Sunday, July 28, 2013

BACK TO THE CLASSICS CHALLENGE: My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

Summer is a great time for reading, daydreaming and nostalgia. . .perfect for my Children’s Title choice for Back-to-the Classics Challenge: My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George.

I’ve never read this book before, but I know the basic story. When I was a kid, somewhere in that elementary school range, the movie theater near us used to have summer matinees for kids. You could buy a block of tickets at a discount and see movies during the weekdays–but they were specific movies, old kids’ movies. My memory is a bit hazy, but I think my siblings and I got these blocks of tickets three summers in a row and most of the movies were the same year after year. I recall seeing Fantasia and not really getting the point of it. Yellow Submarine was more of a treat. My absolute favorite was The Trouble with Angels. And we saw My Side of the Mountain–a perfect summer movie for kids.

My kids have never seen the movie, but when they were younger they read the book and the sequels and loved them. When it came time to pick a classic children’s book, I thought–that’s the one!

The book is plotted slightly differently than I remember the movie. Sam Gribley runs away from his home in New York City not because he is disgruntled that a family summer vacation has been cancelled, but simply because he wants to go live in the woods. When he tells his father what he plans to do, his father just laughs and says go ahead.

Sam takes a bus to the Catskills and hikes into the mountains where he locates the ruined homestead of his Gribley ancestors. There he carves out a shelter in the trunk of a massive old tree and begins to live off the land. He makes a couple trips into a nearby town to visit the library and gather information on things necessary for what he is doing, but for the most part, he hides from people and keeps his doings as secret as possible. He records his trials and successes on bark. Occasional excerpts of his writings are provided, but mostly the reader follows along with Sam’s thoughts and actions as he lives his daily life. It is beautiful in its simplicity. He forages and hunts. He trains a falcon to hunt for him. He makes friends with a badger and a raccoon and once, a lost hiker.

This is a story that can still fire the imagination of a child. What if and if only. . .

As a jaded adult, I have to look on it with a sad smile of indulgence because the book reads more as a fantasy than as anything a child could actually pull off–and yet as a kids’ book– what a wonderful dream. The adults in the story are fairy tale adults. It’s a wonderful adventure with a protagonist who succeeds with fairly minimal effort (although it sounds like convincing enough effort for a kid), has conflicts that are not especially frightening, and is left with a happy ending with hint of poignancy. It’s a book that should be read to children or by children to be best appreciated. These are the best kind of summer daydreams.

The Back to the Classics Challenge is hosted by Sarah Reads Too Much.