Jean Craighead George
Born in Washington, DC, on July 2, 1919, Jean Craighead George loved nature from an early age. Her parents, aunts, and uncles, all naturalists, encouraged her interest in the world around her, and she later drew from that passion while writing more than one hundred books for children and young adults.
In the 1940s, after graduating from Pennsylvania State University with degrees in science and literature, George joined the White House Press Corps. She married John Lothar George in 1944 and moved to Michigan, where John was attending graduate school. Her husband shared her love of nature, and they lived for a time in a tent in the forest. They began to write novels together, with Jean providing illustrations. Their first novel, Vulpes, the Red Fox, was published in 1948.
Following the birth of their first child, the Georges relocated to New York, living first in Poughkeepsie, then in Chappaqua. The family welcomed wild animals into their backyard, to stay for as long as they wished, but the creatures always remained free to return to the wild. Many of these temporary pets became characters in the stories the couple wrote together.
After winning the Aurianne Award, the American Library Association’s prize for outstanding nature writing, for Dipper of Copper Creek (1956), George began to write on her own, at first continuing to illustrate the books herself. She won a Newbery Honor for her third novel, My Side of the Mountain (1959), which tells the story of Sam Gribley, a young boy who runs away from home in New York City to live in the Catskill Mountains in Delaware County, New York. The book was adapted into a film by the same name in 1969.
In 1963, divorced from her husband, George and her three children, Twig, Craig, and Luke, began to travel around the country, visiting parks and preserves to learn about the plants and animals that thrived there. These experiences were the inspiration for many of George’s novels, including what is perhaps her best-known work, Julie of the Wolves (1972).
In the summer of 1970, George and her youngest son, Luke, visited the Naval Arctic Research Laboratory near Barrow, Alaska, one of the northernmost cities in the world. In preparation for a Reader’s Digest article, George studied the wolves living on the tundra nearby, learning about the animals’ social structures and intricate methods of communicating through sound, sight, posture, and scent. One day, George saw a very young girl crossing the tundra alone. The image remained with her as she began to write Julie of the Wolves, the story of an Inuit girl who escapes her abusive husband and survives in the wild by joining a wolf pack.
Julie of the Wolves was awarded the Newbery Medal in 1973. The book was a finalist for the National Book Award, and it was selected by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) as one of the ten best American children’s books of the previous two centuries. A film adaptation was released in 1987, and George later wrote two sequels about her Eskimo heroine, Julie (1994) and Julie’s Wolf Pack (1997), and shorter illustrated stories about the wolves, Nutik, the Wolf Pup (2001) and Nutik and Amaroq Play Ball (2001).
George also wrote sequels to her first award-winning novel, My Side of the Mountain. The Far Side of the Mountain (1990) and Frightful’s Mountain (1999), along with the picture books Frightful’s Daughter (2002) and Frightful’s Daughter Meets the Baron Weasel (2007), relate the further adventures of Sam Gribley and his peregrine falcon, Frightful, as they live off the land in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York. George and her daughter, Twig, published their Pocket Guide to the Outdoors (2009), a practical companion volume to the books.
George wrote more than one hundred books in the last five decades, including the Thirteen Moons series (1967–69), comprised of illustrated chapter books about wild animals in their natural habitats through the seasons of the year. Most recently, she collaborated with illustrator Wendell Minor on more than a dozen picture books for younger readers, including the Outdoor Adventures series.
In addition to this extensive list of fiction for children and young adults, George published an autobiography, Journey Inward (1982), in which she reflected on her life as a writer, naturalist, and single mother. George passed away on May 15, 2012, at the age of ninety-two.