Wednesday, September 15, 2010

1960 Honor - My Side of the Mountain

Would I be very far off if I said that every kid has fantasized about running away from home? Even if conditions aren’t bad enough at home to really run away FROM, the desire swells up to run away TO something. Run away to some place, some state of being where you are independent (when legal independence is still years away), where you can live off the land, where you have a chance to search for and discover who you really are. My Side of the Mountain brings reality to that wish, in such a detailed and inspiring way as to make it all seem possible, desirable even, to a kid with that hunger inside him or her.

From a crowded New York City apartment, 13 year-old Sam Gribley runs away to the wilderness of the Catskill Mountains to make a new life of his own, living off the land. Although he leaves with few possessions; flint and steel, twine, a penknife, an ax, and $40, he is rich in ingenuity, resourcefulness, and determination. Sam has read a fair number of books on wilderness survival, giving him a reasonable start in his new life, but the fascination of this book is in what he learns along the way.

My Side of the Mountain has a real-time, immediate feel to it though the use of Sam’s journal entries, which are interspersed throughout the telling of his adventure. Also tucked among the entries are his sketches of useful or edible plants, items he has crafted, and traps.

It is hard not to envy Sam. “Thoreau,” as Sam is known by a wilderness friend, is able to live somewhat like his namesake. Casting off the demands and hustle-bustle of society, he lives in harmony with nature and has time to reflect on serious philosophical thoughts, such as “What makes a boy a boy and a bird a bird?” Of course, Sam is a boy—actually a self-reliant young man by now, and after about a year, he must return to civilization.

As a kid reading this book, it was wonderful to live vicariously through Sam; I was about his age the first time I read it. Though I enjoyed his success in wilderness prosperity, I was reassured when he became lonely, and he helped set the stage for his eventual discovery and return to modern life, validating the reality of the life most kids live.

A note on movies made from Newbery books—some are good, some are…not so good. I watched, as an adult, the mid-seventies movie made from My Side of the Mountain. It mechanically followed the book, but lacked the grand adventure of the imagination of the book. Sam was a precocious, wordy youth who was a little bit annoyingly book-knowledgeable.

I believe I bought this book a few years ago at a school book sale.


Funder said...

Wow, that sounds like the kind of book I'd have loved as a kid. I will keep an eye out for it!

Carolyn said...

Some of the Newbery books have passed into obscurity, but this one is still being printed and shows up frequently.
It was a little odd reading it as a kid because of the differences between my mountain geography (Sierra Nevada Mountains and foothills of CA) and his location(Catskill Mountains of Upstate New York).