“I left New York in May. I had a penknife, a ball of cord, an ax, and $40, which I had saved from selling magazine subscriptions. I also had some flint and steel which I had bought at a Chinese store in the city.” And with that, Sam Gribley left his city apartment filled with two parents and eight brothers and sisters and hitched a ride to the Catskill Mountains. And he never looked back.
My Side of the Mountain was one of my favorite escapes when I was young. It tickled something deep inside me. I mean, what kid doesn’t want to run away and live off the land? But Sam is the only one I knew who DID it. I envied him his burned-out tree home, his storehouse of nature’s bounty, his neighbors the Baron weasel and Jessie Coon James, his falcon, and his wide open backyard. I visited again and again and again. Having just finished this book in my 30’s, I still felt the pull of the Catskills. That hopeful runaway is still there inside me.
Published in 1959, My Side of the Mountain claimed Newbery honors the next year, and it’s just as good as it ever was. It isn’t a book of fantasy, magic, action or suspense, which are so popular with kids today. Rather it’s a survival story, but one with a kicked-back pace. I mean, once Sam sets up housekeeping and figures out how to find food, he has all the time in the world. No school, no appointments, no stress, only the problem of avoiding reporters. For once word leaks out that a wild boy is living outside Delhi, the outside world takes an interest. And once Sam makes a friend or two and burns out a guesthouse, it’s the beginning of the end. “I seem to have an address now,” he comments. It’s an end I’ve resisted every time I’ve read it.
My only complaint is that the ending still doesn’t settle well with me, even after years and years and a now grown-up perspective. It’s too real-world, too adult, too against my inclinations. Other than that, the book is flawless. I so admire the way Ms. George can make a simple plot so compelling, so broadly appealing. And I love how she gently weaves in truth and discovery. This is children’s literature at it’s very, very best. I highly, highly recommend it.