My Side of the Mountain is written for kids ages 9 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Twelve-year-old Sam Gribley decides to run away from home in May 1959. He doesn't dislike his large family, but he dislikes his dependency on them, and he believes he can build a good life for himself in the Catskill Mountains. Thanks to his avid reading, Sam is able to survive for many months in the wilderness alone, save the company of a few friendly strangers. Sam fishes in the stream and traps small animals and deer for food and supplies. He also builds a home in the trunk of a giant hemlock tree, and he trains a wild falcon as a pet. Eventually, Sam entertains visitors, including his father. Reporters and photographers uncover Sam's story of survival after several months and come to the mountain to investigate the "wild boy." Nearly a year into his adventure, Sam's family joins him and decides to build a home on the land where he's been living.
When Sam wanders into town on a Sunday morning, he notes that most of the townspeople are in church. He talks briefly with a man named Aaron, who has come to the Catskills to be involved in Passover activities.
Although Sam's father says he is proud of his son, he doesn't search for him for many months after Sam runs away. Even after Sam's father finds Sam, he doesn't take Sam home. Instead, he's impressed by his son's survival skills and says Sam's mother won't have to worry because Sam is eating well. After nearly a year, the family joins Sam. Only then do his parents decide he needs to be 18 before he can live on his own. Other adults, such as Miss Turner the librarian and Bando — a college English teacher who gets lost in the woods and lives with Sam for a short time — befriend Sam, but they make no effort to return him to his family.
Other Belief Systems
Sam reminisces about Halloweens back home and even throws a Halloween "party" in which he puts out food for the local animals to enjoy. However, Sam's party gets out of hand when some raccoons break into his winter food supply and a frightened skunk sprays him.
Heck and gosh each appear once. A mother falcon attacks Sam as he takes one of her babies from its nest.
Newbery Honor Book, 1960; George G. Stone Center for Children's Books Merit Award, 1969
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- What does Sam lie about so he won't be discovered and removed from his self-made home in the mountains?
Is this is a good reason for hiding his identity? Explain.
Is lying ever justified?
- How could a young person really survive in the woods alone as long as Sam did?
Why wouldn't most young people survive?
Would you survive?
What do parents do for you that help you survive?
Which of these things didn't Sam appreciate?
- Why does Sam run away from home?
Are his reasons justified?
Why is running away from home, when it's based on an emotion or selfishness, irresponsible?
What happens to a lot of kids today who run away from home?
Why don't some of these kids go back home when they find themselves in trouble?
If you ever become upset with your family, what will keep you from running away from home?
- In what ways do you view Sam's new life as an adventure?
In what ways do you feel he was irresponsible?
What does he miss most about his home?
What would you most miss if you were in his shoes and lived in the mountains?
- What are some of the lessons Sam learns from his experience in the mountains?
- What clues made you think that Sam may want to be found (toward the end of the book)?
How does he feel about his family moving to the mountains to live with him?
- How do Sam's experiences provide him with a unique appreciation and respect for nature?
How can observing the plants and animals that God made help us to understand and respect Him more?
Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.