Remembering Jean Craighead George
Jean Craighead George, Newbery medalist and author of My Side of the Mountain died on May 15th in Westchester, NY. She was 92. George was the first recipient of NYLA’s Knickerbocker Award, given by the Section of School Librarians, in 1991. In 1998, the Youth Services Section presented her with the Empire State Author Award.
George, author of more than 100 books, was a familiar presence in New York libraries. She and her family lived in Poughkeepsie before moving to Chappaqua, New York where she was alongtime resident.
The Catskill Mountains were the setting of her 1959 classic, My Side of the Mountain (Dutton, 1959) which tells the story of Sam Gribley, who runs away from New York City to find his grandfather’s abandoned farm. Sam is frequently described using libraries in the novel and until this day, including a public library in Delhi, NY. To this day, visitors stop at the Cannon Free Library in Delhi to ask questions about the book and its locale.
My Side of the Mountain was given a Newbery Honor in 1960. New York State also selected it as its first selection for the National Book Festival’s “Discover Great Places Through Reading Map.” Her Julie of the Wolves (Harper & Row, 1972) went on to win the 1973 Newbery Medal from the American Library Association.
"Jean Craighead George was a very strong, very outspoken, very opinionated writer in the best sense of all of those words,” said Jane Friedman, CEO and founder of Open Road Media and former head of HarperCollins. “She knew her own mind and was the best thing you could say about anyone- she was her own woman. Jean will be greatly missed but will always be remembered through her incredible work."
Ellen Hunter Ruffin, Curator of the de Grummond Children's Literature Collection at The University of Southern Mississippi told NYLA, “Jean gave her passion for nature to children. While crafting fine stories and characters, she also taught about the natural elements of our world.”
Jean Craighead was born on July 2, 1919 into a family of naturalists. After graduating from Pennsylvania State University she spent time as one of the first women in the White House Press Corps. After marrying John George in 1944 she became a professor’s wife, mother and magazine writer.
She is survived by her daughter Twig and her sons Craig and Luke, and six grandchildren.
In 1991, NYLA/SSL established the Knickerbocker Award for Juvenile Literature. It recognizes a New York State author who has demonstrated, through a body of work, a consistently superior quality that supports the curriculum and the educational goals of New York State schools.
The Empire State Award is given annually and was first presented in 1990. It is a one-time award presented to a living author or illustrator currently residing in New York State. The award honors a body of work that represents excellence in children’s or young adult literature and that has made a significant contribution to literature for young people.
A 2009 School Library Journal visit with George for her 90th birthday in her longtime Chappaqua, NY can be found here.