September 05

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My Side of the Mountain Made Me Want to Run Away From Home by Logan S. Kline

My Side of the Mountain made me want to run away from home…at least for the summer. I swear this is a good thing, just bear with me a bit longer.

Photo of Logan hiking with his copy of My Side of the Mountain (Photo by Alden Kline)

I didn’t read this book for pleasure; it was assigned. The unfortunate reality for teachers is they…well, we (I’m a high school art teacher after all) start every lesson in a deficit. Nothing kills motivation faster than another human being telling you that you have to do something. I wish I could say my relationship with my teacher got me over my initial reluctance to read this book… it didn’t. I wish I could say that my desire to do well in school allowed me to approach this task with dutiful enthusiasm… it didn’t. I even wish I could say that my love for reading allowed me to dive into the process with anticipation… it did not. My enthusiasm for this book was the result of the vivid reality painted by Jean Craighead George’s carefully selected words. I fell in love with this book in the best way that anyone can fall in love with anything…unexpectedly. 

Photo of Logan’s handmade backup/survival kits: “My preoccupation with creating lists of important items for life on the run has evolved into the quest for the perfect backup/survival kit. These are all bags I have made myself. From dump-kits for canoeing (on the left) to a sling pack made of buckskin that I brain tanned myself (just like Sam did in My Side of the Mountain).”

It was a normal day when I first read this book… well, maybe worse than normal, I was at school after all. (It would be a long time before I enjoyed school.) The narrative grabbed me fairly quickly. The main character was in a cab, running away from home; he had a knife, he was running away to the mountains, and this was just the beginning. I was hooked.  

Keep in mind, I didn’t get the idea to run away from my rural Ohio home as soon as I finished the book. This idea seeped into me, coalesced around other ideas and experiences, and popped back up in my mind like a dandelion in a badly maintained parking lot. It started as a daydream and developed into a goal that I thought would define me as a person. Ahh books.  

Now before I go on, I must confess…I never left home. My plans were foiled by my little brother (as brothers do). Perhaps it is bad storytelling on my part to say this now, but I didn’t want to build anyone up for disappointment. You see, in preparation for the-summer-of-my-vanishing, I had been creating a list of items I would need to flee my home.  My little brother, our family’s dutiful tattle-tale, found my list and immediately informed our mother. I can still hear his nasally singsongy voice calling down the stairs, “Mawwmm, Logan’s running away.” Ehh, brothers.

But just imagine it; in my middle school mind it was going to be a big deal. No one would know where I was. I would be gone for the entire summer and I would return with amazing adventures of survival, running from the authorities, evading detection, and being missed. I would return with the glint of rugged independence in my eye, and they would appreciate me. 

I now know just how gobsmackingly foolish this fantasy was. So don’t judge my little brother too harshly (he turned out to be a pretty good guy. He’s got a few kids and a wife. I’ve met his neighbors and they seem to like him). He actually saved me and my parents from, at most, a day or two of fear and heartache. Yet, up until that moment I truly thought I was going to have an adventure that would be on par with Sam Gribley’s.  That summer, admittedly, was a dud. Yet, My Side of the Mountain, along with several other stories from my youth, instilled in me a lifelong desire to create compelling stories and share them with others.

Finding Fire cover art

This desire has been a powerful influence in my life for as long as I can remember.  The experience that Jean Craighead George’s book created for me validated the significance of a well told story. This was not lost on me as I crafted my own story: Finding Fire. As a 40 page, nearly wordless picture book set in a prehistoric world of mammoths and saber tooth cats, it is significantly different from My Side of the Mountain. Yet the similarities are far from coincidental. The protagonist is a child alone in the wilderness, he carries a knife (his made of flint), there is an animal companion that helps him survive, and lots of mountains to travel through.

Sketch of the boy’s equipment: “This is a discarded concept for a spread, but I remember how captivated I was by the limited number of items that Sam Gribley carried into the mountains. In Finding Fire, the boy leaves his home with only a few precious possessions.”

Most importantly (and why it was a good thing that it made me want to run away from home), My Side of the Mountain lifted me out of my humdrum day-to-day life. It made my world more exciting and thrilling. For months and months, I had a secret plan for adventure. If I had a bad day I would pull out my supply list and add an item or two that I imagined would be needed. Please understand, it is not that I hope my story will encourage anyone to run away from home… instead, it is my hope that it connects with a child’s internal desire for adventure, courage, companionship and the satisfaction of being brave for those you love and care about.

Interior spread: “The story takes place during a time when humans had not yet discovered how to make fire, and in this scene, the protagonist from Finding Fire is searching for fire in the mountains.” (Illustrations copyright © 2022 by Logan S. Kline)

Logan_S._Kline (1)Logan S. Kline is an artist whose work has appeared in The Boxcar Children series and in several magazines, including Highlights, Ladybug, and Cricket. He has been working as an illustrator of children’s literature for many years. Finding Fire, scheduled for publication by Candlewick Press in September 2022, is his debut picture book. Logan S. Kline lives in upstate New York. When he’s not in his studio, you can find Logan teaching high school art, playing Catan with his family, or hiking in the mountains with a bag full of items that might be needed while far from home.