December 26, 2012



Our #6 story of 2012 is about the life of one of the giants among children’s nature writers, Jean Craighead George.



Yesterday was a very special day, because I went to the memorial service for the great writer Jean Craighead George. She died this year at age 92, and her daughter Twig told me that her mother had still been writing up until four days before her death. Isn’t that wonderful?

Jean grew up in a family of naturalists, in a house full of rescued wild animals. She once told an interviewer that when she started kindergarten she was shocked to discover that she was the only child who had a turkey vulture for a pet! She wrote in an essay for "Children’s Books and Their Creators": "I have discovered I cannot dream up characters as incredible as the ones I meet in the wilderness."

  Jean was an outdoorswoman her whole life, and many fellow authors and editors who spoke about knowing her yesterday described trips they made with Jean to visit the wolves in Yellowstone National Park, to the great aquarium in New Orleans, and to observe whales migrating in Alaska. Amy Kellman, a librarian from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and a longtime friend of Jean’s, quoted a line from one of Jean Craighead George’s books in which she was describing a peregrine falcon named Oxie, who "did things her own way." Kellman said that she always thought Jean was describing herself when she wrote about the independent falcon.

Her son, Dr. Craig George, is a Senior Wildlife Biologist in Barrow, Alaska, working with bowhead whales. Craig told the gathering that just a few years ago his mother camped with them on unstable ice, at minus 20 degrees, during the bowhead census. "She was absolutely fearless," he said.


Jean Craighead George wrote more than 100 books. The most famous one was JULIE OF THE WOLVES. Have you ever read it? It is a wonderful story about a girl known as Miyax in her small Eskimo village; to her friend in San Francisco, she is Julie. When Miyax runs away from her village, she finds herself lost in the Alaskan wilderness. In danger of starving to death, Miyax survives by copying the ways of the wolves. She is soon accepted into their pack, and when she finally returns to her old life, she struggles to decide who she is - Miyax of the Eskimos—or Julie of the wolves? 

Here is a passage from the story:

Miyax stared hard at the regal black wolf, hoping to catch his eye. She must somehow tell him that she was starving and ask him for food. This could be done she knew, for her father, an Eskimo hunter, had done so.


Jean Craighead George was a great supporter of the Wolf Conservation Center near her home in Chappaqua, New York.

At the end of yesterday’s memorial service, stories, we all sang "This Land is Your Land"......and then Twig asked for a minute of silence.

As we sat quietly, the doors in the back of the auditorium opened and a trainer leading a white wolf entered the room. We all rose to our feet as this gorgeous creature, from the wolf sanctuary that Jean Craighead George loved, took the stage and looked at us all. It was magical.


I admired Jean as a writer and a person. She was, and still is, an inspiration to my own writing. She will always remain one of the towering figures in children’s literature, one of the inspirational models for the rest of us in her field.



Photo: Rocco Staino / School Library Journal

Posted by: Seymour Simon

Labels: 2012 Countdown   •  Permalink (link to this article)   •  Share: