The Tarantula in My Purse and 172 Other Wild Petsby Jean Craighead George
Humorous, heart-warming, and just plain entertaining, these stories by Newbery Medalist Jean Craighead George recall what life was like as she raised three children and 173 wild pets. On any given day there might be a bat in the refrigerator, an owl in the shower, or a crow at the kitchen table. Jean Craighead George's respect for nature and its many creatures is evident in all of her writing. Here, she offers a personal, firsthand account of the many animals that made their way into her life and her books.
1996 'Pick of the Lists' (ABA)
1996 Children's Books (NY Public Library)
Born in Washington, D.C. and raised in a family of naturalists, Jean George has centered her life around writing and nature. She attended Pennsylvania State University, graduating with degrees in English and science. In the 1940s she was a member of the White House press corps and a reporter for the Washington Post. Ms. George, who has written over 90 books - among them My Side of the Mountain (Dutton), a 1960 Newbery Honor Book, and its sequels On the Far Side of the Mountain and Frightful's Mountain (both Dutton) - also hikes, canoes, and makes sourdough pancakes. In 1991, Ms. George became the first winner of the School Library Media Section of the New York Library Association's Knickerbocker Award for Juvenile Literature, which was presented to her for the "consistent superior quality" of her literary works.
Her inspiration for the Newbery Medal-winning Julie of the Wolves evolved from two specific events during a summer she spent studying wolves and tundra at the Arctic Research Laboratory of Barrow,Alaska: "One was a small girl walking the vast ad lonesome tundra outside of Barrow; the other was a magnificent alpha male wolf, leader of a pack in Denali National Park ... They haunted me for a year or more, as did the words of one of the scientists at the lab: 'If there ever was any doubt in my mind that a man could live with the wolves, it is gone now. The wolves are truly gentlemen, highly social and affectionate.'"
The mother of three children, Jean George is a grandmother who has joyfully red to her grandchildren since they were born. Over the years Jean George has kept 173 pets, not including dogs and cats, in her home in Chappaqua, New York. "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."
- HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.61(d)
- Age Range:
- 8 - 12 Years
Read an Excerpt
The Screech Owl Who Liked Television
Twig's favorite pet was a small gray screech owl. Had he not fallen from his nest before he could fly, he would have lived in the open woodland, deciduous forest, park, town, or river's edge. But he had landed on a hard driveway instead and ended up in our house. He was round eyed and hungry. He looked up at Twig and gave the quivering hunger call of the screech owl. Twig named him Yammer.
Yammer quickly endeared himself to us. He hopped from his perch to our hands to eat. He rode around the house on our shoulders and sat on the back of a dining-room chair during dinner.
Before the green of June burst upon us, Yammer had become a person to Twig, who felt all wild friends were humans and should be treated as such.
Wild animals are not people. But Twig was not convinced. One Saturday morning she and Yammer were watching a cowboy show on television. They had been there for hours.
"Twig," I said, "you've watched TV long enough. Please go find a book to read, or do your homework." My voice was firm. I kept the TV in my bedroom just so the children wouldn't be constantly tempted to turn it on as they had when it was downstairs.
Reluctantly, Twig got to her feet. At the door she turned and looked at her little owl. He was on top of the headboard, staring at the screen. A rider on a horse was streaking across the desert. From an owl's point of view the pair were mouse sized.
"How come Yammer can watch TV and I can't?" she asked, pouting.
Hardly had she spoken than Yammer pushed off from the headboard, struck the prey with his talons, and dropped to thefloor, bewildered.
Twig rushed to his rescue. She gathered him up and hugged him to her chest. With a scornful glance at me, she hurried to her room. The small owl's round yellow eyes were peering from between her gently curled fingers.
Twig was right: This otherworldly creature was a person. Wasn't his menu of mice and crickets included on the shopping list? Didn't he have his own bedroom in the gap between the Roger Tory Peterson field guides in the living-room bookcase? Didn't he run down into the cozy blanket-tunnels made by Twig at bedtime and utter his note of contentment? And didn't he like TV just as she did?
Most scientists are taught not to read human emotions into animals, but sometimes they wonder about the truth of it. When you live with animals, they often seem quite humanlike.
Later that morning of the TV incident, I looked in on Twig and Yammer. The owl was perched on the top of her open door, preening his feathers. She was sitting with her chin in her hands, looking at him.
"I feel sorry for Yammer," she said. "He's stuck in this house. He needs to see things that move like they do in the woods."
"So?" I said.
"So, I've finished my homework and made my bed. Can Yammer and I watch TV?"
I heard myself whisper, "Yes."
Lettin Yammer Go
When I told Twig she could watch TV that day of the cowboy incident, she stood on her desk and held up her hand to Yammer. He stepped onto her finger. As she climbed down, she touched his toes and the talons curled around her forefinger.
I wish I had Yammer's feet," she said. "Then I could sit on the teeny tiny branches of the apple tree."
Suddenly her brother Craig shouted, "Road Runner's on."
"Yammer loves Road Runner," Twig said, and dashed to the TV in my bedroom. Yammer flapped his wings to keep his balance, and the two joined Twig's brothers, Craig and Luke, before the television. Luke, not quite four, patted the pillow next to him.
"Put him here," he said. A chord of music sounded, lights flashed, and all eyes-particularly Yammer's-were riveted on that zany bird running on and off the screen.
Second to Road Runner was Yammer's love for the shower. He would fly into the bathroom when he heard one of us turn on the spray, sit on the top of the shower-curtain rod to orient himself, then drop into the puddles at our feet. Eyes half closed, he would joyfully flip the water up and into his wings and dunk his breast until he was soaked. A wet screech owl is as helpless as an ant in an ant lion's trap. Having bathed, Yammer couldn't climb out of the tub. We would have to pick him up and put him on a towel by the hot-air vent to dry.
This was a perfectly satisfactory arrangement until we failed to tell a visitor about Yammer's passion. In the morning, unaware of his quiet presence, she showered, stepped out of the tub, and left him there. It was almost noon before we discovered him.
Craig promptly put up a sign: "Please remove the owl after showering." It hung over the shower faucets for as long as Yammer lived with us.
Yammer was devoted to Twig. He sat on her shoulder at breakfast, flew to her hand for food when she whistled for him, and roosted on the window-curtain rod of her room when he was not watching TV.
Meet the Author
Jean Craighead George wrote over one hundred books for children and young adults. Her novel Julie of the Wolves won the Newbery Medal in 1973, and she received a 1960 Newbery Honor for My Side of the Mountain. She continued to write acclaimed picture books that celebrate the natural world. Her other books with Wendell Minor include The Wolves Are Back; Luck; Everglades; Arctic Son; Morning, Noon, and Night; and Galapagos George.
Richard Cowdrey has illustrated numerous books for children, including Bad Dog, Marley! by John Grogan, Animal Lullabies by Pam Conrad, and Frosty the Snowman by Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins. He is the owner of a yellow Labrador, Murray, whose behavior is remarkably similar to Marley's. He lives in Ohio with his wife and children.
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