Author: Jean Craighead George
Publisher: E. P. Dutton
So, I pick up this book with a worn cover, a 1959 publishing date, and a color-combo that is, to be terse, quite ghastly. Then I read the author’s preface and completely change my first impression of the book. The author kind of opens up in those couple pages of writing, and we learn a good amount about him – why he wrote the book, and a kind-of cool story of how the book came to be published and the miracles that happened along with it. The author starts with the story of how he, like Sam Gribley (the main character), decided to run away from home, and returned three hours later. He explains the differences of him and Sam. He talks about how he wished he had the courage to do what Sam did, and he goes on about the bit of Sam Gribley he sees in the gangs of kids and the people all around him. It’s very heartfelt, you get that right when he starts, and made me wonder what it would be like to run away and spend the rest of your life living off the land untouched by human activity. Then he explains how the owner of the publishing company didn’t want to publish the book, but how someone persuaded him to do it. That, to me, was the best part of the book.
This book is, to my extent of knowledge, not very well known – at least not as a classic book. I think that the vocabulary is not very hard at all, though the style of writing fits the classic-genre-description. With it having chapters that all begin with “In which”, it brings back memories of my first series – The Spiderwick Chronicles. The book has illustrations, but seldom and scattered about, which almost always means it’s a young adult or classic book. In this case, it’s both. Speaking of illustrations, there are two general kinds – rough ones and detailed ones. The landscape/people drawings are very, very rough, but in a way that’s not totally messy and that gives you feeling it’s not supposed to be perfect. Like a Picasso painting, for instance. The sketches of plants, contraptions, and random constructed things are in such beautiful detail that it’s almost impossible to believe that they were done by human hand. But if you look really closely, you can see the breaks in between lines, and that gives you a reassurance.
The story itself is very thought-inducing. It is, like you probably guessed, about a boy named Sam Gribley who runs away to the woods, with parents certain that he will return within the next couple hours. His parents, however, are mistaken, and Sam lives on the land, catching fish, eating roots, stalks, and nuts, and building a very comfortable home in a tree. But it’s not just that. He not only learns how to survive, he learns how to live an extremely comforting life. He lives in the Catskill Mountains, a place inhabited by his ancestors, but long abandoned. He trains his own peregrine falcon, which he names “Frightful” and his newfound friend and companion gives him a helpful hand at hunting, scaring away mice looking to burrow in Sam’s home, and provides a source of entertainment. Sam gets befriended by a fearless and spunky weasel, which soon becomes known as “The Baron Weasel” and gets not only a friend, but a few laughs as well. He befriends a malnourished raccoon who is dubbed “Jessie Coon James” and names a few chickadees during the winter.
But, as time passes, human activity begins to disturb Sam’s serine life of quiet. But it has its upsides, too. He meets, Bando, a college English teacher lost in the Catskill Mountains. He becomes a fatherly figure to Sam, and he visits from time to time during school breaks. Hunters kill deer and they lose them, giving Sam a few meals, a door for his impressive tree house, and a few deerskin suits. He meets several other people, old and young, who either help him, become suspicious of him, or befriend then betray him.
Before the winter, our spunky main character in a frantic rush to save up enough food. So, disturbingly like a squirrel, he gathers, nuts, roots, and other assorted food items and puts them in another tree, which he burned out like his home. He puts Frightful in overdrive, making her hunt more and more rabbits and squirrels, and then freezes them, using methods not revealed in this book. Bando comes at Christmastime, like he had promised earlier, and a special surprise is on the horizon. Sam’s dad comes to see him for Christmas, and is not mad at him at all. In fact, both of them are ecstatic to see each other, and they have a feast with Bando. Later on, the city comes to Sam, and he has to go back home.
I thought that this book was very sincere and I would probably read a sequel to this if it had one. I would recommend this book to people ages twelve and up.
Posted by Fred Reads