George, Jean Craighead 1919-
George, Jean Craighead 1919-INTRODUCTION
American illustrator, editor, and author of juvenile fiction and nonfiction.
The following entry presents an overview of George’s career through 2007. For further information on her life and career, see CLR, Volumes 1 and 80.
Centered upon creating accurate depictions of the natural world for a young audience, George’s canon often utilizes coming-of-age stories featuring children working in communion with the environment. Winner of the 1973 Newbery Award for Julie of the Wolves (1972) as well as a 1960 Newbery Honor book presentation for My Side of the Mountain (1959), George is the author of over one hundred books, most firmly situated upon the interaction between humankind and nature. Combining an eclectic mix of works—including back-to-nature cookbooks, nonfiction, fiction, nature trail guides, and an autobiography—her canon is a reflection of the author’s passion for the rich fabric of the natural universe. George was raised in a family of naturalists, a heritage made apparent by the careful factual portrayals of her subjects. Her books for juvenile and young adult readers travel the world—from the icy Arctic communities of the Julie trilogy and Water Sky (1987) to the shark-infested coastal Mexican waters found in Shark beneath the Reef (1989).
George was born on July 2, 1919, in Washington, D.C., the daughter of entomologists Frank C. and Carolyn Johnson Craighead. The family camped avidly, and George spent much of her childhood developing outdoor skills, including identifying plants, building shelters, making fishing lines from basswood, and whittling hooks from twigs. Her experiences also led her to develop a deep sympathy with animals and a concern for nature conservation. A writer from an early age, she studied science and literature at Pennsylvania State University, graduating with a B.A. in 1941. After studying art at Louisiana State University and pursuing further graduate studies at the University of Michigan, George began a career in journalism, working variously for the International News Service, the Washington Post, and the Times-Herald in Washington. She eventually moved to New York City where she worked as an artist for Pageant magazine, before moving to the Newspaper Enterprise Association, where she was employed as both writer and artist. Among her varied assignments as a journalist, she served as a reporter in the White House Press Corps in the early 1940s. She married John Lothar George on January 28, 1944, with whom she had four children before the marriage ended in 1963. In 1948 she published her first work, Vulpes, the Red Fox, the first of six portraits of North American mammals completed in collaboration with her husband. In 1960 George began teaching in the Chappaqua, New York school district, a position she held for eight years. In 1969 she joined the staff of Reader’s Digest and maintained her association with that publication as a roving editor until 1980.
George specializes in ecologically-based stories charting the lives of children caught between two worlds. Her young protagonists are often on the cusp of larger discoveries which, much like the progression of adolescence itself, bring tests that create greater self-understanding. Perhaps her best known work, Julie of the Wolves, typifies the sorts of trials consistent with much of her canon. The story of a young Inuit child—named Miyax in her native people’s language and Julie in English (or gussak as her tribe calls Western things)—Julie of the Wolves explores the girl’s struggles to relate to the changing culture of her isolated people. Julie must contend with both the contemporary Western influences that have begun to irrevocably alter her tribe’s lives and that of the natural world, embodied by a pack of wolves that she lives with when she finds herself alone in the Arctic wilderness. Anne Sherrill has suggested that both Julie of the Wolves and its sequel, Julie (1994), “present the issue of split identity caused by the pull of two cultures.” Raised by her father, Kapugen, in a remote sealing camp, Julie is forced to return to a larger community at nine to attend school and live with her aunt Martha.
Before she goes, her father tells her that she can leave the school at age thirteen and marry the son of his friend, a boy named Daniel, if she finds herself unhappy there. Upon reaching thirteen, Julie decides to do just that, but finds herself equally unhappy being with the developmentally-delayed Daniel while working to sew boots and parkas for tourists. After a disturbing scene in which a confused Daniel attempts to sexually force himself upon Julie, she abruptly decides to flee Barrow in search of a pen-pal living in San Francisco. Travelling alone, she becomes lost in the wilderness and decides that ingratiating herself into a pack of wild wolves—led by an animal she calls Amaroq—is her only chance of survival. Her time with the wolves is difficult, but joyful. Ultimately, she realizes, after the death of Amaroq, that she must return to her people, especially upon learning that her father—whom she thought was dead—is alive and remarried in a nearby village. Their reunion, however, is mitigated by the knowledge that her father has now adopted Western dress, married a gus-sak woman, and leads aerial hunting trips of the sort that led to the slaughter of Amaroq. Lois Kuznets has argued that, in Julie of the Wolves, George successfully and subtly broaches “two of the major issues of our day, feminism and environmentalism.” As such, Kuznets has suggested, Julie’s travels “can be seen as a postponement of solving the Oedipal problem in the way that females are supposed to deal with it, that is, by learning to be mastered.” However, Julie’s struggles are somewhat lessened in Julie when she falls in love and helps save her former wolf-pack, though her life never returns to the idyll she felt during her time with the wolves. George also composed a third volume in her “Julie” series, Julie’s Wolf Pack (1997), which focuses on the wolves themselves, including pack leader Kapu, who is trapped and removed by scientists, and Ice Blink, a lone wolf who brings rabies to the pack. Julie’s Wolf Pack has served as the basis for the picture books Nutik and Amaroq Play Ball (2000) and Nutik, the Wolf Pup (2000), both illustrated by Ted Rand.
George’s other Newbery-recognized work, My Side of the Mountain, similarly examines a child’s growth through adversity. The book tells the story of Sam Gribley, one of eleven children in his New York City family, who is inspired by his grandfather to move to remote upstate New York to test his survival skills. With the permission of his parents, he lives off the land in the Catskills, forming a substitute family—like Julie—from the animals surrounding him. While he does befriend a few humans—among them, a college English teacher rescued by Sam and a local boy named Tom Sidler—the young man is usually alone with his animal companionship. Like Julie of the Wolves, the beauty of the natural world and the importance for respecting animal life is emphasized in My Side of the Mountain. Rhoda Preston has claimed that the story further highlights “the theme of independence versus the need for relationships, examines the causes of loneliness, criticizes society’s lack of respect for privacy, and questions whether people are ‘allowed to live in America and be different.’” This interplay of combating influences comes into play again in George’s Water Sky, in which Lincoln Noah Stonewright is swept into an Alaskan tribe’s mythology that foretells that, although he is an outsider to their customs, he is nonetheless the figure prophesied to save their people. Dubious to this claim, Lincoln comes to accept that he has a role to play, even when his own cultural background suggests such perspectives seem improbable. Like many other George protagonists, Lincoln’s identity morphs from that of uncertain adolescent to one of confidence through acceptance and learned knowledge gained from a world—the natural world—seemingly at odds with what he thought he understood.
In 1967 George began the “Thirteen Moons” series, with each volume centering on the habits of a particular species and its natural connection to a lunar month of the year. The life-cycle series debuted with The Moon of the Owls (1967), a narrative centering on the January moon and the mating ritual of the great horned owl. Other titles in the series include The Moon of the Bears (1967), The Moon of the Salamanders (1967), The Moon of the Chickarees (1968), and The Moon of the Monarch Butterflies (1968), among others. Later in her career, George successfully combined the nature and detective genres in a series of ecological mysteries, including Who Really Killed Cock Robin? (1971), Hook a Fish, Catch a Mountain (1975), and The Missing Gator of Gumbo Limbo (1992). In Who Really Killed Cock Robin?, eighth-grader Tony Isidoro traces nature clues—including an abundance of ants and a strange absence of frogs—in the town of Saddleboro to discover what has killed the town’s mascot. George has also produced many books of juvenile nonfiction which examine various ecosystems, including Spring Comes to the Ocean (1966), All upon a Stone (1971), All upon a Sidewalk (1974), and the “One Day” series.
Throughout her career, George has accomplished a rare feat in the publishing world: pleasing all three groups of readers—critics, teachers, and the children for whom the books are intended. Most commentators have welcomed her fiction works and cite their deft combination of science fact with well-wrought stories and believable characters. Reviewers have sometimes faulted George for anthropomorphic writing—assigning human emotions or desires to animal protagonists—but such flaws are de-emphasized in recognition of the laudable content of her books. Assessing George’s career in 1986, Karen Nelson Hoyle wrote in the Dictionary of Literary Biography that George’s “plots, characters, settings, and themes are convincing, as they emerge with seeming ease and logic. She has matured as a writer, most notably in her characterizations, which in later books reveal more complexity and strength than in earlier works.” Beverly Lyon Clark has characterized George as “our premier naturalist novelist,” and Pat R. Scales has called George’s most famous work, Julie of the Wolves, “a unique coming-of-age story that raises important questions about belonging and self-identity.” However, despite George’s critical appreciation, Julie of the Wolves has attracted the ire of censors due to George’s inclusion of alcohol use, physical abuse, and divorce throughout the text, which has led to challenges of its inclusion in school curriculums in Missouri, California, Arizona, and Colorado. Further, the scene depicting Daniel’s averted sexual advance upon Julie remains particularly controversial, with some critics likening the scene to an attempted rape, though Anne Sherrill has rebuked such comparisons, noting that while “he does kiss her roughly, tear her dress, and force her to the floor… nothing else happens. He is as frightened as Julie is.”
Self-Illustrated Juvenile Fiction; with John Lothar George
Vulpes, the Red Fox (juvenile fiction) 1948
Vison, the Mink (juvenile fiction) 1949
Masked Prowler: The Story of a Raccoon (juvenile fiction) 1950
Meph, the Pet Skunk (juvenile fiction) 1952
Bubo, the Great Horned Owl (juvenile fiction) 1954
Dipper of Copper Creek (juvenile fiction) 1956
Self-Illustrated Juvenile Fiction
The Hole in the Tree (juvenile fiction) 1957
Snow Tracks (juvenile fiction) 1958
My Side of the Mountain (juvenile fiction) 1959
The Summer of the Falcon (juvenile fiction) 1962
Red Robin, Fly Up! (juvenile fiction) 1963
Gull Number 737 (juvenile fiction) 1964
Hold Zero! (juvenile fiction) 1966
Water Sky (juvenile fiction) 1987
On the Far Side of the Mountain (juvenile fiction) 1990
The Tarantula in My Purse: And 172 Other Wild Pets (juvenile fiction) 1996
Tree Castle Island (juvenile fiction) 2002
Charlie’s Raven (juvenile fiction) 2004
Coyote in Manhattan [illustrations by John Kauf-mann] (juvenile fiction) 1968
All upon a Stone [illustrations by Don Bolognese] (juvenile fiction) 1971
Who Really Killed Cock Robin?: An Ecological Mystery [illustrations by John Schoenherr] (juvenile fiction) 1971
Julie of the Wolves [illustrations by John Schoenherr] (juvenile fiction) 1972
All upon a Sidewalk [illustrations by Don Bolognese] (juvenile fiction) 1974
Hook a Fish, Catch a Mountain: An Ecological Spy Story (juvenile fiction) 1975
Going to the Sun (juvenile fiction) 1976
The Wentletrap Trap [illustrations by Symeon Shimin] (juvenile fiction) 1978
The Wounded Wolf [illustrations by John Schoenherr] (juvenile fiction) 1978
River Rats, Inc. (juvenile fiction) 1979
The Cry of the Crow (juvenile fiction) 1980
The Grizzly Bear with the Golden Ears [illustrations by Tom Catania] (juvenile fiction) 1982
The Talking Earth (juvenile fiction) 1983
Shark beneath the Reef (juvenile fiction) 1989
One Day in the Tropical Rain Forest [illustrations by Gary Allen] (juvenile fiction) 1990
The Missing Gator of Gumbo Limbo: An Ecological Mystery (juvenile fiction) 1992
The First Thanksgiving [illustrations by Thomas Locker] (juvenile fiction) 1993
The Fire Bug Connection: An Ecological Mystery (juvenile fiction) 1993
Dear Rebecca, Winter Is Here [photographs by Loretta Krupinski] (juvenile fiction) 1993
Julie [illustrations by Wendell Minor] (juvenile fiction) 1994
Animals Who Have Won Our Hearts [illustrations by Christine Herman Merrill] (juvenile fiction) 1994
Acorn Pancakes, Dandelion Salad, and 38 Other Wild Recipes [illustrations by Paul Mirocha] (juvenile fiction) 1995
To Climb a Waterfall [illustrations by Thomas Locker] (juvenile fiction) 1995
Everglades [illustrations by Wendell Minor] (juvenile fiction) 1995
There’s an Owl in the Shower [illustrations by Christine Herman Merrill] (juvenile fiction) 1995
The Case of the Missing Cutthroats: An Ecological Mystery (juvenile fiction) 1996
Julie’s Wolf Pack [illustrations by Wendell Minor] (juvenile fiction) 1997
Look to the North: A Wolf Pup Diary [illustrations by Lucia Washburn] (juvenile fiction) 1997
Arctic Son [illustrations by Wendell Minor] (juvenile fiction) 1997
Dear Katie, The Volcano Is a Girl (juvenile fiction) 1998
Elephant Walk (juvenile fiction) 1998
Giraffe Trouble (juvenile fiction) 1998
Gorilla Gang (juvenile fiction) 1998
Rhino Romp (juvenile fiction) 1998
Frightful’s Mountain (juvenile fiction) 1999
Incredible Animal Adventures (juvenile fiction) 1999
Morning, Noon, and Night (juvenile fiction) 1999
Snow Bear (juvenile fiction) 1999
Nutik and Amaroq Play Ball [illustrations by Ted Rand] (juvenile fiction) 2000
Nutik, the Wolf Pup [illustrations by Ted Rand] (juvenile fiction) 2000
Lonesome George (juvenile fiction) 2001
Frightful’s Daughter [illustrations by Daniel San Souci] (juvenile fiction) 2002
Cliff Hanger [illustrations by Wendell Minor] (juvenile fiction) 2002
Fire Storm [illustrations by Wendell Minor] (juvenile fiction) 2003
Snowboard Twist [illustrations by Wendell Minor] (juvenile fiction) 2004
Luck: The Story of a Sandhill Crane [illustrations by Wendell Minor] (juvenile fiction) 2006
Goose and Duck [illustrations by Priscilla Lamont] (juvenile fiction) 2007
Frightful’s Daughter Meets the Baron Weasel [illustrations by Daniel San Souci] (juvenile fiction) 2007
And the Wolves Came Back [illustrations by Wendell Minor] (juvenile fiction) 2008
Spring Comes to the Ocean [illustrations by John Wilson] (juvenile nonfiction) 1966
Beastly Inventions: A Surprising Investigation into How Smart Animals Really Are (juvenile nonfiction) 1970; published as Animals Can Do Anything, 1972
Everglades Wildguide [illustrations by Betty Fraser] (juvenile nonfiction) 1972
New York in Maps, 1972/73 [with Toy Lasker] (juvenile nonfiction) 1974
New York in Flashmaps, 1974/75 [with Toy Lasker] (juvenile nonfiction) 1976
The American Walk Book: An Illustrated Guide to the Country’s Major Historical and Natural Walking Trails from New England to the Pacific Coast (juvenile nonfiction) 1978
The Wild, Wild Cookbook: A Guide for Young Foragers [illustrations by Walter Kessell] (juvenile nonfiction) 1982
Journey Inward (autobiography) 1982
How to Talk to Your Animals (juvenile nonfiction) 1985
How to Talk to Your Dog (juvenile nonfiction) 1986
How to Talk to Your Cat (juvenile nonfiction) 1986
Autumn Moon (juvenile nonfiction) 2001
Winter Moon (juvenile nonfiction) 2001
Spring Moon (juvenile nonfiction) 2002
Summer Moon (juvenile nonfiction) 2002
“Thirteen Moons” Series
The Moon of the Bears [illustrations by Mac Shep-ard] (juvenile fiction) 1967
The Moon of the Owls [illustrations by Jean Zallinger] (juvenile fiction) 1967
The Moon of the Salamanders [illustrations by John Kaufmann] (juvenile fiction) 1967
The Moon of the Chickarees [illustrations by John Schoenherr] (juvenile fiction) 1968
The Moon of the Fox Pups [illustrations by Kiyoaki Komoda] (juvenile fiction) 1968
The Moon of the Monarch Butterflies [illustrations by Murray Tinkelman] (juvenile fiction) 1968
The Moon of the Wild Pigs [illustrations by Peter Parnall] (juvenile fiction) 1968
The Moon of the Mountain Lions [illustrations by Winifred Lubell] (juvenile fiction) 1968
The Moon of the Deer [illustrations by Jean Zallinger] (juvenile fiction) 1969
The Moon of the Alligators [illustrations by Adrina Zanazanian] (juvenile fiction) 1969
The Moon of the Gray Wolves [illustrations by Lorence Bjorklund] (juvenile fiction) 1969
The Moon of the Moles [illustrations by Robert Levering] (juvenile fiction) 1969
The Moon of the Winter Bird [illustrations by Kazue Mizumura] (juvenile fiction) 1969
“One Day” Series
One Day in the Desert [illustrations by Fred Brenner] (juvenile fiction) 1983
One Day in the Alpine Tundra [illustrations by Walter Gaffney-Kessell] (juvenile fiction) 1984
One Day in the Prairie [illustrations by Bob Marstall] (juvenile fiction) 1986
One Day in the Woods (juvenile fiction) 1988
Marvels and Mysteries of Our Animal World [contributor] (juvenile nonfiction) 1964
The Big Book for Our Planet [editor; with Ann Du-rell and Katherine Paterson] (juvenile nonfiction) 1993
Danielle J. Ford (review date March-April 2000)
SOURCE: Ford, Danielle J. Reviews of How to Talk to Your Cat and How to Talk to Your Dog, by Jean Craighead George, illustrated by Sue Truesdell. Horn Book Magazine 76, no. 2 (March-April 2000): 209-10.
Written for the age at which many children are ready for pet adoption, these informative, good-natured guides to pet behavior emphasize the importance of learning the ways in which pets communicate emotions through their actions, facial expressions, and body positions. The characterizations of animal-human relationships [in How to Talk to Your Dog and How to Talk to Your Cat ] are grounded in their historical origins: cats and humans enter into a relationship of equals, while dogs expect a leader-follower relationship. A respect for animals is constant throughout the books—it is the responsibility of children to learn to interpret their pet’s signals. In the same vein, anthropomorphic tendencies are avoided. Indeed, the full range of emotions that animals feel and express are explored and skillfully described. Careful attention to the information provided in these books will prevent the scratches and bites unwitting children might otherwise incur when misinterpreting or ignoring animal mood signals. The only miscue here is the art: the combination of photographs of the author and cartoony illustrations of animals works against the factual insistence of the texts; however, the illustrations (particularly those of cats by illustrator Paul Meisel) are for the most part skillful at capturing familiar animal expressions.
Anne Sherrill (essay date 2002)
SOURCE: Sherrill, Anne. “Julie Miyax: The Emergence of Dual Identity in Julie of the Wolves and Julie.” In Censored Books II: Critical Viewpoints, 1985–2000, edited by Nicholas J. Karolides, pp. 269-78. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2002.
[In the following essay, Sherrill dismisses the concerns of censors with regards to Julie of the Wolves and Julie, claiming that the books are about finding a balance between cultural and personal identities.]
When Jean Craighead George’s 1973 Newbery Award winner Julie of the Wolves appeared, reviewers heralded its success. The Horn Book Magazine called it “timeless, perhaps even of classical dimensions” (54). Best Sellers said “beautiful literary collages silhouette the intricate mesh of animal-man-earth, an interdependence that draws the best from each contributing member” (45). Booklist stated “the well written, empathetic story effectively evokes the nature of wolves and the traditional Eskimo way of life giving way before the relentless onslaught of civilization” (529).
The intriguing story of a thirteen-year-old Eskimo girl surviving on the Arctic tundra has been popular for nearly thirty years. Julie, whose Eskimo name is Miyax, leaves her home in Barrow, Alaska, to escape a twelve-year-old gentle but suddenly abusive husband of an arranged marriage. With Eskimo survival knowledge and basic supplies, she sets out for Point Hope, where she intends to catch a boat and go to the home of her pen pal in San Francisco. However, during her journey she becomes lost on the Arctic tundra and must depend upon her acceptance by a wolf pack for food. She studies the communication patterns of wolves and carefully builds their trust. Her adoption into the pack by the leader, Amaroq, plus her extensive knowledge of nature enable her to survive the harsh life on the tundra. After the cruel and needless death of Amaroq, she finds her way back to civilization and has no choice but to enter Kangik, the town where she has learned her long-absent father now lives.
This award-winning book presents a likeable, brave, and ingenious protagonist; superb detail of the tundra flora and fauna; and fascinating accounts of wolf behavior. Other attractions are the depiction of Eskimo traditions and the cross-cultural struggle posed by the encroachment of the white culture. Just as important, it portrays the growth of a young girl who in the sequel, Julie, is finally able to reconcile her identity in both worlds. Despite its many-sided features, persons have objected to the book for several reasons. The majority address the short scene when Julie’s husband attempts to force himself upon her.
Banned Books: 2000 Resource Book offers a summary of challenges. Four cited since 1995 deal with this scene. Objectors call it “a rape,” “a graphic marital rape scene,” “a man forcibly kissing his wife,” and “attempted rape of a thirteen year old girl” (Doyle 38). Since the early 1980s People For the American Way has published a survey of censorship and other challenges to public education. Their 1992-93 report lists an objection to the same scene in which a person claims “a young girl is accosted by a mentally disabled boy” (47). Geneva Van Horne states that the scene was a source of frequent complaints in earlier years (342).
The scene is probably of concern to objectors who fail to see it in the context of a larger issue of abuse. To understand what led to the incident and to Julie’s subsequent motivation to leave Barrow, one must review earlier events in her life.
Her mother died when Julie was four years old. She and her distraught father, Kapugen, moved from Mekoryuk to a seal camp. She has good memories of these early years, her father, and his friend Naka. It was from Kapugen that she learned Eskimo traditions and a connection to the earth and its creatures. These good times end when Kapugen is forced by law to send Julie to school. That meant her returning to Mekoryuk to live with an aunt. Upon parting, Kapu-gen tells nine-year-old Julie that if she is unhappy, at thirteen she can leave and marry Naka’s son, Daniel. He explains that he will arrange this.
During the years in Mekoryuk, Julie becomes bored and develops an interest in further schooling available in Barrow. When she turns thirteen, she moves there and marries Naka’s son in hope of a better life. However, she does not find it. Her friend Pearl senses her unhappiness and assures her that arranged marriages are not taken seriously, that all one has to do is walk away from them and all is forgotten. No one is expected to stay in an unhappy situation.
Two incidents involving abuse move Julie to leave Barrow. One is the physical abuse of Naka toward his wife when he drinks, and the other is Daniel’s sudden effort after a year to consummate the marriage to Julie. He does kiss her roughly, tear her dress, and force her to the floor, but nothing else happens. He is as frightened as Julie is. He stomps away, angry with himself.
This one-page scene is not graphic, and as Geneva Van Home points out, it is necessary to the credibility of the plot. A sensible young girl must have good reason to set off across the Arctic tundra in search of a better life (342). Nowhere in Eskimo tradition is it taught that abuse of one human being to another should be tolerated.
Some objections imply that Julie’s being only thirteen years old makes the incident more shocking. However, by including the early marriage, George is being faithful to Eskimo tradition. In 1978, the elders of the North Slope Borough met at Barrow to record stories about traditions of the Inupiat people in an effort to preserve their heritage for future generations. One section of the subsequent publication relates to family matters. It was common for parents to cause girls to take a spouse while they were still very young because they were taught to practice celibacy before marriage. Marriage was the surest way to resolve potential problems of illegitimate children (254). Advice is also given not to be domineering over a spouse (261). Thus the abuse of Nunan and the attempted sexual attack on Julie are abhorrent to the Eskimo tradition.
According to Banned Books 2000 Resource Book, another objection to the book has to do with its themes being “socialist, communist, evolutionary, and anti family” (Doyle 42). Perhaps the objection about its being “anti family” relates in some way to Julie’s leaving an abusive situation. The other three labels are indeed elusive; specific dileneation of the first two objections is not available. Perhaps “evolutionary” refers to the survival of the fittest. Certainly the entire ecosystem involving predator and prey mirrors this concept. Wolves hunt young, sick, and old prey. To present survival on the tundra in some other light would be dishonest.
The 1990-91 report from People For the American Way mentions another baffling objection: “some sections might be interpreted as describing an incestuous relationship” (34). Does this imply that some members of a wolf pack are related? Of course they are. Does the objection imply that Julie has an abnormal relationship with wolves? Certainly a girl stranded on the Arctic tundra saved from starvation by a pack of wolves is not an everyday occurrence. However, one of the outstanding qualities of the book is the fascinating interaction between wolf and human. George’s detail about wolf behavior is well documented by scientists who have studied wolves.
David Mech, a veteran wolf biologist who studied wolves in the High Arctic, found that in attempting to approach wolves it was effective to lie on his stomach flat and still (Arctic 20). This is the strategy Julie uses as she begins her study of wolf communication.
She observes the leader of the pack and names him Amaroq. His mate Silver nips him gently under the chin, crouches before him, and licks his cheek. He responds by wagging his tail vigorously and taking her nose in his mouth. Another wolf tries to take Amaroq’s jaw in his mouth, and the leader bites the top of his nose. A third wolf gets down on his belly and rolls on his back. What Julie observes is classic submission and dominance behavior in wolves.
Michael Fox, another prominent wolf scientist, explains the actions of wolves that show submission and dominance. A subordinate approaches a dominant in the low position, tail wagging, and licks the lips of the dominant or prods its mouth corner with the muzzle. It may roll over, exposing its belly. Placing the mouth over another wolf’s muzzle or biting the top of its nose is a sign of dominance (59).
Julie learns these lessons well. When she does finally get close to Amaroq, she gazes up at him, then manages to pat him under the chin. By this signal of submission she becomes a member of his pack. This act is certainly within the realm of possibility. Numerous researchers have shown that wolves will come within a few feet of humans with no intent to harm (Mech, Wolf 292).
Julie next studies how wolves feed their pups. She needs their cooperation to save herself from starvation. She learns that they regurgitate food for their young. This is signaled by a puppy’ s the adult’s mouth. Such behavior is verified by Mech’s observations (Arctic 60). Later she is able to get food for herself when a friendly pup nudges an adult wolf. Enterprising Julie scoops the regurgitated food into her pot, gathers grass and lichens to use as fuel, and uses one of her precious matches to start a fire.
Van Home mentions that objectors to the book have called Julie’s eating food regurgitated from wolves as “gross” and “unlikely” (342). What such readers fail to see is that the act couples her knowledge of wolf communication with the trust she has gained from the pack, the trust that will make her survival possible. Too, her ingenuity in cooking the regurgitated caribou by using the most primitive methods points to the value of her Eskimo knowledge. Eventually, Amaroq calls her to the den. She sleeps with the pack and shares regularly in their fresh prey, returning to her camp to store and cook food.
Julie’s gaining access to the wolf den is a feat in itself but not impossible. It had been David Mech’s lifelong dream to get close enough to a wolf den in the High Arctic to study the interaction of adults and pups and how the leader relates to other members of the pack. The opportunity came during two trips in 1986 and 1987 through assignment for National Geographic Magazine. On the first trip, he moved closer and closer to the den, being careful not to disturb the pack. Eventually, the wolves trusted him to the point that they left the pups unattended (Arctic 45). He observed that the males and females in a pack form a dominance structure and are usually related in some way. Much cooperation in care, feeding, and rearing the pups is evident because they are the center of the pack (Arctic 54). A typical day involves sleep, play and social interaction, hunting, and feeding the pups (Arctic 58). This is the same pattern Julie observes.
The communication Mech built with the wolf pack on the first trip continued on his return the next year. The wolves recognized him and he again went to the den, setting up a camera within fifty feet of it. A playful pup untied his shoelace much like one of the wolf pups plays with Julie’s mitten. At times he lay at the den entrance with pups playing within a foot of him (Arctic 99). Although wolves did not feed him and were not responsible for his survival, he was certainly accepted and trusted like a pack member, just as Julie is.
Unfortunately for Julie, one of the wolves that shows strong submission behavior to Amaroq becomes ig-nnored by the pack and a troublemaker for Julie. He steals her food, threatens her, and finally steals her backpack full of survival utensils. Amaroq tracks and kills him. Michael Fox explains that wolves have been known to kill their own kind. Extreme intolerance toward one or more wolves may give way to severe fighting, with the loser being killed or driven away (120). Kapugen had told Julie that some wolves tolerate an unsociable wolf, but if he steals meat from the pups, he is killed. Perhaps Amaroq saw Julie as a pup.
In addition to the fascinating, well-researched detail on wolf behavior and survival skills on the Arctic tundra, there are over twenty Eskimo words in Julie of the Wolves and the sequel, Julie. Both books provide a tapestry of Eskimo customs. In Julie of the Wolves her survival on the tundra is tied to knowledge taught her by her father. As she embarks on her journey to Point Hope, she knows the essentials to carry in her backpack: food, needles, matches, a moosehide sleeping skin, a caribou ground cloth, two knives, and a cooking pot. She knows which plants are edible and how to hunt rabbits, squirrels, and birds. As in the Eskimo tradition, she sings a song as tribute to her prey. She uses all parts of an animal. When wolves leave her some caribou, she makes use of the skin. She knows how to dig a cellar in the permafrost to store food. The clothing she wears is made from animal skin and fur.
The spirits of animals are prominent in Eskimo tradition. Julie makes a totem to Amaroq and asks that his spirit enter it and be with her. R. D. Lawrence has noted the Eskimo affinity between wolves and ravens. Legends often couple the bird and the mammal, both of which were also endowed with spiritual and even godlike qualities. More than a few clans adopted either the wolf or the raven, sometimes both, as their special totems and accepted them as alter egos (194).
Certain customs accompany the killing of animals. Kapugen teaches Julie about the Bladder Feast, a celebration in which seal bladders are returned to the sea so that the animal’s spirit can enter the bodies of newborn seals. The meeting of the elders of the North Slope includes stories about animals to be passed on to younger generations. One custom is to sever the head of any animal killed to allow the spirit to live again. Otherwise, it stays close to the animal’s body and mourns and suffers pain. They believe a person’s spirit never dies and extend this concept to the animals (53).
In addition to the rich detail on Eskimo traditions, Julie of the Wolves and Julie present the issue of split identity caused by the pull of two cultures, exemplified by the twentieth-century technological world and the traditional Eskimo culture. In the first novel Julie-Miyax is a poignant example. During her early years at the seal camp she is Miyax, her Inuit name, and she is schooled in Eskimo traditions by her father. With the move to Mekoryuk to attend school, she becomes acclimated to an environment in which more English than Eskimo is spoken and comes closer to being Julie, her gussak name. In Barrow, there is more of the encroachment of the white civilization and its modern gadgets. It is during her time on the tundra that she becomes Miyax once more.
She had her ulo and needles, her sled and her tent, and the world of her ancestors and she liked the simplicity of that world.… Out here she understood how she fitted into the scheme of the moon and stars and the constant rise and fall of life on the earth. Even the snow was part of her.
(Julie of 130)
She realizes that traditional Eskimos are not outdated and old-fashioned, but wise. Reaching Point Hope becomes unimportant. When Amaroq is shot from an airplane, she cries out her grief in Eskimo. She cannot recall any English.
The several levels to Julie of the Wolves have made it attractive to literary scholarship. Jon C. Stott establishes it as a pastoral novel in which the central character withdraws from an urban world to a rural one but inevitably returns to the urban environment. Lessons learned from withdrawal enable the person to better face the human condition (132). With her experience on the tundra, Julie enters into a pure and ideal world followed by an inevitable return to civilization (135).
Theoretically, in the pastoral tradition her experience on the tundra and lessons learned should enable her to cope with the life she left. However, when she finds her way to Kangik, she returns to a father who once represented all that was fine in Eskimo tradition, but who has become corrupted by the influence of the white civilization. He has taken a gussak wife, has modern conveniences, and takes gussaks on hunts from airplanes.
The conclusion of the book does not offer a clear resolution. As Opal Moore and Donnarae MacCann point out, at the end of the novel when Julie concludes that “the hour of the wolf and the Eskimo is over” (Julie of 170) the author appears to consign the culture and any hope of preserving the Arctic ecosystem to dust (28). While on the surface, Julie can be seen as forsaking her Miyax identity, her return to the village corrupted by the white world is the only choice she has. How she will cope is not clear. However, Julie of the Wolves is very much the story of a young girls growth. She is stronger in character upon her return, not only for what she has learned about her Miyax self but because of what she has learned about love.
Her survival on the tundra is linked to a chain of love. There is the love for Kapugen, who taught her the Eskimo traditions and was a loving father; and the love for Amaroq, her adopted father, from whom she learns the love of other creatures for each other and human beings. Her love for Amaroq gives her the feeling she has for Kapu, his puppy, and for Tor-nait, the bird she shields from the cold. Through Tor-nait and her wolf family she knows the need for companionship. Her return to Kapugen is in part recognition of that human need. Amaroq’s spirit is in her through the totem, and its ritual suggests she will never completely forsake the old ways or her identity as Miyax. What she can bring to the years ahead is a clear self-image and strength of character. She is clearly Miyax-Julie, a different human being from the beginning of her journey.
Her emerging dual identity is best understood by considering both Julie of the Wolves and the sequel Julie, for it is in the latter that it reaches fruition. She begins her life with Kapugen and his gussak wife, Ellen, in Kangik. The village is a corporation, and one business is that of raising musk oxen. Women knit sweaters and scarves from the underfur and sell them to merchants in Fairbanks. Because there are no caribou in the vicinity, the musk oxen are prey to wolves. Kapugen will kill wolves to protect the herd and, therefore, the livelihood of the village. Julie understands their needs.
However, when she learns that the wolf pack who befriended her in Julie of the Wolves is near the village, she is determined to protect them. She once again calls upon her Eskimo knowledge to devise an ingenious plan to rejoin the pack and lead them to a moose herd so they will not attack the musk oxen. The wolf pack recognizes and accepts Julie once more just as Mech’s wolves did on his second trip to the High Arctic (Arctic 45). Readers of the first book will recognize the hierarchy within the pack and the ritual tributes to Kapu, Amaroq’s offspring and now the alpha wolf. In the sequel, the same rich detail on the behavior of wolves exists as in Julie of the Wolves. An additional aspect involves how wolf packs stay away from another’s territory. David Mech’s work reflects good detail on this (Arctic 108). Julie’s task is to unite two packs so they can share a moose herd. This she cleverly does.
Julie offers a tenuous reconciliation of the pull of the two cultures, on the one hand maintenance of many Eskimo traditions and on the other the influences of the white culture. Kapugen’s wife, Ellen, wears a long dress called a qaliguuraq. She herself struggles with a split identity, that of her Minnesota upbringing and her life as Kapugen’s wife. She introduces the family to apple pie, and they teach her about Eskimo donuts. Children of the village still enjoy blanket tosses, and the whole village joins the celebration of Naluktaq, a whale festival. Julie’s love interest, Peter, introduces dances from his native Siberia.
There is also reconciliation on a personal level. When Julie first arrives at Kangik, she speaks only Eskimo. Later she speaks English, partly out of a developing respect for Ellen. Together they birth a musk oxen calf during a blizzard. It is also through Ellen that Julie learns about the possibilities further education can bring. She wants to teach languages, Yupik and Inupiat, to Eskimo children so they will not lose their identity.
Kapugen is reunited with the Eskimo side of himself that he nearly abandoned in the wake of influences from the white world. A critical incident involves allowing only two walruses to be taken because that is what the village needs for food, despite the value of walrus tusks. In this incident, he practices the tradition of throwing the heart back to the sea, thus freeing the animal’s spirit. Kapugen returns to valuing the coexistence of all living things. He sets the musk oxen free. The Eskimos can still hunt them and harvest their fur, but the balance of prey and predator will prevail. In recognizing the return of her father’s former self, Julie has a sense of reconciliation with him. To Julie, giving the name Amaroq to the son of Kapugen and Amaroq binds her human family and the wild creatures together.
Although Julie of the Wolves and Julie are works of fiction, both are well grounded in fact. In her acceptance speech for the Newbery Award, George speaks of her own scientific expedition to Alaska to investigate the findings in Adolph Murie’s benchmark study, The Wolves of Mount McKinley. She spent time on the Arctic tundra to understand permafrost. She observed wolves close up for ten days. In Barrow she saw the conflict of the two cultures (Newbery 337-347).
The many layers, poignant issues, and literary artistry in both books make them outstanding and highly accessible to young readers. It is encouraging that to date there are no recorded objections to Julie and a number of the attempts to censor Julie of the Wolves have not been successful. Geneva Van Horne suggests numerous ways that Julie of the Wolves can be used across school disciplines such as science, social studies, art, music, composition, and drama (340). The same is true for Julie . Both books should be staples in the language arts curriculum and reading programs in general. They offer valuable, rich insights into cultural diversity and are best understood when paired.
As important a learning tool as the books can be in traditional disciplines, perhaps they can also instill in young people a dedication to preserving endangered wildlife. Historically, the wolf has been much maligned. One need only reexamine “Little Red Riding Hood,” “The Little Pigs,” or “Peter and the Wolf” for obvious examples. In her acceptance speech for the Newbery Award, George comments on the importance of the continuity and harmony among all forms of nature as necessary for the survival of the earth (340).
Roger Caas pays tribute to the endangered wolf in his introduction to David Mech’s book The Arctic Wolf.
One of the most significant species, surely, is the wolf. Humans must learn to understand the wolf, for not only are these few subspecies clinging to the last edge of being, dangling over the void of nothingness forever, but the wolf in its remaining forms is a hallmark animal. If we cannot bring ourselves to understand the wolf, we probably will be able to understand little else.
In Julie there is hope that the civilized world and the natural world can coexist. An elder once told Julie: “We are here for each other; the Eskimos, the mammals, the river, the ice, the sun, plants, birds, and fish. Let us celebrate cooperation.” Perhaps her emergence as a blend of two selves, Miyax and Julie, can point the way to real-life Eskimos facing the pull of two cultures. Perhaps there is hope after all that the “hour of the wolf and the Eskimo” (Julie of 170) is not over.
Attacks on Freedom to Learn: 1990-91 Report. Washington, D.C.: People for the American Way, 1991.
—————. 1992-93 Report. Washington, D.C.: People For the American Way, 1993.
Doyle, Robert P. Banned Books 2000 Resource Book. Chicago: American Library Association, 2000.
Fox, Michael. Behavior of Wolves, Dogs, and Related Canids. New York: Harper & Row, 1971.
George, Jean Craighead. Julie. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1994.
—————. Julie of the Wolves. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1972.
—————. “Newbery Award Acceptance.” Horn Book Magazine 49.4 (1973): 337-347.
Lawrence, R. D. In Praise of Wolves. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1986.
Mech, David L. The Arctic Wolf: Living with the Pack. Stillwater, Minnesota: Voyager Press, 1988.
—————. The Wolf:The Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species. Garden City, New York: The Natural History Press, 1970.
Moore, Opal, and Donnarae MacCann. “The Ignoble Savage: Amerind Images in the Mainstream Mind.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 13.1 (1988): 26-30.
Murie, Adolph. The Wolves of Mount McKinley. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1985.
Puiquitkaat the 1978 Elders’ Conference. Transcription by Kisautaq-Leona Okakok. Edited and Photographed by Gary Kean. Barrow, Alaska: North Slope Borough on History and Culture, 1981.
Review of Julie of the Wolves. Best Sellers (15 April 1973): 45.
Review of Julie of the Wolves. Horn Book Magazine (February 1973): 54-55.
Review of Julie of the Wolves. Booklist (1 February 1973): 529.
Stott, Jon C. “Jean George’s Arctic Pastoral: A Reading of Julie of the Wolves.” Children’s Literature: The Great Excluded. Ed. Francelia Butler and Bennett A. Brockman. Storrs, Conn.: Children’s Literature Association, 1974 (131-139).
Van Home, Geneva T. “Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George.” Censored Books: Critical Viewpoints. Ed. Nicholas J. Karolides et al. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1993 (338-342).
MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN (1959)
Rhoda Preston (essay date 1990)
SOURCE: Preston, Rhoda. “My Side of the Mountain.” In Beacham’s Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Volume 2, edited by Kirk H. Beetz and Suzanne Niemeyer, pp. 936-41. Washington, D.C.: Beacham Publishing, Inc., 1990.
[In the following essay, Preston examines the unique plot of a child living independently in the woods in My Side of the Mountain.]
About the Author
Jean Craighead George was born in Washington, D.C., on July 2, 1919. Her parents, Dr. Frank C. and Carolyn Johnson Craighead, were entomologists. The family spent summers on a farm in Pennsylvania, enabling Jean and her older twin brothers, Frank and John, to cultivate their interest in the natural sciences. While still in their teens, Frank and John were instrumental in bringing the art of falconry to the United States.
George received her bachelor’s degree from Penn State University in 1941, where she was voted the “most versatile senior woman.” During the 1940s she worked as a reporter for the International News Service, the Washington Post, and the Times-Herald in Washington, D.C.; as an artist for Pageant in New York City; and as an artist and reporter for the Newspaper Enterprise Association. George has also worked as a roving editor for Reader’s Digest and serves as a consultant for their science books.
She married John George on January 28, 1944, and collaborated with him in writing six books for children: Vulpes, the Red Fox (1948), Vision, the Mink (1949), Masked Prowler: The Story of a Raccoon (1950), Meph, the Pet Skunk (1952), Bubo, the Great Horned Owl (1954), and Dipper of Copper Creek (1958). The couple had three children, and were divorced in 1963.
Jean George has written more than forty books, both fiction and nonfiction, with an emphasis on nature. These books include Julie of the Wolves , the story of a young Eskimo girl lost on the North Slope of Alaska, and My Side of the Mountain, the diary of an independent boy who runs away from home to live by himself in the Catskill Mountains. George has also compiled a book of back-to-nature recipes, The Wild, Wild Cookbook (1982); described fifteen historical and nature trails in the United States in The American Walk Book (1979); and written an autobiographical account of her life, Journey Inward (1982).
George has received numerous honors and awards for her writing. Dipper of Copper Creek won the American Library Association’s Aurianne Award for Literature in 1958. My Side of the Mountain was a Newbery Honor Book and was placed on the Hans Christian Andersen Award Honor List. The American Library Association included Spring Comes to the Ocean (1966) and Hold Zero (1966) on its list of Notable Children’s Books. All Upon a Stone (1971) received Book World’s Spring Festival Award as the best picture book of 1971, and Julie of the Wolves was awarded the Newbery Medal for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children in 1973. George also was selected as Woman of the Year by Pennsylvania State College in 1969, received the Claremont College Award in 1969, and was given the Eva L. Gordon Award of the American Nature Study Society in 1970.
My Side of the Mountain is an adventure story of self-reliance and survival. Sam Gribley, a young boy from New York, longs to live by himself on his great-grandfather’s land in the Catskill Mountains. He hides out in the woods for an entire year, eating food he finds in the wilds, building his own shelter inside a tree, tanning the deerskin for his clothes, coping with snow and ice storms, and evading the curiosity of outsiders. This is a convincing story, complete with detailed instructions for a large variety of survival skills such as starting a fire without matches, making salt, boiling water in a leaf, and preserving food.
My Side of the Mountain is a story of the close relationship between a boy and the animals in his environment. During the course of the year, Sam carefully trains a baby falcon to hunt and learns that wild raccoons and weasels can provide valuable companionship and protection. He also learns why feeding wild animals can be dangerous, finds that nuthatch birds make good barometers, and discovers why a bird’s feet don’t freeze in the winter.
The story is set in the 1950s, deep in the Catskill Mountains of eastern New York State. Sam Gribley, who comes to the mountains in search of his great-grandfather’s farm, finds the old homestead surrounded by a world of giant trees and meadows, cascading waterfalls, and “clear athletic streams” brimming with trout. He makes his home inside an ancient hemlock and faces the changing seasons with the companionship of deer, raccoons, a hunting falcon, weasels, skunks, bats, and thousands of birds.
Sam’s tree home is in a remote setting, with the nearest small town, Delhi, several miles away. The mountains seem isolated during the cold and snowy winter months, but during the fall hunters wander into the area looking for deer, and in the summer the woods are busy with campers, hikers, and fishermen.
Because the campsite is so remote and because Sam wishes to live as close to nature as possible, his everyday world resembles the world of the mid-eighteenth century. Apart from forty dollars, a penknife, a ball of cord, an ax, a flint, and some steel that he has brought with him, the only items available to Sam are those found in nature.
Some of the major dangers and challenges Sam faces result from the cold winters of the Catskills: frightened by snow and ice storms, which block the entrance to his tree home, Sam also faces the danger of suffocation because of inadequate ventilation from his homemade fireplace.
Thems and Characters
Sam Gribley, an intelligent and determined boy in his early teens, is the main character in My Side of the Mountain . Having grown up in a family of eleven in New York City, he values his privacy and independence. His mother, who once worked as a dietician in a children’s hospital, and his father, a former sailor who now works on the docks, are willing to let Sam try his hand at independent living.
Sam’s closest companions in the woods are Frightful, a trained peregrine falcon; Jesse Coon James, a raccoon; and Baron Weasel. These animals become his friends, providing protection and serving as partners for conversation.
Sam goes to great lengths to avoid contact with other people during his year in the wilderness, but he does make several human friends. One is Miss Turner, a librarian who helps him locate the old farmstead and gives him a haircut with her library scissors. Another is Bando, a college English teacher who becomes lost in the mountains while hiking. Bando spends ten days with Sam in the summer and returns for a visit at Christmas; he makes and plays willow whistles, and fires clay containers for blueberry jam. A third friend is a boy who works in the drugstore, known to Sam as “Mr. Jacket.” By the end of the year this youth, whose real name is Tom Sidler, is a regular weekend guest in the woods.
Other characters in the story are Bill, a kind old man who teaches Sam how to make a fire with flint and steel; ninety-seven-year-old Mrs. Thomas Fielder, who forces Sam to pick strawberries for her; the fire warden, who is puzzled by the sight of Sam’s fires; deer poachers and other hunters; Aaron, a hiker from New York who comes to the Catskills over the Passover holidays; and Matt Spell, a young reporter from a New York newspaper who writes an article about Sam.
The book develops the theme of independence versus the need for relationships, examines the causes of loneliness, criticizes society’s lack of respect for privacy, and questions whether people are “allowed to live in America today and be quietly different.” The novel also emphasizes the possibility and joy of living close to nature. Sam’s daily actions are creative and ingenious; he tackles everyday problems with common sense and determination.
Written from Sam’s first-person point of view, My Side of the Mountain celebrates people’s ability to live in harmony with nature. Some sections of the novel take the form of a diary. The language is plain, uncontrived, and true to the voice of a young teen. Some portions of the book are introspective and philosophical, while others contain notes of daily activities, diagrams, sketches, and even recipes. The characters are convincing, and the conclusion is surprising.
Although not an action-packed story, the novel moves quickly because it includes fascinating details. The book contains careful observations of the environment. Because the descriptions are realistic, informative, and well-researched, much of the book could be used as a “handbook” for people who wish to escape to the wild.
My Side of the Mountain was written in the 1950s, when women’s roles were tied closely to the job of preparing food for their families. It is not unreasonable, therefore, that Sam’s mother appears interested primarily in making sure that Sam has enough to eat. But given the typical idea of the close-knit family of that era, the reader may be surprised that Mrs. Grib-ley does not immediately search for her son or seem to be worried about his safety. The book appears to portray women in a negative fashion when it suggests that Mrs. Gribley’s basic incentive for finding her son is the fear that people would think she had “not done her duty.”
The novel also appears to suggest that newspaper reporters and public officials, such as the fire warden, are not to be trusted and that it might be proper to protect a bandit from the police. The novel also hints that technology is a danger (“Who knows when we’re all going to be blown to bits and need to know how to smoke venison?”) and concludes that every “normal red-blooded American boy wants to live in a tree-house and trap his own food.”
JULIE OF THE WOLVES (1972)
Lois R. Kuznets (essay date 1987)
SOURCE: Kuznets, Lois R. “The Female Pastoral Journey in Julie of the Wolves and A Wild Thing.” In Webs and Wardrobes: Humanist and Religious World Views in Children’s Literature, edited by Joseph O’Beirne Milner and Lucy Floyd Morcock Milner, pp. 99-110. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1987.
[In the following essay, Kuznets discusses the environmental and feminist themes raised by George’s Julie of the Wolves and Jean Renvoize’s A Wild Thing.]
In realistic terms, the protagonists of Jean George’s Julie of the Wolves (1972) and Jean Renvoize’s A Wild Thing (1970) are both runaway girls.1 In literary structuralist terms, one can view and study them as “female heroes” in pastoral variants of the “mono-myth” described by Joseph Campbell in his The Hero with a Thousand Faces.2 Similarities of character and structure in the two books make them interesting subjects of comparative study. In the process of comparing them in terms of Campbell’s ideas of monomyth, two of the crucial issues of our time, questions of women and of the environment, emerge as interrelated and central in these books. George’s and Ren-voize’s treatment of these two issues suggests clearly a humanistic world view: these two young women struggle to determine their own destinies with only their own inner resources.
Julie of the Wolves is well-known, having won the 1973 Newbery Medal for the best contribution to children’s literature. A Wild Thing, classified as young adult literature, is less famous. Both books depict the attempts of adolescent girls, Julie-Miyax and Morag, to run away from intolerable, “civilized” situations into a wilderness that forces them to come to terms with nature and themselves and from which they attempt to make ambivalent (in the case of Julie) or abortive (in the case of Morag) re-entries into society.
Much of the immediate appeal of both these books for children and adults lies in detailed and realistic survival lore embodied in the girls’ adventures and their meeting the immediate demands of the environment. But Jon Scott, in considering Julie of the Wolves , finds beneath the realistic surface of this work a deeper structure that he links with the pastoral tradition.3 He sees Julie as taking a journey into an Arctic “Arcadia” and out again. A Wild Thing might be seen in a similar light as a “Highland pastoral.”
A summary of some important aspects of Campbell’s analysis seems a useful preface to an exploration of a deeper structure in both novels. The hero of Campbell’s monomyth follows a common pattern of adventure consisting of three stages: “a separation from the world, a penetration to a source of power, and a life-enhancing return.”4 Stories may dwell on any one of the three stages: the difficulties or necessities of “separation and departure” in the first stage; the dangers or delights of “trials and victories of initiation” in the second stage; the triumphs or disasters of “return and reintegration into society” in the third stage.5
An important and more controversial aspect of Campbell’s analysis is his application of Freudian concepts to this structure. The hero in the otherworld journey is seen as working through what Freud calls the Oedipal conflict, meeting and dealing with symbolic representations of both parents, separating from and uniting with them in appropriate ways to bring about self-integration. So the journey is not merely one of physical adventure but of psychological discovery as well; successful self-integration then permits reintegration into society at a more effective level.
Stories categorized as “pastoral” may be seen as a special development of the monomyth arising from the gradual urbanization of human life, as distinctions began to evolve between city and country and conventions to develop about the symbolic nature of each. In the pastoral form of the monomyth, leaving the city is the hero’s means of leaving the world in order to find the source of power and rebirth in the country; the hero returns to the city to bring back to the world the life-enhancing power of the country. Some pastorals de-emphasize the dangers and emphasize the delights of the stage of trial and initiation; all play upon the difficulties but postulate the inevitability of the return to the world. Pastoral can, but need not, be sentimentalized, turning the country into an unrealistic “Arcadia” inhabited by dainty shepherds and shepherdesses.6
This overview of the monomyth, its Freudian overtones, and pastoral form prepares us to discern in plot summaries of both books a pastoral variation upon the structure of Campbell’s monomyth. The three sections of Julie of the Wolves do not in their order correspond to the stages of the monomyth. Rather, George employs one of its common variants and begins, as classical epics do, in media res: the audience first hears about the stage of trial and initiation, then goes back to the stage of separation and departure, and finally returns to the re-entry into society.
The first section introduces us to Miyax, a fourteen-year-old Inuit (Eskimo) girl whose gussak (foreign) name, Julie, we do not learn initially. She has already been on her journey from Barrow to Point Hope for several days; she is lost and starving and must use the wolf lore taught her by her father in order to be adopted by the wolf pack that will feed her while she gradually learns to be self-sufficient on Alaska’s North Slope. Her feelings of abandonment introduce the second part of the story after the pack has helped her and then resumed its normal winter nomadry.
This second part takes us back in time to the death of Miyax’s mother when Miyax was four and swiftly through the subsequent ten years. During these years Miyax first lives with her father, Kapugen, in a seal camp. At the age of nine, Miyax is separated from him by her Aunt Martha and moves to town where she can attend school and where she learns of her father’s death and becomes Americanized. At thirteen, having found her aunt uncongenial, Miyax accepts the alternative of a traditional arranged-marriage to Daniel, the retarded son of her father’s best friend. A year later, when Daniel attempts to consummate the marriage, she runs away from Barrow. At the moment of running away, she plans to journey by boat (the North Star) to San Francisco to live with Amy, her pen pal, but she underestimates the practical difficulties of the journey.
By part three, both Miyax and the reader are forced to reassess the present and the future in terms of both her immediate past with the wolf pack and the far past of Miyax’s childhood. Miyax discovers that the wolf pack has not completely abandoned her and that she, in turn, can be protector to a golden plover, a beautiful bird that has somehow failed to migrate. She begins to see the traditional Inuit lifestyle as an attractive alternative to her dreams of San Francisco. By the time the heavenly North Star rises over the horizon, she is not particularly worried about catching the boat by that name. However, she uses the star to move closer to civilization and in so doing discovers the ravages of civilization on a landscape now beautifully alive for her.
These ravages are tragically epitomized by the death of her wolf father, Amaroq, and the wounding of her wolf brother, Kapugen, both shot from an airplane. She succeeds in nursing Kapugen back to life and leadership of the pack and discovers from a passing Eskimo hunting couple that her father is really alive in a nearby settlement. All is not well, however, for when she finds him, her father is much changed, moving in a direction opposite to her own recent development. He is married to a gussak school teacher and, worse, hunts from airplanes. Miyax runs away once again, but she is forced by the death of the golden plover to accept the idea that the day of the Eskimo and the wolf is over. At the story’s close, she returns to her father and presumably to his compromises with the gussak civilization.
Rather than inserting the past, as a whole, into the middle of the narrative structure, as Julie of the Wolves does, A Wild Thing integrates the past bit by bit into the present of Morag’s psyche. Carrying a newspaper picture of the Scottish Highlands and little else in pack or mind, Morag is dumped by bus at the Scottish foothills, far less equipped than Miyax to deal with the wilderness. She has, nevertheless, consciously chosen to journey into it, driven not by a single traumatic incident but by the cumulative effect of years of failure to make emotional and intellectual contact with anything in her urban environment. Her wish to come to the Highlands seems to be the last surge of life in this fifteen-year-old, whose inability to function has led her to be placed in a school for retarded children. Like Miyax, Morag was separated at four from her mother, though not by death. The state declared her mother unfit to care for her and a baby brother after the death of a younger sister. Morag has never known her sailor father.
Gradually Morag learns to survive, partly, like Miyax, by becoming a member of an animal family (she finds a lame nanny goat and her kid) and by discovering a sheltering cave. Unfortunately, she also raids most of the crofts in the countryside, stealing supplies before she learns to live off the summer land. Her learning to survive physically opens her to experience at all levels. Early in the story, the most prominent figures in her psychic life are a series of foster mothers from the first, a warm country woman, to the last, a practical, sternly puritanical woman from whose home Morag has fled. Then she begins to recall buried memories, both good and bad, of her profligate and infantile, but fascinating mother, her disapproving grandmother, and her sick sister who died in her arms when four-year-old Morag attempted to nurse her. The agony of this return to the past is considerably greater for Morag than are her initial physical ago-nies of near starvation and unaccustomed labor. This suffering, however, leaves her, like Miyax at the beginning of part three, prepared both physically and psychologically to consider a future hitherto unenvisioned.
The initial result of Morag’s journey into the psychic past is her naive plan for finding a casual mate, one who will impregnate her with a daughter to replace her lost sister. Leading her nanny goat, she appears, ragged and tanglehaired, to a hiker, who, frightened out of his wits by this apparition, naturally flees from her. At this point, Renvoize makes clear, the road begins to divide for Morag into two paths, one of which seems to signal, at a realistic level, insanity and death, the other sanity and life. She finds a skeleton which, in her isolation, she begins to worship in elaborate and obsessive ways, weaving a legend around him, linking him with a castle on the seashore that she has seen in her wanderings. Then life and sanity seem to win over when she finds an injured climber, crumbled upon his dead partner. Morag nurses the climber back to life and shares a brief rural idyll with him. Arthur Figgs, as his name sardonically suggests, is a rather ordinary young man, an engineering student with a romantic streak, which is initially stimulated by Morag. Figgs, however, can barely sustain this repressed aspect of himself long enough for him to impregnate Morag; it is not strong enough to permit him to accept her wildness. He leaves by the end of his projected three-week holiday.
Through the fall, Morag, who has failed to make adequate provisions for winter, is forced to make a number of raids on the countryside. When the snows come, she realizes that she and her unborn child will not survive alone. She walks down to a village where her slow approach brings out the mass of villagers with guns to hunt down this wild thing that has ravaged outlying homes. They do not succeed in catching her; she plunges back through the wilderness, finally arriving at the castle on the seashore where she miscarries and dies. By the following spring, her bones have mingled with the sands.
Julie, of the wolves, survives; Morag, the wild thing, dies; both of these endings, apparently opposite, are nevertheless similarly ambiguous. Julie’s survival has its negative aspects for those things she has learned to deal with and come to value seem doomed. Morag’s death, with its merging into the landscape that has given her a brief but intense and satisfying sense of her own existence, has its positive elements. Particularly in the case of Julie, the ambiguity is limited largely to the difficulties at the third stage of the monomythic structure: re-entry and re-integration into society. The ambiguity in Morag’s case is more diffused over the whole adventure because of the nature of Morag’s character itself and the particular direction that her attempts at self-integration take. Still, one might say that the possibilities of re-integration into society—as the natural result of their trials and initiations—are rather bleak in both cases, so that worldly survival does not necessarily make an affirmative ending in the one, nor death an entirely negative ending in the other.
Campbell recognizes that the third stage, although less spectacular in most cases than the second, is often the most difficult for the hero; certainly many versions of the monomyth, both ancient and modern, exist in which this re-entry is ambiguous, if not abortive. Even if failure is not unusual, the problems of re-entry in any age can be of great moment to contemporary readers who identify with the central figure; therefore, it is important to consider and attempt to pinpoint the particular nature of these problems. In the case of our two books, re-entry problems might be seen as connected with contemporary feminist and environmentalist concerns. Julie-Miyax’s and Morag’ s problems of reintegration into society seem to arise from two similar general aspects of these books: the substitution of a female for a male hero in the monomythic adventure and the use of the pastoral journey as a means of trial and initiation in the late twentieth century.
The problem of the “female hero” is a familiar one in feminist criticism. A section of the MLA meetings in 1978 was devoted specifically to the question of “Woman as Mythic Hero: The Quest in Twentieth Century Literature.”7 Papers on authors such as Doris Lessing and Margaret Atwood pointed out where and why the fates of men and women deviate and divide in the process of the mythic quest: the male hero finds a proper mate, a heroine whom he can master as he can’t his mother, and returns to society to take his father’s place in it. Neither the love resolution nor the power resolution is permitted the female hero, who at that point, must become the conventional heroine.
In recent years, the difficulties of transferring the Freudian model of the Oedipal situation to women also have been a matter of hot debate among psychoanalysts and psychologists. In using Freud, Campbell, writing in the Forties, does not, of course, acknowledge any such difficulties, although he does not deal exclusively with male heroes. A single paragraph can be said to dismiss the possible conflicts in the “female hero”:
When the child outgrows the popular idyl of the mother breast and turns to face the world of specialized adult action, it passes, spiritually, into the sphere of the father—who becomes, for his son, the sign of the future task, and for his daughter, of the future husband. Whether he knows it or not, and no matter what his position in society, the father is the initiating priest through whom the young being passes on into the larger world. And just as formerly, the mother represented the “good” and “evil,” so now does he, but with this complication—there is a new element of rivalry in the picture: the son against the father for the mastery of the universe, and the daughter against the mother to be the mastered world.8
The end of the quest for the male hero is “to master” and for the female “to be mastered.” Only at the highest level of metaphysical speculation and in a state of Nirvana beyond the limits of human life can these two states of being be conceived as one and the same.9
Some feminist critics note that the solution to the problem of the female hero in both ancient and modern literature has often been for the central female never to accept a mate but rather to become a kind of “virgin goddess,” not necessarily chaste but never married. How do our two books deal with the problem of the sex of the hero? Interestingly enough, in two quite different ways: George depicts the stage of trial and initiation as a postponement and practical sublimation of the problem of sexual role; Renvoize adds a male hero on his own pastoral journey and contrasts the male and female versions of trial and initiation.
Julie-Miyax’s journey into the Arctic can be seen as a postponement of solving the Oedipal problem in the way that females are supposed to deal with it, that is, by learning to be mastered. Her journey begins after a frustrated attempt at rape on the part of Julie’s retarded husband and towards the end of the journey we learn that she has not yet menstruated. In fact, the young Eskimo woman whom Julie meets towards the end assumes at first that Julie has been sent out into the wilderness to become a woman—that she is in traditional initial menstrual exile. In reality, this is, of course, exactly opposite of the case, for Julie-Miyax, although married at thirteen, attempts to postpone being a woman by becoming a man in imitation of her lost father, not her dead mother. We are continually reminded of the role reversal involved in her journey by the fact that sex roles are highly differentiated in the Inuit culture itself; there are even male and female knives for the various tasks that must be undertaken; Miyax uses both of them. And, drawing our attention specifically to the Inuit ceremonial differentiation in sex roles, George notes, when Miyax kills her first bird:
Had she been a boy this day would be one to celebrate. When a boy caught his first bird in Nunivak he was supposed to fast for a day, then celebrate the feast of the bird.
Miyax decides to sing the song of the Bird Feast for herself, with its significant words:
Spirit of the bird
Fly into my body
And bring me
The power of the sun.
Just as she has rejected Aunt Martha, Julie-Miyax throughout her journey continues to relate to males rather than females, choosing instead of the wolf mother Silver, the wolf father and his son, not only as protectors but as role models; she fights not with a female wolf but a male, Jello, for his place in the pack. Only after her initial disappointing contact with her changed father does she contemplate becoming part of an Eskimo couple in order to continue to live in the wilderness.
At the end of the novel, the death of Tornait, the bird that she harbors in her hood, is not simply a signal of the death of Julie’s capacity to revive a way of life doomed by the encroachment of a technological civilization, but also the death of the male power in her that the song of the Bird Feast celebrates. She cannot return as a son might, in one of these monomyths, to fight the father and redeem a culture that has degenerated under his rule, but as a daughter to accede to his compromises. In addition, she must also now face the Oedipal conflict embodied by her stepmother, who is a representative of the encroaching culture. Miyax’s competence at meeting the trials and initiations of the second stage can be an inspiration to young girls, yet her sex adds only another level of irony to the fact that she has acquired the male skills and power of a doomed culture.10
Julie-Miyax’s period of initiation and trial can be seen as a postponement of sexuality and a prolongation of what psychologists call the period of latency. According to a well-known student of Freud, Erik Erikson, during the latency period the seven-to twelve-year-old school child develops the competency and skills that will eventually enable him to enter adult society in its work aspects.11 Morag, although older than Julie-Miyax by about a year, can be seen as having much more catching up to do than Julie with respect to this competency; her development and change in the Highland period is not a postponement of sexuality, but a compression of two stages of development into a short period of time.
Arriving in early spring, Morag has acquired the competency and skills of the latency period by early summer, at least enough of them to sustain herself through a Highland summer; she moves quickly on to the next stage as she blossoms into a sexual being and specifically a woman. In a scene in the bedroom of a croft that Morag has raided while the inhabitants are away for several days, Morag sees her developing body in a full length mirror for the first time and also tries on some of the accoutrements of “civilized” femininity—stockings, frilly slips, etcetera. However, just as those skills that she learns in the Highlands are not necessarily the ones that she would have to practice in urban survival, the type of feminine development and attraction for the opposite sex that she will develop during the summer will not be associated with the world of feminine clothing, cosmetics, and deodorants. Her sexual and sensual development is of a much more earthy sort.
Renvoize chooses to deal with the problem of the female hero by developing Morag gradually into a kind of earth mother, close to the “virgin goddess” model. Renvoize accomplishes this transformation by having Morag (in contrast to Julie) deal psychologically mainly with women—her mother, grandmother, sister, and foster mothers—and to resolve her inner conflicts with them as the important part of her development. She is associated also with the female nursing goat rather than, as Julie is, the hunting male wolf. Renvoize also has Morag discover that neither the “Mossman,” the male skeleton that she worships (perhaps a kind of father?), nor Arthur are necessary to her psychologically once she has that baby (whom she envisions as a daughter) inside her. This emphasis upon female identification and relationships, in which males are seen as brief intruders, is an element of Earth Mother myths, like Demeter (Ceres) and Persephone, prevalent very early in human history and surviving in later mythology mainly in tales of Artemis (Diana).12
Renvoize also uses time as a leitmotif that contrasts the time of the city, measured by watches and calendars into seconds, hours, and days, with the seasonal time of the country, which becomes Morag’s time. This sense of time holds a sense of eternity both in its daily lack of time consciousness and its inexorable cyclical pattern where the death of the individual is not as important as nature’s continuity. This view of time not only gives a special earth goddess aura to Morag while she is living, but adds much affirmation to her death at the end of the book. Morag seems to have many moments of timeless ecstasy during the Highland summer and her body’s disintegration through the Highland winter is seen as a reintegration with nature, part of the cyclic pattern in some ways more important here than re-entry into an unwelcoming society.
Thus, although she realistically recognizes and depicts Morag’s final inability to function effectively in either the Highland winter or society, Renvoize creates another level of reality by emphasizing certain earth goddess aspects of Morag, and in so doing, manages to avoid irony in the depiction of Morag’s death and to suggest affirmation in her return to nature, redeeming her failure to find a viable life style. What irony there is in the book, Renvoize saves for Figgs and his pastoral journey. As a climber in the Highlands who almost dies and is reborn in the arms of a goat girl, Arthur is also a pastoral hero. This particular goat girls stinks, however, to put it bluntly, for A Wild Thing is certainly an unsentimentalized version of the pastoral. It is partly the earthy nature of his journey that Arthur eventually rejects. This rejection and return to society could still function within the monomythic tradition where the hero returns to the world having rejected threatening female temptresses along the way; however, Renvoize connects Arthur’s lack of earthiness with his being an engineer and his profession links him, like Kapugen, with the destructive forces of civilization that make the late twentieth century pastoral journey seem so ironic.
These links of Kapugen and Figgs with modern civilization bring us to the second aspect of the problem, involving the use of the pastoral in modern times. The pastoral has been, through the beginning of the twentieth century, a fairly affirmative form of the monomyth. To be sure, there was always a certain elegiac nostalgia about it, a mourning for the death of innocence that the return to the city signaled, but although the city may be corrupt and renewal by country virtues necessary in every generation, the possibilities for such renewal seemed, like nature itself, to have a cyclic inevitability—if winter comes, can spring be far behind? As the Industrial Revolution progressed, however, the city took on a technological dimension and threatened more and more to engulf the countryside; as Leo Marks put it in discussing nineteenth-century American literature, the Machine threatened to invade the Garden.13 One can see the threat of the machine in the garden in children’s as well as adult literature of the turn-of-the-century; The Wind in the Willows is an excellent example. Still, at that time, material progress, especially through the wonders of scientific discovery, seemed mainly to promise the extension of the garden rather than the end of it. For instance, we are not surprised to find in The Secret Garden, another exemplar of the pastoral for children, that Colin is rightly inspired to scientific study of the mysteries he experienced in that garden.
Much has happened to the world in the last seventy years to make scientific technology seem more like a threat than a boon to human existence: the annihilation of the human race quickly through atomic explosion, or slowly through pollution, seems to fulfill certain apocalyptic mythic patterns other than those we’ve discussed. Apocalyptic anxiety, when expressed in pastoral form, no longer produces elegies for a lost innocence, but more ironic prophecies of an end to the natural world and human life itself. The irony that I have already noted in Julie-Miyax’s story and the Arthur Figgs portion of A Wild Thing is of this apocalyptic prophetic type.
In both these books there are signs of distrust of the twentieth-century Western culture based on scientific technology; that culture is seen in clear conflict with the life-enhancing experiences of the protagonists. Jean George’s conservationist stance is no secret; she is particularly severe here in alluding to the American presence in Alaska. The Americans are laughed at for “discovering” secrets about the cold in laboratories that Eskimos have known for centuries; the alcoholism among the Eskimos seems attributable to the foreign presence; technological trash in the form of oil cans and the like is shown as eternal in that climate; those who shoot wolves from airplanes are virtual murderers, not just of a species but of ecological balance. The day of the wolf and Eskimo is over, not through evolution, but through genocide, George appears to say.
In A Wild Thing, we are not dealing with a conflict of two cultures, the losing one of which is made to represent nature and the other scientific technology, so the apocalyptic anxiety is not quite as pronounced as in Julie of the Wolves . Yet, at some level, Morag and Arthur are also made to represent these two opposing forces, nature and scientific technology. The couple have their first quarrel when Arthur tells her that he is planning to help build a dam in the Highlands near her cave:
She was appalled. She refused to believe him. The more she defended the wildness of the land, the more he argued how improved it would be, how magnificent modern dams were and how time must march on.
Then they see a rabbit in the last paroxysms of myx-omatosis (which has become science’s answer to rabbit overpopulation) and Arthur is too squeamish to kill it quickly, saying, “They don’t suffer much… They’re only animals” (p. 217). Morag, who has hunted for food, takes the rabbit out of its misery. Arthur has, in his accident, significantly broken both his watch and his glasses. Renvoize indicates that in his final rejection of Morag and return to the land of watches and spectacles, he is rejecting the best, the most eternal and paradoxically clear-sighted, part of himself: Arthur’s being an engineer bodes no good for the Highlands.
The two problems that I have attempted to delineate above, that of the female hero and the late twentieth century pastoral journey, can and do exist separately in other works of art. They could also be seen as interconnected in the manner that Dorothy Dinnerstein, a feminist psychologist, finds them to be.14 In The Mermaid and the Minotaur, Dinnerstein postulates that two great issues of our time, “the woman question” and “the environmental question” are interrelated: the traditional view of man as mastering and woman as being mastered is played out not only in family relationships but in civilization’s relation to nature. “Mother Nature” becomes a woman to be mastered and, in the case of such traditionally masculine weapons as scientific technology, ultimately destroyed. In Dinnerstein’s view, too complex to be delineated fully here, our rape of nature will stop only when we alter our subconscious views of women, fostered first by our child upbringing patterns and perpetuated, as well as expressed, by those very monomyths with their rejection of the mother that we have been discussing here.
Renvoize’s book in particular, seems a model illustration of Dinnerstein’s theory, for Arthur initially rapes Morag, the earth goddess, and may well, as an engineer, go on to rape the countryside. Renvoize, I think, makes such a connection consciously. I doubt that George does. George represents Eskimo men as either demoralized or co-opted by civilization and that civilization is also represented by a woman, the gussak stepmother. So in Julie of the Wolves, sexual symbolism in relation to the environmental issue is not clear.15
The appeal and strength of the survivalist aspects of both these books—even with their ambivalent or abortive endings—should not be underestimated. The degree to which either George or Renvoize would admit feminist concerns and their interconnection with environmentalist concerns is arguable. The argument, however, is worthwhile. It points to the presence in these two books of levels deeper than physical adventure. Both books confront (or barely skirt, depending on the degree of consciousness we are willing to attribute to their authors) two of the major issues of our day, feminism and environmentalism. The realistic nature of that confrontation would seem to locate George and Renvoize squarely in the humanist camp, although in a curious way their treatment undermines some implicit assumptions of humanism: beliefs in man’s rationality, civil organization, and human progress. Control of nature through the use of man’s superior intellect has been central to the idea of the humanistic ascent of man. Still, George and Renvoize are humanists in that they affirm the basic belief in the self as the final arbiter of one’s destiny, for neither finds hope or solace for their main characters in reaching to a God beyond themselves. The race of men may create many of the problems both heroines confront, but only individual human beings can resolve them.
* The chapter was delivered as a paper at the Midwest Modern Language Association Meeting, November, 1979.
1. I have used the following editions: Jean Craighead George. Julie of the Wolves. New York: Harper and Row, 1972 and Jean Renvoize. A Wild Thing. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1971. Page numbers in parentheses in the text will refer to these editions. The English edition of the latter was published in 1970.
6. I have deliberately ignored theorists such as Northrop Frye and William Empson and also have not tried to discuss the question of the “romance genre” and its relationship to both myth and pastoral.
9. Parts of Campbell’s analysis suggest that for some of the more godlike heroes there is a fourth stage, going beyond this world and becoming androgynous, incorporating both passive (female) and active (male) elements.
10. Pre-adolescent girls make particularly good protagonists in children’s books and many share Julie’s being still in the latency or “tom boy” stage. One should never underestimate the inspiration that these protagonists give to young girls to acquire skills and competency and the self-esteem that goes with that acquisition. The child reader will not necessarily experience the irony of the ending of Julie of the Wolves, which is perhaps for the best—but that doesn’t mean the irony is not there.
15. One should point out that there are females in A Wild Thing who are by no means earth goddesses. Examples include Mrs. Skinner, the puritanical stepmother, and, more importantly, one of the owners of the castle on the seashore who rides by Morag’s unnoticed grave, quarreling with her husband and saying, “I’m so bored.” They seem a part of Renvoize’s implied political and social criticism of society, issues other than those considered in this chapter.
Geneva T. Van Horne (essay date 1993)
SOURCE: Van Home, Geneva T. “Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George.” In Censored Books: Critical Viewpoints, edited by Nicholas J. Karolides, Lee Burress, and John M. Kean, pp. 338-42. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1993.
[In the following essay, Van Home notes the value of Julie of the Wolves to student readers.]
Challenging the right to teach Jean Craighead George’s Julie of the Wolves to upper sixth to eighth grade students is a travesty. Its plot is engaging; its themes are noble; its literary quality and expression, artful; its factual information, accurate; its main character, inspiring; and its content, eminently appropriate and appealing to middle school students.
This compelling realistic fiction story has three distinct sections, The first has to do with the experience in the Arctic; the second, a flashback of the main character’s life; and the third, the protagonist’s resolution of conflicts. In essence, it concerns Miyax (Julie in English) and her experiences in Alaska. Until nine, she lived with her widowed father, Kapugen, in the true Eskimo fashion. She absorbed the culture of her people and an appreciation, understanding, and respect for nature and wildlife. When she became nine, she was forced to live with her Aunt Martha so she could attend school. Prior to leaving, her father arranged for her to be married later at age thirteen, to David, the son of his hunting partner.
Life with Aunt Martha was dreary though Julie did make some schoolmate friends. She became acculturated gradually, becoming more Julie than the Eskimo Miyax. She also commenced a pen pal relationship with Amy Pollack of San Francisco. Amy invited Julie to visit her.
At thirteen she married retarded David though the marriage was not consummated. Life was harsh and miserable for she was required to spend most of each day sewing parkas and boots for the tourist trade. A turning point occurred the day David attacked her sexually. She escaped and with her friend Pearl’s help, packed to leave Barrow for Point Hope where she planned to work on a ship bound for San Francisco. She began her travels over the tundra during the Arctic summer. About five days from Barrow, lost and without food, she encountered a pack of wolves. Recalling her father’s advice, she attempted to communicate with them. She built a sod house near the wolves’ den where she observed them intently. By imitating their sounds and body language she became accepted, a “member” of the pack. Ama-roq, the leader, became her wolf-father. There were five pups, one of whom she named Kapu. There was a second male, Nail, and another adult whom she named Jello, a misfit.
The wolves made frequent kills. They supplied her with food by regurgitating, as they do for their young. Miyax, thus, survived. She began to cure and store meat for she knew that when summer ended, the wolves would leave. Unfortunately, upon returning to her sod home after a period of several days she discovered that Jello had destroyed her sleeping gear and equipment and eaten most of her food. Amaroq turned on Jello and killed him.
By constructing a sled, Miyax found she could keep up with the wolves. All went well for some time. She marveled at and appreciated the beauty and serenity of the tundra. Besides the companionship of the wolves, she nursed a golden plover back to health. She named it Tornait, bird spirit.
One dreadful day, a plane carrying bounty hunters shot Amaroq and wounded Kapu but as a result of Miyax’s gentle ministrations, Kapu became well and the leader of the pack. Miyax insisted that he lead the pack back to the wilderness to ensure their safety.
For some time Miyax lived successfully off the land and only killed enough game to sustain herself. On one expedition, she learned from a caribou hunting family that a mighty hunter, Kapugen, lived in the village of Kangik. She joyously set out for a reunion. Upon her arrival she learned that he had adopted “gussak” ways and was married to a white woman. Disillusioned and heartbroken, she returned to her winter ice house on the tundra. She was faced with another disappointment. Tornait died. She began to realize that “the hour of the wolf and the Eskimo is over.” And, “Julie pointed her boots toward Kapugen.”
Not only does the plot captivate young readers, but any one of a number of themes are relevant to contemporary youth especially, projecting a truthful self-image, investigating personal and family relationships, struggling for identity, meeting expectations, and affirming environmental stewardship. Perhaps students would respond in literature reading logs or during class discussions to affective questions which aid them in gaining insight into how Julie coped with and adapted to change by courageously persevering against great odds to come to terms with her personal challenges. Miyax/Julie is a character with whom they can identify and empathize.
Besides worthy themes, this work has subject content that provokes a range of “whole language” explorations and research possibilities. What choices! A student might select two or three activities such as suggested among the following. The choices should appeal to varied interest and ability levels and integrate naturally with other subject disciplines. For example, in science, students might research wolves or any of the numerous birds and animals introduced in the book, explain the cause of the northern lights, or describe the environmental problems civilization has brought to the Arctic. In social studies, they might make a time line of events, study the geography and make a map locating the settings in the story, compare snowmobile and dog sled transportation, build an igloo, or create a tundra. In creative drama, students might dramatize a scene that was action-filled such as the caribou or bear scenes or pantomime Miyax’s initial encounters with the wolves. In art, they might make “Eskimo” carvings from balsa wood or Ivory soap or create a diorama of a favorite tundra scene. In music, students could listen to Eskimo music or create music to accompany Miyax’s songs. And in composition, they could summarize each day’s reading in their literature reading logs, or write a short sequel or a different ending to the book, correspond with a pen pal, investigate the Eskimo language, write a positive or a negative review of the book, or produce a news documentary on living on the tundra. The students themselves would have other related activities to recommend for the book invites inquiry and response.
One of the pleasures of reading good literature is the savoring and sharing of beautifully written passages. Sensory images, similes, metaphors, personification, and vivid descriptions abound. Picture these: “Her face was pearl-round….” “The wind was screaming wild high notes and hurling ice-filled waves against the beach.” “She leaped with grace, her fur gleaming like metal.” “…every wind-tossed sedge was a sliver thread.” “…colored memories… lemon-yellow… fire-red… rose-gray… flickering yellow…” “The bear snarled, lunged forward and galloped toward…” “The great wolves eyes… hardened into brittle yellow jewels…” and “…blood spread like fish ripples on the snow.” Undoubtedly students would discover the many symbols and wish to share them, too. Would they include the wolf pack, the oil drums, Tornait, the hunter’s planes, Amoraq, and Jello? What would they say each represents? George’s style is intellectually stimulating and unique.
A particular focus should be character delineation. Though there are minor characters, the fully-developed, round character is Miyax/Julie. Constructing a character map to point out three or four textual references each of her many acts of courage, of perseverance, of loyalty, of astute reasoning, and of appreciation of nature, wild life, and the environment could result in a lively and cooperative class venture. Students might even be challenged to identify and “prove” one or two flaws the protagonist possesses. The heroine might also be compared to other heroines such as Karana in Island of the Blue Dolphin using a Venn compare/contrast diagram to do so.
Another component of fiction, that of setting, is particularly significant in this work. It impacts upon the main character, and in fact, illuminates her character. Students might wish to ponder whether it is a symbol, whether it is an antagonist, or whether it accomplishes multiple purposes.
Though this is a realistic fiction work in which the literary components of theme, style, characterization, plot, and setting are significant facets, it also contains information about wolves, other fauna, the flora, and the Arctic tundra that is factually accurate. The author, Jean Craighead George, has a degree in English and a Master of Science degree from Pennsylvania State University. She has collaborated in writing a series of nature stories, served as a publisher’s consultant in the natural sciences, and writes both fiction and well-researched nonfiction. Her works reflect original research, scientific observation, and personal experience. Before writing Julie of the Wolves, for example, she studied the behavior of wild wolves in the Mt. McKinley National Park; she observed the ecology of the Alaskan tundra on site and at the Arctic Research Laboratory in addition to doing much library research while writing the book. It is unusual for a writer to excel in both fiction and nonfiction as this author clearly does.
When the book is so outstanding, why are there reports that some teachers are reluctant to use it? There are two reasons, neither of which is justifiable. The first has to do with the so-called “rape” scene. It is not graphic. It is sensitively recorded. It is not sensationalized. It is central to the credibility of the plot. Only a horrifying personal experience of great gravity could induce a young, sensible girl to commence a three hundred mile trek across the frozen Arctic tundra.
The second objection concerns the description of a human eating regurgitated food from wolves. It has been labeled “gross and “unlikely.” Quite the contrary. If Miyax had not known the true, intelligent nature and habits of wolves, and that they respond precisely the way the author describes, she would have starved. All information regarding wolves is factual and can be documented.
Overshadowing these minor objections are the merits of a wellcrafted 1973 Newbery Medal winner for literary quality. The book will forever be timely and appropriate for upper elementary grade students. Not sentimental nor didactic, it emphasizes significant themes, develops a distinctive main character, offers an engaging plot, portrays an historically accurate environment, and employs language that has descriptive power and elegant beauty.
George, Jean Craighead. Julie of the Wolves. New York: Harper and Row, 1977.
WATER SKY (1987)
Harriet McClain (review date May-June 1987)
SOURCE: McClain, Harriet. Review of Water Sky, by Jean Craighead George. Five Owls 1, no. 5 (May-June 1987): 73.
A bowhead whale is coming to give itself to Lincoln Noah Stonewright, the modern day great-great-grandson of a Yankee whaler [in Water Sky ]. The taking of the whale will end two years of suffering for the Eskimos of Barrow, Alaska. Lincoln does not believe it when he learns of his destiny from Vincent Ologak, a whaling captain. Lincoln, a teenager from Massachusetts on his first trip to Alaska, came to Barrow to visit Vincent Ologak and to locate his Uncle Jack, who went to Barrow to save the whales from extinction. Lincoln is taken to the whaling camp on the edge of the ice. In this cold world where dishwater freezes before it hits the ground and where the treacherous ice can shift in minutes, Lincoln learns from the Eskimos how to survive. He cares for a motherless seal pup, battles a polar bear, and confronts his whale. He also falls in love with beautiful Ukpik, whose strong identification with her culture leads Lincoln to question his own values.
Eventually both Lincoln and his Uncle Jack change their minds concerning the Eskimos’ need to take the whales. They see the Eskimo’s respect and honor for the whale and its role in the survival of their culture, which is based on cooperation and sharing. The author has sensitively handled the Eskimos’ struggle to live in two worlds at once; their dual way of life as American citizens and as Eskimos; the world of computers, television, and CB radios and the world of traditional Eskimo values and culture.
A dozen drawings by Jean Craighead George help the reader understand the ice pack and the equipment and procedures for whaling. An Inupiat pronouncing vocabulary and glossary of fifty words and phrases is included at the end of the book.
As in Julie of the Wolves and My Side of the Mountain, Jean Craighead George is at her best as she tells the story of a teenager matching wits with nature and learning and growing from the experience. She skillfully combines the observant eye of the naturalist with the talents of a first-rate storyteller and writer to show the reader a way of life that few will ever be able to experience.
JULIE’S WOLF PACK (1997)
Brenda Dixey (review date September-October 1997)
SOURCE: Dixey, Brenda. Review of Julie’s Wolf Pack, by Jean Craighead George, illustrated by Wendell Minor. Five Owls 12, no. 1 (September-October 1997): 13.
Jean Craighead George has written another potential Newbery-winning novel about Julie and her friends, the wolves of the tundra. Julie’s Wolf Pack is as exciting and riveting as the two previous books in this series about the wolves who saved the life of Miyax, an Inuit girl living in the Arctic. Through action and vivid description, this realistic fiction engages the reader from the opening paragraph. We experience the icy cold and tenseness of the standoff between the musk oxen and wolves in the first scene and remain engrossed in the plight of the wolves throughout the book.
Unlike Julie of the Wolves and Julie, this book centers around the adventures of the wolf packs. These adventures are believable and take place in an authentic setting, the Arctic tundra. Julie plays a minor but important role in the story as she helps the wolves with their fight against rabies. But the main characters are the wolves themselves. We “travel” with them as they move through the seasons in search of food and places to birth their pups. We witness the marking of territories and the respect they have for these boundaries. Throughout the story, Kapu battles Raw Bones for leadership of the pack. As this ongoing conflict escalates and subsides we gain an appreciation for the order that exists in nature. The inevitability of death does not escape the wolves as they face the dangers of the wild country and the outside world of humans.
Some of the vocabulary used in the text may be unfamiliar to the reader but this provides an excellent opportunity for a deeper understanding of the habits of wolves and other environmental issues, including the natural food chain cycle. Terms such as alphas, betas, ruffs and gussaks are explained, thus adding to the knowledge of the reader. A map clearly depicts the territories of the various wolf packs appearing in the story plot. A genealogy chart also aids the reader in keeping the wolves in their respective packs and roles.
It is evident that George has written from experience and extensive research on the characteristics of wolves. She has spent time in the Arctic environment and with scientists, enabling her to write a most believable and convincing story about life from the wolves’ viewpoint. She has captured the essence of nature in the purest sense and provided the reader a glimpse of the awesomeness of the instincts wolves posses, which make their continued existence possible.
Terri Schmitz (review date January-February 1998)
SOURCE: Schmitz, Terri. Review of Julie’s Wolf Pack, by Jean Craighead George, illustrated by Wendell Minor. Horn Book Magazine 74, no. 1 (January-February 1998): 71.
Jean Craighead George returns to the Arctic tundra for this third installment of the story of Julie Edwards Miyax Kapugen and her beloved wolf pack [in Julie’s Wolf Pack ]. This time, however, Julie is only a peripheral character as the wolves themselves take center stage. George chronicles six years in the life of the Avalik wolf pack, now under the leadership of Kapu, the son of Amaroq. In part one, the young and inexperienced Kapu struggles to maintain his role as alpha male against constant challenges from the older malcontent Raw Bones. In part two, the very existence of the pack is threatened by the addition of Ice Blink, a Canadian wolf whose own pack has been destroyed by rabies, and who herself carries the rabies virus. The final segment sees Kapu’s daughter Sweet Fur Amy keeping the pack together after Kapu is captured by scientists researching wolf behavior. George’s years of studying wolves are evident in her depiction of the rhythms and hierarchy of pack life. She excels at describing the ancient patterns of life on the tundra, where cycles of famine and plenty have been constant for millennia, and she presents with great sympathy the conflicts the Inupiat Eskimos have encountered as their traditional co-existence with the natural world collides with the demands of the modern age. However, because she is so scrupulous in not anthropomorphizing the wolves, and the only references to humans are through their interaction with the pack, the book reads more like a biologist’s field notebook than a work of fiction. What should be climactic moments—Kapu’s challenge to the rabid wolf, his capture and removal from the pack, and Sweet Fur Amy’s final humiliation of Raw Bones—are dealt with in a few curiously flat sentences. We are given several welcome glimpses of Julie, but are not able to feel her intense concern for the wolves, experience her emotions when she discovers that Kapu has been captured, or even rejoice as she and Peter are finally able to marry. As for any dramatic tension-these are Julie’s wolves, after all. We have no doubt that they’re smart enough to deal with any challenges that come their way.
John Lemberger (essay date November 1998)
SOURCE: Lemberger, John. “An Alternative Perspective on Masculinity: Julie’s Wolf Pack.” Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 42, no. 3 (November 1998): 245-46.
[In the following essay, Lemberger examines gender roles in Julie’s Wolf Pack.]
In Julie’s Wolf Pack, Jean Craighead George invites the reader to explore the fascinating world of the arc-ttic tundra through the eyes of the Avalik wolf pack. George’s expertise and firsthand experience with this world are clearly evident in her vivid descriptions of the tundra and wolf biology. The accurate portrayal of the wolf’s vital role in the delicate ecology of the tundra is one of the great strengths of this work.
In the first part of the book, the alpha wolf, Kapu, has taken over from his deceased father and must establish his leadership while rebuilding the famine-decimated pack. Kapu’s task is complicated by the presence of Raw Bones, an insubordinate male constantly challenging Kapu for the alpha position. In the second part of the book, Kapu and the Avaliks win a border challenge with a neighboring pack that includes the addition of two of the neighboring pack’s young, Storm Call and Lichen. The caribou also return to end the famine and allow the Avalik pack to reproduce successfully. Seven pups are born to Kapu and his alpha female, Aaka. Four are quickly lost to the dangers of the arctic tundra.
The Avaliks also face the threat of rabies brought into the area by an infected female from a far distant pack. Initially, Kapu is reluctant to allow this female, Ice Blink, to join the Avaliks because he senses something is amiss. Ultimately, Kapu decides to let Ice Blink join the Avaliks to make up for the death of Silver, Kapu’s mother.
In the third part of the book, the Avaliks must overcome the loss of Kapu to scientists interested in using wolves as a model for human behavior studies. Sweet Fur Amy, Kapu’s oldest daughter, becomes the alpha wolf. One year later Kapu is released back into the wild. How the wolves resolve the potential leadership conflict is something this reviewer will leave the reader to discover.
Wolf relations with humans are introduced through the use of a subplot centered on Julie Edwards, an Inupiat Eskimo, and her fiance, Peter Sugluk. In a previous book, Julie is adopted by the Avalik pack and comes to know how to communicate with the wolves in their language. In this book Julie helps the Avaliks by getting them immunized against rabies and is instrumental in the return of Kapu to the wild. George clearly tries to build on the relationship between Julie and the Avaliks to draw a parallel between humans and wolves. Several times in the text wolves are called our cousins and even our brothers. It is stated that, like humans, wolves are social animals, hunt big game, live in family groups, and love their leaders. The scientists’ use of the wolf model to study human relations also serves to strengthen this comparison.
Wolves are portrayed by George as having many human attributes. Jealousy, humor, pride, nobility, grief, and even love characterize the Avalik wolves. By imbuing the wolves with these attributes, George entices the reader to identify with the wolves at a very powerful level. With this, a line is crossed that presents both opportunities and dangers for the author. By building a strong emotional link between the reader and the wolves, George clearly is trying to create an opportunity to sweep away centuries of human ill will toward wolves. Rebuilding the wolf’s image in Western culture is an intelligent first step to ensuring the survival of the various wolf species throughout the world, and George does a great job in advancing this cause.
The role of the male in wolf society raises questions, however, that a thoughtful person must entertain. Wolves are extremely fierce and aggressive animals, as they must be to hunt large game like caribou and moose. To maintain order and cooperation between the fierce and aggressive members of a wolf pack, the alpha male must enforce a top-down hierarchy through intimidation and fear. Danger lies in how young male readers might use Kapu’s leadership style to build their own image of leadership. The legitimate competition between Kapu and Raw Bones for alpha status was settled in wolf fashion by might makes right. Is this a good model for settling human disagreements? As a counterpoint, George offers an example of how two Inupiat Eskimos behave when they disagree. Both people become silent, and we are told that when Inupiat people disagree they think for a long time about their positions. Unfortunately, this powerful example of how one human culture settles disagreements is lost amongst the competition between Kapu and Raw Bones for alpha status.
Gender roles and relationships between the genders are also explored. As the central male figure, Kapu shows a full range of emotions. He is portrayed as brave and fierce, at other times tender and loving, and emerges as a complex personality. Yet he stands out as the ultimate authority in the pack. For example, Silver, Kapu’s mother dies after disobeying Kapu to have puppies. Could this be seen as a subtle reminder that the male authority figure must be obeyed? Kapu must deal with females in both positive and negative realms. Death in the form of rabies is brought to the wolf packs of Brooks Range by Ice Blink, a female. Deliverance is brought by Julie. Kapu must make judgments about both. The wisdom of his decisions profoundly affect the Avalik pack.
George also explores reversal of gender roles when Sweet Fur Amy, Kapu’s daughter, takes over alpha status for the Avaliks. Sweet Fur Amy’s leadership is not as successful as Kapu’s, however. Land is conceded to another pack because Sweet Fur Amy is pregnant and unable to defend the Avalik territory. Under Sweet Fur Amy’s direction, even the hunts for caribou are not as successful. Is this a tacit admission that males make better leaders?
In the end, Julie’s Wolf Pack weaves a wonderful story of the role of the wolves in the ecology of the arctic tundra. George masterfully creates an important argument for the continued survival of wolves on our planet. As George points out, there are some similarities between wolf society and human society. In this book the only danger that wolves present to humans is that some young people might be too naive to understand the differences.
FRIGHTFUL’S MOUNTAIN (1999)
Publishers Weekly (review date 18 October 1999)
SOURCE: Review of Frightful’s Mountain, by Jean Craighead George. Publishers Weekly 246, no. 42 (18 October 1999): 83.
Like the conclusion of George’s Julie of the Wolves trilogy (Julie’s Wolf Pack ), [Frightful’s Mountain, ] this third book in the cycle that began with My Side of the Mountain is told almost exclusively from the point of view of the wildlife. As the novel opens, Frightful, Sam Gribley’s peregrine falcon, is being held captive by poachers. The falcon thinks only of returning to Sam, in a riff that recurs throughout the novel (“She was… searching for the one mountain, the one tree, and Sam”). Once Alice, Sam’s sister, frees the falcon, much of the tension in the novel relates to whether or not Frightful can make it on her own. George builds the suspense in a third-person narration that most often takes the falcon’s perspective, as Frightful hesitates between returning to Sam (who can no longer harbor her) and following the instincts of her breed as a male attempts to court her. The writing is not as fluid here; the pacing bogs down in occasional asides that fill in subplots or conservation issues (e.g., the spring return of Lady, one of Frightful’s “adopted” falcon fledglings, occasions a prolonged discussion of DDT). However, details of peregrine migration, mating and nesting rituals are seamlessly woven into the plot, in which Frightful is threatened both by construction workers and the infamous poachers. Nature lovers will not be disappointed. Age 9-up
Sandra L. Tidwell (review date May-June 2000)
SOURCE: Tidwell, Sandra L. Review of Frightful’s Mountain, by Jean Craighead George. Children’s Book and Play Review 20, no. 5 (May-June 2000): 15.
[Frightful’s Mountain ] is the third book in a trilogy about Sam Gribley, who lives in the Catskill Mountains of New York. Frightful, Sam’s trained falcon, is now on her own, but she yearns to find again the security of the “one mountain among thousands of mountains, the one hemlock tree among millions of trees, and Sam.” As Frightful’s instincts strengthen and her imprinting on humans diminishes, she learns how to hunt in the wild, to brood chicks, to mate, and finally to migrate. Events in Frightful’s life encourage conservationist actions to fix electric transformer poles and to protect falcon nesting sites. The “bad guys,” a group of ruthless falcon poachers, are also part of the action.
This book is a great way to learn more about the work of falconers and wildlife service officers, and how even children can help preserve endangered species. As George states in her “Afterword,” both fictitious and real characters are part of this conservationist-oriented novel. Jon and Susan Wood and Perry Knowlton are real falconers. Heinz Meng, a professor at State University of New York at New Paltz, who raised the first peregrine falcon in captivity, is also introduced to readers. George challenges her readers by using words such as “bole,” “stridulating,” “aerie,” and “nictitating.” George does an admirable job in expressing Frightful’s unique perspective. However, I found some of the transitions between Frightful’s actions and the conversation of other characters in the book to be awkward and confusing. Most of the locations in the novel are real, and at the front of the book readers can find a map showing the Catskill Mountains of New York, the places referred to in the book, and a map of Frightful’s migration flyway. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., also a falconer, is the author of the foreword.
NUTIK, THE WOLF PUP (2000)
Trevelyn E. Jones (review date March 2001)
SOURCE: Jones, Trevelyn E. Review of Nutik, the Wolf Pup, by Jean Craighead George, illustrated by Ted Rand. School Library Journal 47, no. 3 (March 2001): 208-09.
Gr. 3-5—George adapts a story from Julie’s Wolf Pack (HarperCollins, 1997) for a picture-book readership [in Nutik, the Wolf Pup ]. In simple language and a lilting repetitive cadence, she tells of an Eskimo boy and the wolf pup he raises under his sister’s watchful supervision. When Julie presents Ama-roq with a frail wolf pup to raise, she sternly admonishes him not to love it, warning him that the pup’s rightful place is with his pack, and that their foster-care arrangement is only temporary. Amaroq loves the animal anyway, and in the end, a surfeit of love leaves him anything but brokenhearted. Rand’s deeply textured illustrations evoke the expansive white vistas and low light of the Alaskan wilderness in winter. Most of the story takes place during a protracted twilight and nightfall, and the artist successfully integrates the absence of direct sunlight to good effect. This beautiful book is a terrific way to introduce younger readers to George’s award-winning prose.
CLIFF HANGER (2002)
Jeff Zaleski (review date 29 April 2002)
SOURCE: Zaleski, Jeff. Review of Cliff Hanger, by Jean Craighead George, illustrated by Wendell Minor. Publishers Weekly 249, no. 17 (29 April 2002): 69.
George offers an up-close, nail-bitingly dramatic look at the sport of rock-climbing in [Cliff Hanger, ] this picture book adventure, but her unlikely plot scuttles the outing. Young Axel’s dog, Grits, is stranded on a mountain ledge as a thunderstorm approaches. Under the supervision of his father, the leader of the climbing school, Axel braves the elements to rescue his pet. George has the lingo down pat, and infuses the tale with tension—but therein lies the problem. Dag, Axel’s father, calls a halt to the climb, but Axel goes ahead anyway (“Dag had no choice,” George ventures rather limply. “His son was climbing”). Axel reaches the dog just in time (“Crackling electricity lifted the hair straight up on Axel’s head and arms…. Sparks snapped from his ears to the rocks”), but he faces even graver danger on his descent (“No nut, carabiner, or rope was there to save him if he made a mistake”). It’s hard to imagine any adult allowing a child to risk his life in this manner, no matter how beloved the pet, and, in a picture book, this behavior seems implausible at best. Minor serves up a series of realistic action shots that capture the athleticism of the sport but are not always believable—most notably, the picture showing the crackling electricity presents the boy and dog as relaxed and smiling even as the sparks fly. Ages 4-7.
TREE CASTLE ISLAND (2002)
Faith Brautigam (review date May 2002)
SOURCE: Brautigam, Faith. Review of Tree Castle Island, by Jean Craighead George. School Library Journal 48, no. 5 (May 2002): 152.
Gr. 4-7—The Georgia swamp emits a siren’s song to 13-year-old Jack, and he sets off alone in the canoe he made himself [in Tree Castle Island ]. When it has an untimely encounter with an alligator, Jack has the perfect excuse to camp in the Okefenokee and test the survival skills he’s learned from his Uncle Hamp. While there, a chance meeting puts his knowledge of himself and his family in a whole new light. Jack’s survival tale oozes with details of living off the land, from his attempts to gather terpene to his various methods of catching fish and building shelter. The scenes describing the boy’s self-sufficiency in the outdoors are reminiscent of Sam Gribley’s in My Side of the Mountain (Turtleback, 1959). Jack’s experience, however, is limited to a short time, and his skills are largely ready-made for his adventure. A subplot, in which Jack meets a boy who turns out to be his twin and discovers that he is adopted, adds a melodramatic twist that is uncharacteristic of the author. Offering the thrill of independence, an exploration of family and self, and a loving depiction of a specific chunk of nature, this novel will have wide appeal even if it is less magical than George at her best. Despite a few loose ends, it’s solid and worthwhile.
CHARLIE’S RAVEN (2004)
Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 September 2004)
SOURCE: Review of Charlie’s Raven, by Jean Craighead George. Kirkus Reviews 72, no. 17 (1 September 2004): 865.
George delivers another inspiring story [with Charlie’s Raven ] in which nature plays a profound role in the life of a child. Charlie’s grandfather is recovering from a heart attack, but Singing Bird, his Teton Sioux friend, tells him that ravens can cure sick people. He wonders, as he has also heard, if the dark birds have evil, even supernatural, abilities. After capturing a baby raven, Charlie decides to observe him, officially to see the effect of the environment on humans, unofficially to see if Grandpa improves. When given a dram of the Kangi Yuha tribe, or Raven Owners, who had to know the mysteries of the Raven, Charlie is determined to become as knowledgeable. While recording the bird’s good, bad, and mysterious habits, Charlie realizes that there aren’t true dividing lines between good and bad in the natural world and discovers that his relationship to the bird is a symbiotic one. A remarkable intergenerational tale with the beautiful landscape of the Grand Teton Mountains as a backdrop.
LUCK: THE STORY OF A SANDHILL CRANE (2006)
Publishers Weekly (review date 1 May 2006)
SOURCE: Review of Luck: The Story of a Sandhill Crane, by Jean Craighead George, illustrated by Wendell Minor. Publishers Weekly 243, no. 18 (1 May 2006): 62.
In impressive harmony, Newbery Medalist George’s (Julie of the Wolves ) lilting narrative and Minor’s (Yankee Doodle America) stunning paintings follow the year-long, round-trip journey of a young sandhill crane who migrates north to his nesting grounds [in Luck: The Story of a Sandhill Crane ]. The tale opens in a Texas marsh, where a girl removes a plastic six-pack holder encircling the crane’s neck. She names the bird Luck, and watches as he flies off with his parents. Memorizing landmarks below to help them navigate their way back, the family soars north and is joined along the way by 500,000 other cranes, “their voices like wind trumpets, swelling to a choir and then to a symphony.” The “crackaarr” of Luck’s voice acts as a tracking signal for his parents. During his extended, dramatic passage, Luck becomes separated from and then reunited with his parents. He flies with them over the Bering Strait to Siberia, where he was born; finds a mate named Wise and, with her, “danced and composed their own song.” At long last they find their way back to the waiting girl who had rescued Luck a year earlier, and she watches the two cranes spread their wings in a dance together. Minor depicts the graceful birds with his usual meticulous attention to detail, while his landscapesnotably several portraying the crane-filled sky at brilliant sunset-and intriguing bird’s-eye-views of the expanses both above and below are breathtaking. A rewarding and uplifting flight. Ages 4-7.
GOOSE AND DUCK (2007)
Carolyn Phelan (review date 1 December 2007)
SOURCE: Phelan, Carolyn. Review of Goose and Duck, by Jean Craighead George, illustrated by Priscilla Lamont. Booklist 104, no. 7 (1 December 2007): 48.
A boy finds a goose egg by a lake [in Goose and Duck ]. When it cracks open, the little goose sees him and takes him for his mother. Goose soon imitates everything the boy does, from eating spaghetti to hopping on one foot. One day, they watch a little duck hatch out of an egg. The duckling spies Goose and takes him for his mother. Soon Duckling is mimicking Goose mimicking the boy. When a policeman finds the birds, the plot takes some entertaining twists before reaching a satisfying conclusion. Lamont’s colorful illustrations combine sensitive line work with appealing color washes, creating a series of pictures that is always appealing and often amusing. Seasonal changes in the artwork and the biological concept of filial imprinting are not discussed, but are there for observant children to absorb. Sure to please animal lovers, the clearly written story is well suited to beginning readers and, as a read-aloud.
Backer, Joan, et al. “Weaving Literature into the School Community.” New Advocate 9, no. 4 (fall 1996): 327-43.
Favorably appraises Everglades in a survey of children’s books on environmental science.
Discusses Julie of the Wolves and Gary Paulsen’s Dogsong in an examination of Inuit coming-of-age novels.
Lenz, Millicent. “Am I My Planet’s Keeper?: Dante, Ecosophy, and Children’s Books.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 19, no. 4 (winter 1994–1995): 159-64.
Identifies Julie of the Wolves and Allan Eckert’s Incident at Hawk’s Hill (1971) as examples of “well-known books for older children” that “tell tales of harmonic relationships between children and the environment.”
Additional coverage of George’s life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale: Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vols. 8, 69; Beacham’s Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Vols. 2, 4; Children’s Literature Review, Vols. 1, 80; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8R; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 25; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 35; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 52; Junior DISCovering Authors; Literature Resource Center; Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults. Eds. 1, 2; St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers; Something about the Author, Vols. 2, 68, 124, 170; and Writers for Young Adults.
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