Anyone watching juvenile by-lines saw the step-by-step change, characteristic of our time, from Vulpes, the Red Fox (1948), by John and Jean George, to the Newbery runner-up My Side of the Mountain (1959), by Jean George, to the Newbery medalist Julie of the Wolves (1972), by Jean Craighead George. The story of those changes, though short on narrative shape or emotional weight, is a representative one too—with natural history sidelights special to the author (also, a regular Reader's Digest contributor). Jean Craighead and John George met during World War II, and quickly married. She was a reporter, from a family of professional naturalists; he was an ecologist-friend of her (soon-to-be-famous) brothers Frank and John, short of a Ph.D. Out of their mutual interest in animals, and her typewriter, came Vulpes and other animal life-histories—whose originals (Meph the pet skunk, Bubo the horned owl) also helped compensate for her miscarriages and his self-absorption. They had a daughter (he had hoped for a son), and then two sons (the first, "deliberately"—as conception theory then went). Meanwhile John taught at Vassar, she goaded him into finishing his thesis, then set aside a long-cherished project of her own ("about the boy who survives in the wilderness") to help patch up his reputation. He lost the Vassar job anyhow, she was overwhelmed with child-care—and so she wrote, finally, the story of Sam Gribley who runs away: "Girls were not free to run away and survive except incognito." The marriage would dissolve, in acrimonious fits and starts. (John, she came to see, was "imprinted" with strong women; she, conflictingly, with "the strong male images of my father and two brothers.") And then begins what is most persuasive: her undramatized account of being, with the three children, a "lopsided," mutually-dependent, single-parent family—in suburban Chappaqua, N.Y., in the drug/protest/runaway days. Interspersed are stories of New York the crow and other personable family pets; of bookwriting (with deft salutes to editors Elizabeth Riley and Ursula Nordstrom); of a companionable romance; and of natural-history expeditions and ethology investigations—especially the trip to Alaska that resulted in the cathartic Julie of the Wolves. Chiefly for those who do recognize the by-line-but with some potential for other conflicted women.
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