As an author, I occasionally read books on writing–On Writing by Stephen King and The Glamour of Grammar (Roy Peter Clark) among my favorites. As I was rereading On Writing recently I got to the section about how we need to read all the time so I walked in the other room and grabbed a King novel off the shelf ready to dive in. Uh no, a little voice said. You need to read middle grade since that’s what you’re working on right now.
Drats. I knew little voice was right. Too bad our public library is in the process of packing up and moving during a remodel. Little voice reminded me of the shelves of kid books I already own and the next thing I knew I had plucked My Side of the Mountain (Jean Craighead George) off the shelf.
To be honest, I thought I had read this book aloud to my children many years ago, but I soon discovered I had been thinking of Hatchet. (My daughter still insists that I surely read it.)
Anyway, as I began reading My Side of the Mountain, the writing didn’t strike me as particularly great. Wow, I thought. My writing’s at least this good!
Then the plot struck me as highly unlikely. Really? A boy runs away from home, tells every adult he meets that he is running away from home, and they all pretty much just wish him well? I check the date. Hmm. Published in the 1950s. I go to Mountain’s Amazon Page . . . 695 4 1/2 star reviews. I start reading the 1 star reviews. Yes, there are people who don’t love this beloved award-winning classic.
I return to the book and keep reading. I find My Side of the Mountain is best read in chunks, not all in one sitting. The boy, Sam Gribley, just accomplishes too many things to read it all at once. You must be able to suspend disbelief in order to get into and stay interested in the plot. Even then, there will be eye-rolling moments.
However, after sticking with it, I did really start to enjoy the life of Sam Gribley out in the wild, living an entire year with his animal friends and inside the tree he made into a home.
After all, don’t we all want to do that sometimes? And that’s the charm of the book.
Like any good book that sweeps away the reader, the key is the reader being able to suspend disbelief and be caught up in the story. And judging by the many positive ratings on Amazon, the vast majority of people can do that.
For those who are easily bored and must have nonstop page-turning adventure, I understand why they don’t like My Side of the Mountain. Those people would also do well to steer clear of the Little House On the Prairie books.
But for those who like to be enchanted and carried away to another time or place or lifestyle, My Side of the Mountain will always have an audience.
Sandra Smith is the author of the awesome and award-winning middle grade/YA series, Seed Savers. Visit her Facebook and Pinterest pages. Follow her on Twitter. Sign up for the newsletter!