Reading Jean: A 100th Birthday Celebration
Today would have been Jean Craighead George's 100th birthday. She passed away in 2012 at the age of 92, but even if she didn't make it into the triple digits, her booklist did. George was a prolific author, writing over a hundred books - mostly for kids and mostly about nature and animals.
As a child, animal books were all I ever wanted to read. E.B. White's stories were an early favourite and still sit on my shelf, alongside titles like The Wilds of Whip-Poor-Will Farm, Misty of Chincoteague, The Dog Who Wouldn't Be, Beautiful Joe, and Where the Red Fern Grows. When most girls my age were reading The Babysitter's Club series - well, I was reading those too, but I was also devoted to The Saddle Club. I went through a Jim Kjelgaard phase and a James Herriot phase, accidentally learning a lot about the American wilderness of the 40s and 50s and life in rural England in the process.
So why then do I only remember reading one of George's books, the Newberry Medal winning Julie of the Wolves? I genuinely don't know. Maybe my school library didn't carry many of her other books. I'm certain her other best-known title, My Side of the Mountain, was available at school - it's possible I read it and have forgotten, but it's just as possible that my opinionated young self assumed it would only be about a boy hunting to survive and not have nearly enough living animals in it to count as good reading.
I'm not sure why most of the works of Jean Craighead George never made it to my childhood end table, but now as an adult they've started making it onto my tablet. The first set of books George published were co-written with her husband and are referred to as The American Woodland Tales series. A few years ago I realized their very first book - Vulpes the Red Fox - was available on Amazon Kindle and picked it up. I read it then and enjoyed it so today, in honour of her 100th birthday, I've started reading it again and loaded up the rest of the Woodland series to follow.
Digital editions read as an adult will never hold the same place in my life as the well-worn books of my youth, but that doesn't mean it's too late to learn what I can from them and from a woman who - as I just learned today - was still writing in celebration of animals four days before she died.
Happy Birthday Jean, wherever you are.