Jean Craighead George and the Natural World
An Interview with Jean Craighead George
by Tana Elias
Jean Craighead George was born in a family of naturalists. She attended Penn State University, graduating with a degree in Science and Literature. In the 1940s she was a reporter for The Washington Post and a member of the White House Press Corps. She has written over 100 books. Of these, Julie of the Wolves won the Newbery Medal in l973, and My Side of the Mountain was a 1960 Newbery Honor Book. She has received more than 20 other awards. She lives in Chappaqua, NewYork and has three grown children – her sons Craig and Luke are now environmental scientists, and her daughter Twig writes books for children. Ms. George presented the Third Annual Charlotte Zolotow Lecture on Wednesday, September 27, 2000.
TE: Some of my favorite books of yours are the earlier ones that I read as a child, including "The Thirteen Moons" series and the "One Day" series. How did you come up with the ideas for these series?
JCG: "The Thirteen Moons," a series of nature events by the moon seasons, was inspired by a great horned owl hooting outside my window one cold January night. I sat up in bed. I was thrilled to realize that the year had begun with that call. The old owl, the first bird to mate and nest each year, was courting his mate. I started the series the next day.
"The One Day" series came about when I truly became an ecologist and saw the interacting life in the American ecosystems - the woods, the desert, the alpine tundra, the prairie and, after a trip to Venezuela, the tropical rain forest. My father, an entomologist, was behind this idea. He always told me you can't study an animal without getting involved in its whole ecosystem.
TE: You've had a chance to work with several publishing houses and editors. Do you feel publishing has changed in the years you've been writing children's books?
JCG: Publishing has changed, yes; most of it for the better. For instance, the wonderful color and art we now achieve in children's books was undreamed of when I was illustrating my own books 50 years ago. Also positive are the broader outlook and variety of subjects we write about today. Kids can now read about social changes, growing problems, difficult situations and ethnic diversity, plus just about anything else unheard of 50 years ago in children's publishing.
Where publishing is failing, in my opinion, is in the meshing of many small publishers into one or two big conglomerates. I find the staffs are over worked and disheartened and that is reflected in the quality of the books.
TE: What do you look for in an editor?
JCG: A good editor, firstly, is one who can put his or her finger on a place in a manuscript that needs work or clarification. If you say, "Oh, yes," and can't wait to get home and make the manuscript even better than his/her suggestion, then you have a good editor.
When discussing ideas a good editor is one who picks up on the casual stories you feel strongly about, but don't realize they might be a book – the Everglades where I helped my father do research, a pet crow my children and I raised, and even my stories about my mother, which I have never written.
TE: Several of your books have been illustrated by Wendell Minor. Were you instrumental in choosing him as an illustrator for your material? How did that collaboration come about?
JCG: Wendell Minor did the second jacket for Julie of the Wolves and the illustrations The Moon of the Owl. We met for the first time at an ALA cocktail party in the United Nations Building. When we discovered we both visited and studied the locations of our books, we knew we would make a good team – and so we have.
TE: Your web page says that you're "collaborating with award-winning composer, Chris Kubie to bring the sounds of nature to [your] words." What's involved with that project?
JCG: I hear music in nature and had wished for years some artist could bring music to words as artists bring images. When Chris Kubie, our local musical genius, suggested to me that he write all the music for One Day In the Woods, which I had rewritten as a children's musical, I said, "do it." He did; and we began a long and exciting collaboration. Chris has composed a CD The Thirteen Moons, as well as One Day In the Tropical Rain Forest. He is now working on the music for the film Julie of the Wolves (which just might happen) and has completed the music for the musical, Julie of the Wolves.
TE: What projects are you working on now? Can we expect any new books in the fall of 2000, or in 2001?
JCG: I am just putting the final touches on a young adult novel set in the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia. The working title is A Call From the Swamp.
This fall Nutik the Wolf Pup and Nutik and Amaroq Play Ball will be published by HarperCollins. Ted Rand did the wonderful illustrations of Julie’s half brother, Amaroq. These books are picture books for the younger set.
How to Talk To Your Dog and How to Talk to Your Cat (both published by HarperCollins) are on the market now. These books are written by popular request of children. When I speak in schools and tell them about "wolf talk" they want to know how they can communicate with their pets.
And we are all working on the film Julie of the Wolves.
About Jean Craighead George
George, Jean Craighead. Journey Inward. Dutton, 1982.
George, Jean Craighead. Website. http:// www.jeancraigheadgeorge.com
Something About the Author. Volume 68. p. 79-85.
Selected Books by Jean Craighead George
Frightful’s Mountain. Dutton, 1999.
How to Talk to Your Cat. Illustrated by Paul Miesel. HarperCollins, 2000.
How to Talk to Your Dog. Illustrated by Sue Truesdale. HarperCollins, 2000.
Julie. HarperCollins, 1994.
Julie of the Wolves. Harper & Row, 1972.
Julie's Wolf Pack. HarperCollins, 1997.
The Missing Gator of Gumbo Limbo: An Ecological Mystery. HarperCollins, 1992.
The Moon of the Monarch Butterflies. Illustrated by Murray Tinkelman. Crowell, 1968.
New edition illustrated by Kam Mak. HarperCollins, 1993. (One of thirteen books in "The Thirteen Moons" series)
Morning, Noon and Night. Illustrated by Wendell Minor. HarperCollins, 1999.
My Side of the Mountain. Dutton, 1959.
On the Far Side of the Mountain. Dutton, 1990.
One Day in the Woods. Illustrated by Gary Allen. Crowell, 1988. (One of five books in the "One Day" series)
Snow Bear. Illustrations by Wendell Minor. Hyperion, 1999.
The Tarantula in my Purse: and 172 Other Wild Pets. HarperCollins , 1996.
The Wild, Wild Cookbook: A Guide for Young Wild-Food Foragers. Illustrated by Walter Kessell. Crowell, 1982.
Reprinted from Friends of the CCBC Newsletter 2000, Number 3 with permission of Tana Elias and the Friends of the CCBC, Inc. ©2000 Friends of the CCBC, Inc.