Visitors to the 15th annual Children's Book Day program on Saturday, Sept. 15 at Sunnyside in Tarrytown missed seeing a familiar face. Author and Chappaqua resident Jean Craighead George, one of the earliest participants in the program, died in May at the age of 92. A guest book for signatures and comments and copies of her books were on hand for those wishing to remember her.
She had written more than 100 books during the past 60 years, mainly for children and mostly about animals. When I talked to her two years ago, she pointed out that in her books, "Animals are not cartoon-character animals, they are real animals." Two of her most recent works were "The Cats of Roxville Station" and "The Buffalo Are Back."
She on rare occasion strayed to write about nature-related topics as evidenced by her recipe book for outdoors enthusiasts, Acorn Pancakes and Dandelion Salad and 38 Other Wild Recipes, published in 1995.
Her parents and other family members were devout naturalists so she gained valuable insight to the animal world at an early age. Her parents often took her and her brothers camping near their Washington D.C. home to study birds and nature and collect edible plants. Her first pet was a turkey vulture.
She graduated from Penn State University with a degree in Science and Literature and in the 1940s, worked as a reporter for The Washington Post; she was a rarity then, a female member of the White House Press Corps.
Her love for animals did not wavier with time. Owls, mink and tarantulas were among the 173 pets she gave to her children.
Her critical successes included My Side of the Mountain, the story of a thirteen-year-old boy and a falcon surviving on a mountain together, for which she won a John Newbery Medal in 1960 from the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association. (This annual award is given by the ALA to recognize the most distinguished contribution to American literature.) The book was made into a 1969 movie by Paramount starring Theodore Bikel, Ted Eccles and Tudi Wiggins.
She again won a John Newbery Award in 1973 for Julie of the Wolves, published the previous year. She travelled to Alaska to learn about wolves firsthand in preparation for the writing of it. She would later write two sequels.
During her 60-year writing career, she wrote more than 100 books including Masked Prowler, the Story of a Raccoon (1950), Bubo the Great Horned Owl (1954), Coyote in Manhattan (1968), The Grizzly Bear With the Golden Ears (1982), How to Talk to Your Cat (1986), Elephant Walk (1998), and Frightful's Daughter Meets the Baron Weasel (2007).
The number of her books sold is in the millions.
Remembering Jean Craighead George
Historic Hudson Valley, the organizer of Children's Book Day, released the following statement:
At our 15th annual Children’s Book Day on Saturday, we are dedicating the day to beloved children’s author Jean Craighead George.
Jean, who passed away earlier this year, has been one of our grandest and longest supporters. Her joie de vivre provided fun, dignity, and positive energy for nearly all of our 15 years. When invited to participate, she was always among the first to respond with an enthusiastic, "Yes, of course I will be there!”
So many people over the years have expressed what Jean’s books have meant to them. Jean always knew the right tone to take when writing for children, never preaching, and taught by simply telling of the wonders of nature. Jean wrote for children but never in a childish manner. Her lessons were lifelong, her love and thoughtfulness emanated from the pages.
Jean’s life was filled with love for her extensive family, friends and nature. She wrote with passion and genuine care of her subjects; human, wildlife, and the natural world. Her lifelong love of the world around her was evident in all her books. We should all be grateful to Jean for keeping the natural world in children’s literature and we miss her tremendously.
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