When you were a child, did you ever decide to try to run away and have an adventure? Did you dream of making it on your own, hitting it big, or living off the land?
Those of us who tried it were generally back by the time we got hungry, but there always remains just that little bit of “what if?” What would that adventure be like?
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My Side of the Mountain (Puffin Modern Classics) fulfills that urge, and more. This classic story has it all: beautiful writing, a main character you can grow to love, an engaging plot, and tons of learning opportunities!
My Side of the Mountain
This book, written by Jean Craighead George and published in 1959, chronicles the story of Sam Gribley. Sam is a young teenage boy from New York who leaves the city and decides to live off the land: specifically, that of his great-grandfather. Setting off on his own with a penknife, a ball of cord, an ax, and $40 in his pocket, Sam seeks out the plot of land his father had told him about. “Somewhere in the Catskills is an old beech with the name Gribley carved on it. It marks the northern boundary of Gribley’s folly.”
Tired of cramped city life and wanting to fulfill what his great-grandfather started, Sam decides to try to live off that land himself. He has many adventures throughout the year: turning the trunk of a large hemlock into a comfy home, tanning deer hide and preserving venison, making his own fishhooks out of twigs, capturing a falcon and training it to hunt. He makes friends with some of the animals around him and studies nature in order to further his survival skills.
Jean Craighead George was the daughter of a scientist and naturalist and sister of two of the finest falconers of her time. She was also an amazing storyteller and weaves an amazing story line into this book. Come along for an amazing adventure in the wilderness with Sam!
Questions to Discuss
- When this book was first submitted to the publisher, it was turned down because the publishing house did not want to encourage children to run away. However, it was soon seen as encouraging children to run to the woods – to be amazed by and study nature. If you could take an adventure like Sam, where would you go and what would you like to learn?
- Sam was not prepared at first for what he would encounter living alone in the mountains. The library and his nature journal became important resources for him. For the next few days, research how to survive in the wilderness and keep a journal to record what you learn. Do you think you could survive like Sam?
Language Arts Activities
- Jean Craighead George writes in a very descriptive way. Often, when reading or listening to her descriptions, you not only feel like you’re there, but like you can see, hear, smell, taste, and feel everything in the scene. Pick out some of your favorite passages from the book and talk about how she does this. Then, try it yourself! Describe the scene outside your window, your mom baking your favorite cookies, or anything else that you can think of. Be creative and involve your senses!
- Throughout his year in the Catskills, Sam keeps a nature journal to log what he finds and record which methods work best. While you are reading this book, try your hand at keeping a nature journal. This can be one you make yourself or one that you buy. Use it to record whatever you find – interesting leaves or rocks, animals that you see, trees or plants that interest you, and survival skills that you learn. You can draw pictures, write descriptions, and record any questions or thoughts.
- Decide on an adventure that you would like to take. Using the library and the internet, do a little research into your chosen destination to find out different places, animals, and sights that you would likely see. For a week or two, pretend you are there! Like Sam, keep a journal detailing what your days would be like and what you would learn.
Science/Nature Study Activities
- Sam came across a lot of animals during his time in the Catskill Mountains. Make a list of the animals you come across in the book and make a page for each in your nature journal. You can draw or print out a picture of the animal, record its track, what it likes to eat, its habits, and what it sounds like. Are there any other details you can think of?
- In the mountains, Sam didn’t have new reports to let him know what the weather would be like. Instead, he learned to tell what was coming by the signs around him: the color of the sky, what the animals around him did, and the activity of the wind. Take some time to observe what different weather patterns bring where you live. Do the clouds give you clues as to what is coming? Do animals and birds act any different when a storm is coming than when it is clear weather? Record what you find out in your nature journal.
- You may not have the same animals where you live as Sam did, but chances are, you can still find some pretty interesting tracks! Make some plaster casts of tracks that you find using plaster of Paris and then look them up to identify them.
- Jean Craighead George wrote so descriptively that as the reader or listener, you can picture what she saw. Choose several passages in the book that stand out to you and make an art journal out of them. This can be done using any medium: crayons or colored pencils, markers, collage, paint, or multi-media.
- Close your eyes and listen to the following passage from the book:“When the sky lightened, when the sun awoke, I knew I would never see anything so splendid as the round red sun coming up over the earth.”
When you open your eyes, talk about what you “saw” in your mind’s eye. Then, make an art project to show everyone else what you saw. This can be in any medium that you like; it can even be done as a musical or dance project. Be creative!
- Make a fish hook out of twigs like Sam does in the book. Try a few different methods, like he did. What works best?
- Try making a shelter like Sam did out of things that you find around your house and yard. If you live near the woods or your family likes to go camping, you might try making a shelter out of limbs and moss. Otherwise, use whatever you can find in your house, yard, or garage – just get your parents’ permission first!
- Sam used what he found in nature to make everything he had. Some of these things include a tree trunk for a home, ash slats for his bed, deerskin for his clothes and blanket, clay and stones for his fireplace, and deer fat, a turtle shell, and a strip of fabric from his “city trousers” for a lamp. What types of animals, plants, rocks, and other resources are available where you live? What are some things that you could do with them?
- Because Sam didn’t have electricity in his tree house, he had to find other ways to preserve food. Learn about some of these and try them out! Some options include smoking venison and fish, grinding acorns into flour, making jam out of berries, and making special places for nuts to keep them dry.
- Sam had to learn which plants were edible where he lived. This is very important in the wilderness, since some plants and mushrooms can make you very sick. Do some research to find out what types of edible plants grow where you live. Where are they found and what can they be used for?
- Sam caught a baby falcon that he named Fearful and trained her to hunt for him. Falconry is still something that is practiced today. Learn about what it takes to become a falconer and find out about the organizations that work with this skill.
Field Trip Ideas
- Sam found his great-grandfather’s land by checking the library for old records. Does your library have anything like this? If not, your local historical organization probably does. (You can also look up old records on the internet!)
- Not everyone has the ability to go to the Catskill Mountains (though if you do, it would make a fantastic field trip!). However, it’s usually pretty easy to go to a wilderness area or nature center for a day. Take a field trip to try out your observation and survival skills. Keep track of what you find out in your nature journal. Make sure to make sketches and take pictures of your adventure!
- My Pinterest board for My Side of the Mountain has some fun resources and will be updated regularly!
- My Side of the Mountain (Puffin Modern Classics) is part of the My Side of the Mountain Trilogy (My Side of the Mountain / On the Far Side of the Mountain / Frightful’s Mountain) trilogy; the other two books, On the Far Side of the Mountain and Frightful’s Mountain, continue the story. These make wonderful read-alouds and are a great way to extend the study!
- Pocket Guide to the Outdoors: Based on My Side of the Mountain is a nature guide based on My Side of the Mountain and was written by Jean Craighead George and her daughter, Twig. It’s an inexpensive and fun addition to your nature studies, both during this unit and beyond!
- Jean Craighead George wrote some other amazing books; you may wish to check into these for further reading!
Have fun with this unit! There are so many fun things to do with it. Comment below and let me know how it goes!