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George, Jean Craighead

GEORGE, Jean Craighead

Born 2 July 1919, Washington, D.C.

Also writes under: Jean Craighead, Jean George

Daughter of Frank and Carolyn Johnson Craighead; married John L. George, 1944 (divorced 1963); children: three

Jean Craighead George, writer, illustrator, and naturalist, attended Pennsylvania State University and edited its literary magazine. During World War II she worked as a reporter for the International News Service (1941-43) and the Washington Post and Times-Herald (1943-45). She worked as an artist for Pageant magazine (1945-46) and as reporter-artist for the Newspaper Enterprise Association (1946-47). George married a conservationist and ecologist with whom she had three children; they were divorced in 1963.

In the 1960s and 1970s alone, George wrote 33 books (and illustrated some of them), mostly for children. She also published many articles on nature subjects in Reader's Digest, for whom she was a roving editor, and in other magazines. An unusual characteristic of George is that, if at all possible, she lives with the animals she writes about; she reports having raised at least 173 wild pets.

Vulpes, the Red Fox (1948) begins with the birth of Vulpes in a chill spring rain and ends with his death. The book is steeped with details about the foxes' lives, the seasons, and the locale; the dangers and deaths that occur are handled calmly and matter-offactly as part of nature's cycle.

My Side of the Mountain (1959, film version 1969) is the story of adolescent Sam Gribley, who is tired of living with his large family in a cramped city apartment and wants to go live in the Catskills on his great-grandfather's homestead. He does so for 13 months, where he collects and cooks his own food, makes himself a home inside a tree trunk, and figures out a source of heat for protection against the cold mountain winters. He has a variety of animal friends, including Frightful, a young falcon he trains. The life is difficult and sometimes lonely, but Sam succeeds, and the story is told so realistically and with such detail it all seems very credible.

The conflicts of adolescence are further explored in many of George's books, including The Summer of the Falcon (1962), a story that seems to incorporate some of George's own biography. It is told through the cycle of a family's return, three summers in a row, to the grandfather's Victorian house in the mountains. The heroine struggles toward self-discipline; in one scene she uses her wits to complete a cave rescue only after she has admitted her nearly overwhelming fear. Perhaps the ending is too pat, but this is more than outweighed by the book's basic strengths, including fascinating hawk lore.

Julie of the Wolves (1972) is the story of an adolescent Eskimo girl who is befriended by a wolf pack while searching for her lost father and a lost cultural tradition. George captures the conflict of Eskimo life, the desire on the part of some to retain the old ways of living in harmony with the earth, and the desire of others to enjoy some of the luxuries of "civilization"—such as radios, refined foods, alcohol, and high-powered rifles. Julie of the Wolves, with its sections of fine naturalistic writing, won the 1973 Newbery Medal and was voted among the 10 best children's books of the last 200 years by members of the Children's Literature Association.

Hook a Fish, Catch a Mountain (1975), like the earlier Who Really Killed Cock Robin? (1971), are ecological mysteries, but like many other books by George, it is also a story of an adolescent trying to be accepted as an individual. Again, the protagonist is female, and again she is trying to shake off her lack of experience and her fears in order to become an able and independent outdoorsperson.

George's successful mixing of nature stories with novels centering on adolescents and their concerns works to the advantage of both genres. The adolescent concerns of learning to manage physical danger and fear, to take responsibility, to discipline oneself and to become a part of a group, as well as to develop independence, are set against the backdrop of the need for all humans to be aware of the interconnectedness of all the ecosystems of this earth. A deep understanding of nature's harmonies—beautiful and death-causing alike—pervades each of the books. George is a fine writer who has chosen to write books primarily appropriate for young people, but at her best she is equally interesting to adults.

Still going strong in the 1980s and 1990s, George created several new series, like her perennially popular Moon series from the 1960s. The Moon books (The Moon of the Owls, The Moon of the Salamanders, The Moon of the Wild Pigs, etc.) totaled 13 animal-and-nature tales from 1967 to 1969, all of which were reprinted in the early 1990s. Her next large-scale series was the One Day books, which included journeys into a myriad of natural settings, including One Day in the Desert (1983) and One Day in the Alpine Tundra, as well visits into the prairie, woods, and tropical forest, all published between 1983 and 1990.

Yet one of her most enduring protagonists, Julie, was also brought back in two additional books: Julie (1995) and Julie's Wolf Pack (1997). Eagerly awaited, the former begins shortly after the 1972 novel left off with Julie finding her father and the loss of Amaroq; she must now deal with the realities of community life and the breakdown of Eskimo traditions. The latter title finds Julie older and wiser, with a wolf pack led by her beloved Amaroq's son, Kapu.

George has also written several cookbooks and guidebooks, as well as her autobiography, Journey Inward (1982). Though she is now in her eighties, there is little doubt the award-winning George will continue to produce well-written, fascinating books for children of all ages. If and when she does slow down, her books will remain on the shelves, for they are continually reprinted and will entertain generations to come.

Other Works:

Vision, the Mink (with J. L. George, 1949). Masked Prowler: The Story of a Racoon (with J. L. George, 1950). Meph, the Pet Skunk (with J. L. George, 1952). Bubo, the Great Horned Owl (with J. L. George, 1954). Dipper of Copper Creek (with J. L. George, 1956). The Hole in the Tree (1957). Snow Tracks (1958). Red Robin, Fly Up (1963). Gull Number 737 (1964). Hold Zero (1966). Spring Comes to the Ocean (1966). The Moon of the Bears (1967). The Hole in the Tree (1967). Coyote in Manhattan (1968). The Moon of the Chickadees (1968). The Moon of the Fox Pups (1968). The Moon of the Monarch Butterflies (1968). The Moon of the Mountain Lions (1968). The Moon of the Alligators (1969). The Moon of the Deer (1969). The Moon of the Gray Wolves (1969). The Moon of the Moles (1969). The Moon of the Winter Bird (1969). All Upon a Stone (1971). Beastly Inventions: A Surprising Investigation into How Smart Animals Really Are (1971). Everglades Wildguide: The Natural History of Everglades National Park, Florida (1971). All Upon a Sidewalk (1974). Walking Wild Westchester (1974). Hook a Fish, Catch a Mountain (1975). Going to the Sun (1976). Wentletrap Trap (1977). American Walk Book: An Illustrated Guide to the Country's Major Historical and Natural Walking Trails from the Northeast to the Pacific Coast (1977). Dirty Work, Inc. (1978). The Wounded Wolf (1978). River Rats (1979). Wild Wild Cookbook (1982). The Grizzly Bear with the Golden Ears (1982). The Cry of the Crow: A Novel (1982). The Wild, Wild Cookbook: A Guide for Young Wild-Food Foragers (1982). Exploring the Outof-Doors (1983). The Talking Earth (1983). How to Talk to Your Animals (1986). How to Talk to Your Cat (1986). How to Talk to Your Dog (1986). Water Sky (1987). Shark Beneath the Reef (1988). One Day in the Woods (musical, 1989). On the Far Side of the Mountain (1990). The Summer of the Falcon (1990). The Missing Gator of Gimbo Limbo: An Ecological Mystery (1992). The Firebay Connection: An Ecological Mystery (1993). The First Thanksgiving (1993). Dear Rebecca, Winter is Here (1993). The Fire Bug Connection: An Ecological Mystery (1993). The Everglades (1995). Animals Who Have Won Our Hearts (1994). There's an Owl in the Shower (1995). To Climb a Waterfall (1995). Acorn Pancakes, Dandelion Salad, and 38 Other Wild Recipes (1995). The Wild, Wild Cookbook: A Guide for Young Wild-Food Foragers (1982). Exploring the Out-of-Doors (1983). The Tarantula in My Purse (1996). The Case of the Missing Cutthroats (1996). Look to the North: A Wolf Pup Diary (1997). Arctic Son (1997). Giraffe Trouble (1998). Dear Katie, the Volcano is a Girl (1998). Gorilla Gang (1998). Elephant Walk (1998). Rhino Romp (1998). Morning, Noon, and Night (1999). Incredible Animal Adventures (1999). Frightful's Mountain (1999). Snow Bear (1999).

Bibliography:

Cary, A., Jean Craighead George (1996). Greenberg, M. H., and Waugh, C., eds., A Newbery Zoo: A Dozen Animal Stories by Newbery Award-Winning Authors (1995). Huck, C. and D. Kuhn, eds., Children's Literature in the Elementary School (1968). Lyon, T. J. and Stine, P., eds., On Nature's Terms: Contemporary Voices (1992). Minor, W., On Illustrating Everglades (1995). Sutherland, Z., and M. H. Arbuthnot, Children and Books (1977). Vick, D., Favorite Authors of Young Adult Fiction (1995). White, J., "Novel" Enrichment (1984).

Reference works:

Authors of Books for Young People (1964). CA (1963). More Junior Authors (1963). SATA (1971). WW in Children's Books: A Treasury of the Familiar Characters of Childhood (1975).

Other references:

A Visit with Jean Craighead George (audiovisual, 1994). Adventurous Spirit: Jean Craighead George on Journal Writing (audiovisual, 1990). Good Conversation! A Talk with Jean Craighead George (audiovisual, 1992). Elementary English (Oct. 1973). Horn Book (Aug. 1973). Writers Digest (March 1974).

—LINDA A. CARROLL

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