Jean Craighead George July 2, 1919 -- May 15, 2012 Brought Nature to Books

By Fox, Margalit | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), May 2, 2012 | Go to article overview

Jean Craighead George July 2, 1919 -- May 15, 2012 Brought Nature to Books


Fox, Margalit, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Jean Craighead George, a Newbery Award-winning writer for young people whose books brought the natural world from the Catskill Mountains to the Alaskan tundra to wild, luminous life, died on Tuesday in Mount Kisco, N.Y. She was 92.

Her family confirmed the death.

The author of more than 100 fiction and nonfiction titles that have collectively sold millions of copies, Ms. George was best known for two novels for older children, "My Side of the Mountain" (1959), which she also illustrated, and "Julie of the Wolves" (1972), illustrated by John Schoenherr. That book won the Newbery Medal -- considered the Pulitzer Prize of children's letters -- in 1973.

"My Side of the Mountain" tells the story of Sam Gribley, a youth who forsakes a life of quiet desperation in New York City to live on his own in the Catskills wilderness. There, he survives by virtue of the deep sympathy with nature that animates all of Ms. George's protagonists, until the modern world closes in again.

The novel was made into a 1969 feature film of the same title, starring Teddy Eccles and Theodore Bikel.

"Julie of the Wolves," which was also a finalist for the National Book Award, centers on a 13-year-old Eskimo girl, Miyax, or Julie as she is known in English. Fleeing an oppressive arranged marriage, she strikes out to live alone in the Alaskan wild. Her survival is aided by a family of wolves, with whom she learns to communicate via sound and gesture, much as Ms. George did during a trip to the Arctic to research the book.

Throughout her career, Ms. George was praised by reviewers for her lyric prose, vivid descriptions and meticulous research. (Until she was in her mid-80s, she routinely visited the wild locales about which she wrote.)

Her other books include sequels to "My Side of the Mountain," among them "On the Far Side of the Mountain" (1990), and two to "Julie of the Wolves": "Julie" (1994) and "Julie's Wolf Pack" (1997), both illustrated by Wendell Minor.

Jean Carolyn Craighead was born in Washington on July 2, 1919. Her father was an entomologist for the U.S. Forest Service, and the family often accompanied him on trips into the field. (Her brothers, John and Frank, grew up to become prominent naturalists who studied grizzly bears. …

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