Jean George Biography

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(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

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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.


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Jean Craighead George was born in Washington, D.C., on July 2, 1919. Her parents, Dr. Frank C. and Carolyn Johnson Craighead, were entomologists. The family spent summers on a farm in Pennsylvania, enabling Jean and her older twin brothers, Frank and John, to cultivate their interest in the natural sciences. While still in their teens, Frank and John were instrumental in bringing the art of falconry to the United States.

George received her bachelor's degree from Penn State University in 1941, where she was voted the "most versatile senior woman." During the 1940s she worked as a reporter for the International News Service, the Washington Post, and the Times-Herald in Washington, D.C.; as an artist for Pageant in New York City; and as an artist and reporter for the Newspaper Enterprise Association. George has also worked as a roving editor for Reader's Digest and serves as a consultant for their science books.

She married John George on January 28, 1944, and collaborated with him in writing six books for children: Vulpes, the Red Fox (1948), Vision, the Mink (1949), Masked Prowler: The Story of a Raccoon (1950), Meph, the Pet Skunk (1952), Bubo, the Great Horned Owl (1954), and Dipper of Copper Creek (1958). The couple had three children, and were divorced in 1963.

Jean George has written more than forty books, both fiction and nonfiction, with an emphasis on nature. These books include Julie of the Wolves, the story of a young Eskimo girl lost on the North Slope of Alaska, and My Side of the Mountain, the diary of an independent boy who runs away from home to live by himself in the Catskill Mountains. George has also compiled a book of back-to-nature recipes, The Wild, Wild Cookbook (1982); described fifteen historical and nature trails in the United States in The American Walk Book (1979); and written an autobiographical account of her life, Journey Inward (1982).

George has received numerous honors and awards for her writing. Dipper of Copper Creek won the American Library Association's Aurianne Award for Literature in 1958. My Side of the Mountain was a Newbery Honor Book and was placed on the Hans Christian Andersen Award Honor List. The American Library Association included Spring Comes to the Ocean (1966) and Hold Zero (1966) on its list of Notable Children's Books. All Upon a Stone (1971) received Book World's Spring Festival Award as the best picture book of 1971, and Julie of the Wolves was awarded the Newbery Medal for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children in 1973. George also was selected as Woman of the Year by Pennsylvania State College in 1969, received the Claremont College Award in 1969, and was given the Eva L. Gordon Award of the American Nature Study Society in 1970.