reviewed by Jennifer Dees
I've just finished reading one of my old favorites to my daughter, and it occurs to me that it's a very good book for homeschooled kids. The book is "My Side of the Mountain", by Jean Craighead George (1959). I vividly remember that I cherished this book at about 8 or 9 years old, little pioneer girl that I was. We lived "out in the country", with woods bordering our 10 acres, and I spent many a happy hour out in the woods, in my own world, imagining myself an adventurer from some time past, probably as a male protagonist (they had all the fun; the feminist revolution hadn't hit our small town yet).
My daughter's well into chapter books but this one's a little long and deep for her, but when I saw it in the library I couldn't wait. I read a lot to her when I can find a break in her own reading. I knew this was one we would enjoy together, and we did.
The boy in it is the oldest of 9 kids who live with their parents in a crowded New York City apartment. He dreams of living on his own in the woods. Some land is still in their family from a great grandfather, in the Catskill Mountains, northwest of New York. He tells his father he wants to run away and live on his own, and his father, not really believing him, tells him to go ahead.
He heads for great grandfather's land, arrives in the Catskills in May, and begins to learn how to live off the land. He carves a home for himself inside a huge, ancient hemlock tree. He fishes in streams and makes fires with a flint and steel. He learns which roots taste good, makes walnut and acorn flour from the nuts, and so on. When hunters poach on his land, he hides the downed deer they lose sight of under branches and then he makes clothes from the deer hide and smokes the venison. As far-fetched as it may sound, the transformation of this city boy to one who can live off the land, with no adults, is very believable.
He hikes into town and researches things he needs to know in the local library. He swipes a baby falcon from a nest and with the aid of falconry books from the library, raises and trains the falcon to hunt for them both.
My daughter and I both loved this independent learner, so close to the earth, and understood when the only thing that brought him back into the "real world", over a year later, was loneliness and a need to be with other people. Yet we were sad along with him for his loss of the true wilderness experience.
The book I have says it's for "Ages 10-14" but my advanced 6-year-old loved hearing this read aloud to her.
-- Jennifer Dees
Jennifer Dees is a member of the San Francisco Homeschoolers support group