Julie series // by Jean Craighead George

  • Julie of the Wolves (1972)
  • Julie (1994)
  • Julie’s Wolf Pack (1997)

Despite the fact that I read and loved (and reread and reloved) George’s My Side of the Mountain so many times, I never really hit it off with the Julie books.  And as with Mountain, the sequels to the original Julie story were published decades later, which seems strange.

The original story is about an Eskimo girl named Miyax who runs away from home, hoping to somehow make it to her pen pal in San Francisco.  However, when the story opens, Miyax is lost on the Alaskan tundra, where she is befriended by a pack of wolves.  Throughout the story, Miyax becomes a member of their pack.

I was confused by multiple things.  The main one was – why does the title of the book use Miyax’s English name, which she hates, but the narrative uses her Eskimo name?  Secondly, I found it almost impossible to believe that Miyax would be able to “speak” with the wolves, using their body language, in a way that would actually convince them to adopt her as one of their own.  Thirdly, the book had a sad/bittersweet ending that, on reflection, is probably why I didn’t like or revisit this book as a kid.  I’ve always been a fan of happy endings.

Still, it wasn’t a bad story.  I was engaged in Miyax’s survival and her observations of the pack, even if I did think it sort of crossed the line sometimes, as wolves aren’t actually people, and while they may be intelligent, they are still animals, not humans.

The second book deals with Miyax and her family, as she is now living with humans again.  Like Frightful’s Mountain, this book felt just a little preachy when it came to concepts of conservation, the circle of life, we all need one another, let us join hands/paws with the wolves, etc etc.  Not necessarily bad lessons, but very heavy-handed.

Finally, Julie’s Wolf Pack is from the perspective of the wolves, and covers some of the story from Julie and then beyond.  While a bit simplistic, it was overall an enjoyable and interesting story about wolves in the wilderness, and actually may have been my favorite of the three.

All in all, I enjoyed reading these, but didn’t connect with them all that much.  They were all around the 3.5* range.  Pleasant one-time reads, but not books I see myself returning to again and again.

My Side of the Mountain Series // by Jean Craighead George

  • 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 Trekwent 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.