Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 462
Jean Craighead George was born on July 2, 1919, in Washington, D.C., into a family whose consuming interest was nature. Both of her parents, Dr. Frank C. and Carolyn Johnson Craighead, were entomologists, or insect specialists, and a succession of wild birds and animals shared the family home over the...
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Jean Craighead George was born on July 2, 1919, in Washington, D.C., into a family whose consuming interest was nature. Both of her parents, Dr. Frank C. and Carolyn Johnson Craighead, were entomologists, or insect specialists, and a succession of wild birds and animals shared the family home over the years. The family often spent summers on their farm in Pennsylvania or on field trips. Twin brothers, Frank and John, grew up to become ecologists, while George herself became an author, illustrator, and naturalist— although she did not settle into her career immediately.
George studied both natural science and English at Penn State University, the latter under the noted American poet Theodore Roethke. After graduating with a bachelor's degree in 1941, she departed for Louisiana State University to study modern dance. With the United States' entry into World War II, however, George put aside her dancing ambitions and became a reporter. Since then, writing has been the foundation of her career, and environmental subjects her frequent focus. Her journalistic assignments, particularly those she took on as roving reporter for Reader's Digest—a position she held for many years—often provided material for subsequent children's books.
In 1944 she married John L. George, 'an ecologist. Together they wrote six well-researched children's books on natural history and raised three children—Twig, Craig, and Luke. The marriage ended in divorce in 1963.
George has written close to fifty books for children and young adults over the course of her career, several of which received important awards. In her most popular books, she parallels descriptions of a somewhat anthropomorphized natural world with stories of children or teens struggling to grow up and become independent. The lives of the children and the life cycles of natural creatures become intertwined as George emphasizes the interrelationships of all living parts of the earth's environment.
Julie of the Wolves is based on material George gathered during a trip to the Arctic Research Laboratory in Barrow, Alaska. She never accomplished the original goal of her trip—to write an article about wolf language and family behavior—but the novel won the Newbery Medal as the best children's book of 1973. Perhaps George's best-known book for young adults is My Side of the Mountain, which she based to some extent on her own childhood experiences camping in the wilderness. This story of a boy's year in the wilderness was a Newbery Honor Book and the basis of a 1969 film by Paramount Studios, George's personal favorite is Spring Comes to the Ocean (1965), a nonfictional account of the gradual changes made by sea creatures in response to the changing season.
George currently lives in Chappaqua, New York, in a home filled with wildlife— ravens, raccoons, and even an indoor pond with a bubbling fountain and a stock of fish.