On the Far Side of the Mountain

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by Jean Craighead George. Novel. 128 pages. Grades 4-6.
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Review

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This is the sequel to My Side of the Mountain (Dutton, 1988 ISBN 0-525-44395-9) and is the continuation of the story of Sam Gridley, a young man determined to live with nature, not against it, in comparative isolation on a mountain in the Catskills of New York. Now his younger sister Alice has joined him there, more or less and leaves a trail for him to follow through the mountains where he may rescue his beloved falcon, Frightful.

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Things to Talk About and Notice

  • Sam's journal is of great importance to him. He rereads sections and is quite faithful about writing in it. Why would it be of greater importance to Sam than it might be to you?

  • Notice Sam's choices for names for his animals and Alice's name for her pig. What name might Sam have given it? What name would you use?

  • Alice is anxious to participate in Sam's lifestyle but her wants and needs often differ sharply with Sam's. Which would you argue for? Sam is fighting against the need to modernize. Look about you. Which technology would you be willing to do without and for how long?

  • Bando helps Sam with companionship as well as with hard work, but his needs are not always consistent with Sam's. Bando sneaks off to enjoy a good meal and a comfortable bed and has put in a hard wood floor in his cabin. Is it only because of Zella? Contrast Bando's gear for the trip with that of Sam's.

  • Leland Jacobs has said that the beginning of a book is the author's promise to the reader. Look at the first lines of the book:
    This June morning is hot and humid with a haze so dense I can barely see the huge hemlock tree in which I live. I like the haze. It has erased all but the great tree trunks, making my mountaintop home as simple as it was when I first came here more than two years ago.

    What has the author promised you? What do you know about Sam from these words?

  • Look at the last lines of the book. Do you think there will be another book in the series? What would you like in it?
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Activities

  • Much is made in the book of topographic survey maps. Get one for your area and locate landforms and landmarks. Contrast the information with that of a highway or street map of the same locale. Get one for a totally unknown area to you. Decide where you would build or camp, what water would be usuable, what food sources. Could you live on the side of one of the mountains?

  • There is also much information in this book as well as the earlier one about natural foods. Find and taste some of them. What edible plants grow wild in your area? Make a guide to them and their uses.

  • The information on falconry is extensive in On the Far Side of the Mountain. Write down what you know about the subject from reading this book and then extend your information using other sources.

  • Of course you'll want to make working models of the projects undertaken by Sam and Alice: the mill, the dam, the barometer, the compasses, the nut pounder, and the sawmill. It might be fun to play the tracking game as well. Go to the closest thing to wilderness you can find, divide into teams and leave clues for each other. How obvious do they have to be?

  • Think about Jean Craighead George, the author of On the Far Side of the Mountain. Find out what you can about her life. How did this grandmother come to know so much about the out of doors? Look at other novels she wrote. How many of them center around young people surviving on their own? Has she written a sequel to any of the others? Why do you think she returned to Sam Gridley for another story?
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Related Books

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    Grades 1 - 3
    Emmaline and the Bunny by Katherine Hannigan. Chapter Book. 112 pages.
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    This chapter book uses a sweet approach to tell a cautionary tale of a town that doesn't allow any messiness. The consequences for one little girl effect her own quality of life as well as the wilderness environment. The writing is full of creative word usage and begs to be read aloud. A charming gem of a book. Read More.

  • Compare Sam to Matt Hallowell from Elizabeth George Speare's Sign of the Beaver (Houghton, 1983 ISBN 0-395-33890-5). Matt immediately eats the available food and has minimal survival skills. Would Matt make it with Sam? Would Sam have coped as well in the time of Sign of the Beaver?

  • Sam's quest for survival in the wild was entered upon willingly. Look through the literature for books about survivors such as Slake in Slake's Limbo by Felice Holman (Macmillan, 1974 ISBN 0-684-13926-X. ) Slake's survival underground was, at least at first, born of necessity. His skills for survival are different than either Sam or Matt Hallowel. Whose physical condition is better at the beginning and at the end of their stories? With which of those environments could you possibly survive?

  • Make a chart listing main characters from survival novels with different settings. List their tools, their skills before and after their ordeals.
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