sam’s desire to be completely on his own?
What kinds of kids will like this book?
Even though this whole story takes place outside, Sam’s story reinforces the importance of reading and writing. His survival depends on the fact that he read and memorized information on plants, animals, and weather. He keeps notes on what works as he winds his way through the seasons. He even goes to the library nearest his wild home to learn about falcons in preparation for taming one of his own. Kids who adore reading may be intrigued enough to come up with their own nonfiction reading list, just in case they need to survive in the wild on their own.
“Necessity is the mother of invention,” and Sam needs to use his problem solving skills every day to survive. His first fish hook fails, but that’s not enough to stop him! His clothes are falling apart, so he finds a way to make more. Every challenge that nature can throw at him is just one more reason for him to use his ingenuity to rise to the occasion. Kids who love inventing may find themselves sketching or building their own designs.
It’s not a heart pounding thriller. There’s no impending apocalypse. Yet students who crave their own little bit of adventure will cheer Sam on as he learns to live on his own. I’ll admit to feeling a little nervous myself each time I read about the blizzard and the ice storm!
So often we encourage kids to jump into the middle of a group. “Make friends,” we say. “Go out more,” we implore. Yet introversion is not a bad thing. Students who need that quiet time to explore their own thoughts will find a mirror in Sam. He seeks out the quiet of the woods. He needs that time, and that space, to hear his own thoughts clearly. Let’s allow kids to see this as a natural need for many, and one of which they should not be ashamed.
There are enough gorgeous little details about flora and fauna in this tale to delight even the most devoted nonfiction reader. When you add in all the hand drawn illustrations, your nature loving students will be hooked. Let them pair the book up with nonfiction texts that have photos and descriptions of everything Sam meets along the way. Maybe they’ll even want to make their own nature journals.
I know it’s important to get new, vibrant literature into our classrooms. I spend a lot of time reading new releases to ensure that my students have access to as many new titles as possible. Even while I rush to entice them with the latest and greatest, though, I stop and remember the oldies-but-goodies that still linger in piles in the book closets in my school. This is one of those forgotten treasures. Dig it out and get it on your shelves today!
Maria Selke has been a member of the Nerdy Book Club since early childhood, when she started bringing home stacks of books each week to the amusement of her local librarians. She spent 6 years in elementary special education, delighting in helping reluctant readers discover a love for books. The past 7 years she’s been frantically trying to keep one book ahead of a set of voracious readers as a gifted resource teacher in Pennsylvania. With a husband and two sons who also suffer from book addiction, her house is one large library. Her book stack usually includes a mix of science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, and comic books.
Follow her on Twitter – even though her handle isn’t exciting: @mselke01