Catching Fireflies

finding magic along the way

The Book That Made Me Want to Run Away

Even though I had a good childhood, I remember reading My Side of the Mountain, and wanting to find a pet hawk and run away from home. Not because things were bad at home, but because it sounded so like fun. 🙂

Jean Craighead George (1919-2012) was an American author who wrote more that a hundred books for children and young adults. Most of her books contained elements of nature. She won the Newbery Honor Award for Julie of the Wolves, and was a nominee for the Hans Christian Andersen award in 1964 for her lifetime contribution to children’s literature.

This is a turkey vulture. Cute, huh?

This is a turkey vulture. Cute, huh?

She was born and raised near Washington, D.C. She was a tree climber and loved to study plants and wildlife. Her first pet was a turkey vulture! Over her lifetime, she kept 173 pets, not including dogs and cats. Often these wild animals became characters in her books

Her writing career began in journalism as a reporter for The Washington Post, and then for Reader’s Digest.

The Catskills

The Catskills

One of her books that stayed in my heart was My Side of the Mountain (1959). When she published the two sequels, On the Far Side of the Mountain (1990) and Frightful’s Mountain (2001), I revisited that mountain again and fell in love. These stories begin when Sam Gibley, aged 12, is tired of living in a cramped New York City apartment with his parents and many siblings. He runs away to the Catskills. He has a pet peregrine falcon named Frightful and has made his home in a hollowed out tree. Since he learned all his wilderness skills from books at the public library, I felt, reading this as a kid, that I, too, could survive the elements. I was a big reader, after all! 🙂 Throughout his journey, Sam learns that as much as he loves his mountain, he craves family and companionship. In the sequel, Sam’s sister has joined him and is living in a nearby tree. A preservationist captures Frightful, and Sam’s sister disappears. The story is his quest to find them both. In the third book, Sam has learned that it is illegal to harbor a falcon and must let Frightful go. But Frightful doesn’t know how to fend for himself.

This is a peregrine falcon. Cuter than the turkey vulture, I think.

This is a peregrine falcon. Cuter than the turkey vulture, I think.

The first book in the series was made into a film in 1969, but was set in Canada instead of New York State.

Inuk is an Eskimo tribe

Inuk is an Eskimo tribe

Julie of the Wolves (1972) is the story of a young Yupik girl watching her culture change from outside influences. The main character is torn between the modern world and her Eskimo culture. In it, she runs away when she is being forced into an arranged marriage at age 13. To survive she learns to communicate with wolves. The story sprouted from the author’s trip to Alaska to research wolves for an article she was writing for Readers Digest. Of course, there were sequels, too, that I discovered long after I left the intended reader age group. Julie (1994) and Julie’s Wolf Pack (1997). They are gracing my shelves to this day. In Julie, the main character returns to the modern Eskimo lifestyle to learn that her father’s new ways are endangering her wolves. She must go against her family to protect them. Julie’s Wolf Pack tells the wolves’ story.

I love wolves.

I love wolves.

The first book in this series was adapted into a musical. It is still in the rewrite stage. A film was attempted as well, but the producer was not successful finding an Inuk to play the main part.

In researching this post, I learned about all the other books Ms. George wrote. Most were picture books written and illustrated by her. She also wrote some wildlife guidebooks. I am now itching to get to the library and see some of these books for younger readers. 🙂



  1. I read Kes when I was at school – it was a beautifully written story and I cried at the end. A young boy trains a hawk completely self taught. They made a movie of it – I cried again…

    • Thanks for the recommendation, Mandy! I hadn’t heard of that one and will have to check it out. 🙂

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