My Side of the Mountain

by Jean George

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Setting

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The story is set in the 1950s, deep in the Catskill Mountains of eastern New York State. Sam Gribley, who comes to the mountains in search of his greatgrandfather's farm, finds the old homestead surrounded by a world of giant trees and meadows, cascading waterfalls, and "clear athletic streams" brimming with trout. He makes his home inside an ancient hemlock and faces the changing seasons with the companionship of deer, raccoons, a hunting falcon, weasels, skunks, bats, and thousands of birds.

Sam's tree home is in a remote setting, with the nearest small town, Delhi, several miles away. The mountains seem isolated during the cold and snowy winter months, but during the fall hunters wander into the area looking for deer, and in the summer the woods are busy with campers, hikers, and fishermen.

Because the campsite is so remote and because Sam wishes to live as close to nature as possible, his everyday world resembles the world of the mideighteenth century. Apart from forty dollars, a penknife, a ball of cord, an ax, a flint, and some steel that he has brought with him, the only items available to Sam are those found in nature.

Some of the major dangers and challenges Sam faces result from the cold winters of the Catskills: frightened by snow and ice storms, which block the entrance to his tree home, Sam also faces the danger of suffocation because of inadequate ventilation from his homemade fireplace.

Literary Qualities

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My Side of the Mountain is an adventure story of self-reliance and survival. Sam Gribley, a young boy from New York, longs to live by himself on his great-grandfather's land in the Catskill Mountains. He hides out in the woods for an entire year, eating food he finds in the wilds, building his own shelter inside a tree, tanning the deerskin for his clothes, coping with snow and ice storms, and evading the curiosity of outsiders. This is a convincing story, complete with detailed instructions for a large variety of survival skills such as starting a fire without matches, making salt, boiling water in a leaf, and preserving food.

My Side of the Mountain is a story of the close relationship between a boy and the animals in his environment. During the course of the year, Sam carefully trains a baby falcon to hunt and learns that wild raccoons and weasels can provide valuable companionship and protection. He also learns why feeding wild animals can be dangerous, finds that nuthatch birds make good barometers, and discovers why a bird's feet don't freeze in the winter.

Written from Sam's first-person point of view, My Side of the Mountain celebrates people's ability to live in harmony with nature. Some sections of the novel take the form of a diary. The language is plain, uncontrived, and true to the voice of a young teen. Some portions of the book are introspective and philosophical, while others contain notes of daily activities, diagrams, sketches, and even recipes. The characters are convincing, and the conclusion is surprising.

Although not an action-packed story, the novel moves quickly because it includes fascinating details. The book contains careful observations of the environment. Because the descriptions are realistic, informative, and well-researched, much of the book could be used as a "handbook" for people who wish to escape to the wild.

Social Sensitivity

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My Side of the Mountain was written in the 1950s, when women's roles were tied closely to the job of preparing food for their families. It is not unreasonable, therefore, that Sam's mother appears interested primarily in making sure that Sam has enough to eat. But...

(This entire section contains 197 words.)

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given the typical idea of the close-knit family of that era, the reader may be surprised that Mrs. Gribley does not immediately search for her son or seem to be worried about his safety. The book appears to portray women in a negative fashion when it suggests that Mrs. Gribley's basic incentive for finding her son is the fear that people would think she had "not done her duty."

The novel also appears to suggest that newspaper reporters and public officials, such as the fire warden, are not to be trusted and that it might be proper to protect a bandit from the police. The novel also hints that technology is a danger ("Who knows when we're all going to be blown to bits and need to know how to smoke venison?") and concludes that every "normal red-blooded American boy wants to live in a treehouse and trap his own food."

For Further Reference

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George, Jean Craighead. Journey Inward. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1982. This autobiographical account provides an overview of the circumstances that surrounded the writing of George's books and illustrates her deep regard for nature.

Melvin, Helen. "Jean Craighead George: Biographical Note." In Newbery and Caldecott Medal Books, 1966-1975, edited by Lee Kingman. Boston: Horn Book, 1975. A close friend presents biographical information about George.

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