The Central Flyway goes right through Texas making it great place for birding. Around this time of year you can see all kinds of eagles, hawks and falcons migrating through. Each year when I see these magnificent creatures, I can’t help but wonder how far they’ve traveled, what those avian eyes have seen.
A year ago, I read My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George when I found myself unexpectedly teaching it. I enjoyed the book so much, I decided to include it in my middle school class this year. As I suspected they enjoyed it, but a few were asking about sequels. I did a bit of research and found two: On the Far Side of the Mountain and Frightful’s Mountain.
I bought both for my classroom and skimmed over Far Side of the Mountain, which is mostly a continuation of Sam’s adventures living off the land in the Catskill Mountains. It ends with him being forced to release the peregrine falcon he captured and raised in the first book. Frightful’s Mountain is the story – from Frightful’s point of view – of her first two years in the wild. I meant to skim this one two, but I fell into and couldn’t put it down.
After spending the first two years of her life in captivity, Frightful is now free and has no idea how to survive in the wild. She longs to return to “the one mountain among thousands, the one tree among millions, and the boy named Sam,” but slowly instinct takes over, but that alone can’t prepare her for the dangers faced by wild birds: poachers, predators, electrical wires, habitat loss, pollution, and DDT, which still affects birds that migrate to South America.
For people who love birds, this is a gripping book. George’s depiction of Frightful’s attempts to follow the other birds south with each wave of migration is heartbreaking. She knows she must go, but she keeps returning to Sam’s tree until it’s too late to migrate. She barely survives a tough winter and when the next year rolled around I found myself at the edge of my seat wondering if she would be able to give up her training and follow her instincts. “Go south, Frightful, go south and live on a beach,” I found myself wanting to yell at her.
Frightful’s Mountain is a wonderful companion piece to My Side of the Mountain. They both tell the tale of leaving behind what you know in order to survive in a tough world, where nature can be as inspiring as it is merciless, and for Frightful, not nearly as dangerous as man. It’s rare that a sequel, written years after the original, surpasses its source material, but this is one instance where it does.
Frightful’s story is beautifully told and is an important reminder to young readers of the beauty and wonder of nature. It’s also a treat to read such a book at a time of year when you can just go outside and see birds of prey everywhere and understand immediately the author’s passion for her subject.