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Throughout her career, Jean Craighead George has been renowned for integrating scientific knowledge and a love of nature into her stories for young readers. She received her B.A. degree from Pennsylvania State University in 1941 and in 1968 was named Woman of the Year by that institution. George was a reporter for the Washington Post and Pageant magazine and a roving editor and nature writer for Reader's Digest before she became a full-time author. Over the years she and her children have raised 173 wild pets, eventually returning them to nature; the chronicle of those many creatures can be found in her book, The Tarantula in My Purse (1996). In 1982 she wrote an autobiography titled Journey Inward about her childhood, marriage, divorce, career, and her adjustment to being alone after her children had grown up. She continues to tavel and explore, and goes on hikes regularly.
George's first books were animal biographies, co-authored with her husband John, and based in many cases on actual experiences with the animals. In 1956 she and her husband won the Aurianne Award for best nature writing with Dipper of Copper Creek. But her greatest recognition came when she started writing books on her own. My Side of the Mountain, written as the diary of Sam Gribley, a young boy who leaves New York to live in the Catskill Mountains for a year, received a Newbery Honor Book Award in 1960. Sam writes detailed observations of the wildlife, plants, and the changing seasons around him while discovering the importance of courage and his own relationship to nature. The book was highly praised and has since become a favorite for several generations of young readers.
In 1973 Julie of the Wolves won the Newbery Medal; it was also a National Book Award Finalist, received the German Youth Literature prize, and (in its Dutch language edition) captured the Silver Skate Award. The riveting tale of a young girl who gets lost on the Alaskan tundra and survives by being adopted into a wolf pack, this book has become a modern classic. Only a few years after its publication, Julie of the Wolves was selected by the Children's Literature Association as one of the ten best American children's book in the past 200 years. Both My Side of the Mountain and Julie of the Wolves are fine examples of how George weaves together many elements--scientific facts about animals and plants, the importance of living in balance with nature, an understanding of cultures and the difficulties of growing up--to form gripping and believable tales.
Jean George is an active researcher of her books, and many of the events in them are based on her own experiences. Her nonfiction is often as exciting to read as her adventure stories. In the "One Day" series, written in the 1980s and re-released with new illustrations in the 1990s, George focused on a different habitat in each book--the tundra, the desert, the prairie, etc. Her "Thirteen Moons" series, in which each book focuses on a different animal and its behavior during one of the thirteen moons of the year, was also re-released in the early 1990s.
Twenty years after her Newbery Award for Julie of the Wolves, Jean George published a sequel, Julie, that tells the story of Julie's return to the Eskimo community and her adjustment to living with people again. Julie's Wolf Pack appeared in 1997. Sam's story was also continued in On the Far Side of the Mountain in 1990. The third book, Frightful's Mountain, is told from the point of view of the falcon, as the third book in the Julie series is from the wolves' perspective. George's ability to empathize with animals of all kinds informs both her fiction and nonfiction. In Animals Who Have Won Our Hearts in 1994 she introduced her readers to ten real-life animals with amazing stories--Koko, a gorilla who learned sign language, and Sugar, a cat who traveled from Oklahoma to California to rejoin her human family, among others.
Jean Craighead George has received the Kerlan Award from the University of Minnesota, the de Grummond Award from the University of Southern Mississippi, and the Knickerbocker Award in New York--all for her body of work. The Washington Irving Award from the Westchester (N.Y.) Library Association in 1991 was presented to On the Far Side of the Mountain. Her books have consistently appeared on "Best" lists and the compiled lists of important books in the fields of social studies and science. Whether writing fiction, nonfiction or picture books, she has succeeded in bringing the natural world vividly to life for readers of all ages.