My Side of the Mountain

A Classic Adventure

My Side of the Mountain - Book Cover
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. Penguin

Summary of My Side of the Mountain

In her award-winning book My Side of the Mountain, Jean Craighead George immortalizes the story of a young boy’s year-long survival in the natural world and the companionship he finds in a baby falcon. When Jean Craighead George decided to write a novel about a young boy who chooses to exchange city life for the challenge of living alone in the mountains, she couldn’t have known she’d be inspiring generations of young readers to make a similar choice. 

Despite having been written more than fifty years ago, My Side of the Mountain is a classic adventure story about courage, survival, and determination that continues to have modern appeal for young readers 8 to 12.

Story Line of My Side of the Mountain

Twelve-year-old Sam Gribley is tired of city life. Determined to succeed at surviving on his own in the Catskill Mountains, Sam takes forty dollars he’s earned selling magazine subscriptions along with a few other odds and ends and announces to his Dad that he’s leaving New York City to run away and live in the woods.

Sam’s dad indulges what he sees as a passing youthful impulse and recalls his own failed boyhood attempt to run to the sea. Mr. Gribley tells his son, “Sure, go try it. Every boy should try it.” And with those words Sam is off and running.

The adventure begins with Sam’s search for the Gibley land that was abandoned by his great grandfather. Determined to prove that Gibleys can live off the land, Sam must first overcome his fears of being alone with the night. Through trial and error the young boy learns about the natural world around him and keeps daily detailed notes on the successes and failures of the day, from attempting to create a fire to experimenting with a variety of plants and roots that will add flavor to his simple meals.

To learn more about his environment, Sam begins to pay attention to all the movement around him. One spring day he decides to track a mother falcon and comes upon her nest. Making a quick decision, Sam scoops out one baby bird and manages to safely carry it back to his tree.

Thus begins a loyal companionship between a boy and the faithful bird he names "Frightful." Adding Frightful to his collection of animal companions, Sam discovers he doesn’t have time to feel lonely.

As the months and seasons pass, Sam finds he is capable of surviving alone in the mountains. He learns to make the tools he needs to fish and hunt; he builds a home in a tree and makes a bed from ash slats and deer hide; he learns to watch the animals and birds for signs of changes in weather patterns and learns which plants are safe to eat. As he learns these valuable skills, Sam becomes more confident in his ability to live off the land and prove to his parents that he is capable of taking care of himself.

For a while Sam can hide away from the life he knew in New York City and enjoy the peace and tranquility of nature, but his few encounters with other humans meandering in the woods threaten to take back his hard earned solitude.

Despite Sam’s desire to escape the city, he can’t stop civilization from finding ways to sneak into the quiet and independent life he’s made for himself on his side of the mountain. After encountering an elderly woman picking berries, a lost hiker and a meditating musician, Sam discovers he is the center of a major media report about the wild boy living in the mountains. He also learns that after a year of surviving on his own in the woods, he still craves human interaction and misses his family.

So what happens to Sam? Does he continue to survive in the woods on his own? Does he return to city life in order to be with the family he’s starting to desperately miss? To Sam’s astonishment, his parents make a life-altering decision to follow Sam into the woods, reclaim the Gribley land and embark on a new and simplified life together as a family.

Author Jean Craighead George

Born July 2, 1919 in Washington, D.C., beloved children’s writer Jean Craighead George shared her love for nature with the world through her many novels. George, whose father was a scientist and a naturalist, grew up along the Potomac River and learned early on how to identify which plants and tubers were safe to eat. Her father also taught her how set rabbit traps, boil leaves, and create serviceable furniture out of wood saplings. In addition, George had two brothers who were the first falconers in the United States. (Source: From Author’s Preface in My Side of the Mountain).

Awards and Sequels

My Side of the Mountain was selected as a 1960 Newbery Honor Book by ALSC, a division of ALA. A movie version was produced in 1969. Years later, Jean Craighead George wrote several more novels about Sam Gribley and his falcon, Frightful, to create a series of adventure stories that continue to delight readers. The later books are On the Far Side of the Mountain (1991), Frightful’s Mountain (1999), Frightful’s Daughter (2002) and Frightful Meets the Baron Weasel (2007).

My Recommendation

Running away from home to find peace and quiet in a new environment is a common thought among many adolescents. Many adults can look back, just like Sam’s dad, and remember a moment when the idea of running away had great appeal, but how many followed through with that notion? Jean Craighead George understood this need to find solace in the natural world and from this understanding she created the timeless character Sam Gribley.

What I love most about this book is the simplicity of the story in language and message. The gentle flow of words moves readers along and makes it possible for reluctant readers to become easily engaged in a text that acts as both story and a how to guide on wilderness survival. Sam’s daily writings preserved on birch leaves captured finite details such as which nuts make the best flavorings and how to set a trap to catch a rabbit.

These details were not only fascinating tidbits of information, but they also serve to propel readers into Sam’s world to give them the feeling that they are inside the story journeying alongside Sam as he builds fires, hunts a deer, or holds a baby falcon.

My Side of the Mountain has stood the test of time because even though it was published more than fifty years ago, it can still be found in nearly every school and public library in the country. I recommend this book for all readers who love a good adventure story that combines authentic survival skill information with a courageous central character. While this coming of age story targets an audience age group of 8-12, this book will also appeal to fans of Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet and to all readers who love a good adventure story that combines authentic survival skill information with a courageous central character. (Penguin Young Readers Group, 1999. Hardcover ISBN: 9780525463467; 2001, Paperback ISBN: 9780141312422; also available in audiobook format)

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Edited 3/9/2016 by Elizabeth Kennedy