Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain is a book that I probably wouldn’t have picked up had I not suddenly found myself having to teach it after the recent tragedy at work. It’s a book for young readers that somehow I missed when I was growing up.
The story is simple: a kid named Sam runs away from New York City sometime in the 1950s to go live in the woods. He spends a year living alone in the Catskill Mountains, hunting and trapping for food. He learns to live off the land with the help of a falcon named Frightful that he stole from her nest and then trained to hunt for him.
It’s a sweet and touching book about living in harmony with nature, a kind of fictional Walden for young readers that even references Thoreau on a few occasions. Most impressive are George’s vivid descriptions of the woods and its animals and how they all change with the seasons. George never idealizes nature, choosing instead to just describe the natural world through young Sam’s eyes, yet what emerges is an ideal world that slowly changes Sam as he discovers that true independence has its price.
My Side of the Mountain is a pleasant (and quick for an adult) read that reminds me of camping trips during my New England Boy Scouting years and makes me want to run away to the woods and live off fresh fish and berries.