My Side of the Mountain

By Jean Craighead George (1959)

Sometimes a chestnut from another generation can be just the right antidote for our times. So it may be with Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain. How many times have you heard someone say, “With all these video games and the computer, kids just don’t play outside or mess around in the woods like they used to.” Perhaps you’ve even said it yourself. If that’s the case, consider the salutary case of Sam Gribley and his self-imposed exile into the woods in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York.

Sam seeks to escape his family and New York City. But he is blessed with a true Robinson Crusoe combination – both the attitude and skills necessary to conquer the wilderness. You might start out afraid for Sam’s ability to fend for himself and survive, but soon you will marvel at his ingenuity and his can-do attitude. Sam creates all manner of handy, well-crafted natural solutions for the problems he encounters – from clothing and shelter to fishing, hunting and, of course, entertainment.

If you’re looking for a book that can lead children by example, My Side of the Mountain might be it. In clear, undated prose (the prolific Jean Craighead George has penned two Newbery winners and written four sequels to Sam’s story, the last published in 2007) children and families will meet a character who never says, “I can’t.” And they just might begin to see the natural world the way Sam does – as a rich place of charm and wonder, as an opportunity…