- My Side of the Mountain (1959)
- On the Far Side of the Mountain (1990)
- Frightful’s Mountain (1999)
- Frightful’s Daughter (2002) (picture book)
- Frightful’s Daughter Meets the Baron Weasel (2007) (picture book)
When I was a kid, I found some of my dad’s childhood books stuck in a closet in his old bedroom at my grandparents’ house. Some of them, like Jim Kjelgaard’s Wild Trek, went on to become lifelong favorites. Another beloved classic from that stack was the first book in this series, My Side of the Mountain. Like Wild Trek, My Side of the Mountain is about someone living off the land, all alone – a topic that has always fascinated me, and continues to do so. I was very drawn to My Side of the Mountain because of George’s conversational tone, aided by Sam’s first-person narrative, and accompanied by sketches of things like plants, snares, and handmade fishhooks.
Sam Gribley is a teen when he decides to run away from his home – a crowded apartment full of younger siblings in New York City – and try to live off the land in the Catskills, where his family owns, but has never visited, his grandfather’s old abandoned farm. Sam’s parents tell him he’s welcome to try, but obviously expect him to be back home as soon as he gets a little hungry. However, Sam has been doing his research, and although things are hard at first, he begins to make progress as he harvests food and other necessities from the wilderness. Throughout the story we also hear of wild creatures and natural occurrences, a gentle lecture on the ways of the mountain that never feels preachy or forced.
While I had read My Side of the Mountain many times as a youngster, and several times as an adult, I had only read the sequel, On the Far Side of the Mountain, once, and had never read any of the other stories. As you can see from the published dates, these all followed quite a long while after the original story. While enjoyable, the two main sequels definitely felt much more heavy-handed in their conservation message, especially Frightful’s Mountain, which is more or less a constant bombardment of why birds of prey are critical to the balance of nature.
In the first book, Sam finds a peregrine falcon nest, from which he takes a young falcon and raises her to hunt for him. He names her Frightful, and she becomes an amazing part of the overall story. In the second book, a ranger shows up and tells Sam that he is harboring an illegal bird and confiscates Frightful, telling Sam that she will be rehabilitated into the wild. Meanwhile, Sam’s younger sister Alice is now also living in the wilderness. She sets off on her own adventure, leaving a trail for Sam to follow. As the story unfolds, Sam begins to wonder if the person who took Frightful was legitimate, and in the end the youngsters uncover and illegal bird-trading ring.
While it’s a decent story, I didn’t warm to On the Far Side of the Mountain nearly as much as the first story. Part of it is the removal of Frightful, which aggravated me as an adult and genuinely upset me as a kid – I remember distinctly that that was why I disliked this story then and only read it once. The other part is that the whole bit where there is illegal falcon trading going on doesn’t really fit with the rest of the story. It’s an attempt to make things suspenseful, but it just doesn’t flow at all. The whole story would have read much better if Frightful had been taken by a legitimate wildlife officer who also worked with Sam as they rehabilitated Frightful to the wild. Instead there is this weird “mystery” that isn’t really a mystery.
Frightful’s Mountain is a book that will really only interest you if you are fascinated by peregrine falcons. It is all about Frightful trying to survive in the wilderness, despite the fact that she was raised as a tame bird. Throughout, there are very heavyhanded messages about things people – including children – can do to help with the preservation of these rare and beautiful birds, most of which seem to do with writing letters to people, which the children in this book do incessently. For me, there was more preaching than story, and aspects of the story seemed rather convoluted so that they could fit with the preaching. It wasn’t a bad book, but it definitely wasn’t one that I would particularly care to read again.
The final two books are actually picture books with beautiful illustrations but minimal story. Pleasant, but nothing amazing.
All in all, while I enjoyed reading through this series, I only ever see myself returning to My Side of the Mountain in the future. While the rest of the books were a worthwhile one-time read, they really lacked the simplicity and interest of the original tale.