Jean Craighead George was born on July 2, 1919. She grew up in Washington DC, in a family of naturalists who loved the outdoors. Her love of animals and nature started early. George told The Journal News of Westchester in 2003, “By the time I got to kindergarten, I was surprised to find out I was the only kid with a turkey vulture.”
She attended Penn State University, where she earned degrees in Literature and Science. She worked as a journalist for years, until she married and had three children. As her kids became old enough to join her on outdoor adventures, George took them on camping, canoeing, and climbing trips. All these experiences served as insight for her books.
George authored more than 100 books in her career. While she primarily wrote fiction and nonfiction nature stories for children, she also authored guides to cooking with wild foods and an autobiography. George wrote several books before her middle grade fiction novel My Side of the Mountain became a Newbery Honor book in 1960. She studied nature and wildlife, and this allowed her to bring reality into her fiction. Her time at the Naval Arctic Research Laboratory in Barrow, Alaska, drew her into the life of wolves, and helped her then create the story Julie of the Wolves. The novel won her the Newbery medal in 1973.
Over the years, George kept upwards of 170 pets, not including the dogs and cats, and seemed to thrive on nature in all its forms. George said “Most of these wild animals depart in autumn when the sun changes their behavior and they feel the urge to migrate or go off alone. While they are with us, however, they become characters in my books, articles, and stories.”
George died peacefully in 2012 and left a huge legacy behind. While so many publications may seem like a lot, George said “the list is not really long when you consider that there are almost 250 million beautiful plants and animals on this earth that I could have written about.”
Find out more about Jean Craighead George at her website.