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My Side of the Mountain Project Pack Review by Dawn Oaks

In the Hands of a Child
3271 Kerlikowske Road
Coloma, MI 49038

"Adventure" is the keyword when considering the written works of Jean Craighead George. Her book My Side of the Mountain is no exception. It is the story of young Sam Gribley, who desires to return to the wilderness near his grandfather's old farm. Sam leaves his family to spend a year using minimal tools and his own wits to survive all alone. This is a story of courage, honor, resourcefulness, and survival.

Jean Craighead George is an author but also a naturalist at heart. She knows the land, environment, animals, and interrelationships that make survival in the woods possible. This same ability to pull all of the pieces together is a talent of the folks at In the Hands of a Child, as demonstrated through this project pack designed to accompany and more fully explore My Side of the Mountain.

This project is thorough to the full extent of the definition of "thoroughness." As with the study of any piece of literature, the project pack begins with a review of the setting, characters, author biography, and plot summary. Next are chapter-by-chapter summaries and discussion questions. Throughout the pages that cover these chapter summaries are sidebar topics that deal specifically with basic survival skills. These sidebars provide a wealth of information that help the reader to start making Sam's experience his own.

After the chapter summaries, you'll find a comprehensive vocabulary list to accompany the study. Unlike the publishers of other guides, In the Hands of a Child provides the corresponding chapter number for each vocabulary term. This may seem like a small thing, but in actuality it is a huge help to moms and students. A related reading list is provided right after the vocabulary terms and their definitions. This reading list highlights other works by the author as well as survival books appropriate for students.

Some literature studies stop here. However, project packs from In the Hands of Child combine the study guide with a full breadth of lapbook activities to keep the more active student engaged and excited. These activities will help your student to fine-tune many literary and writing skills. Reading comprehension is challenged as the student completes Activity #2 (listing the five items that Sam took with him when he ran away). Literary analysis is employed in Activity #7 as the student analyzes the things that went wrong on Sam's first night in the wilderness. Creative writing in the form of writing instructions is completed in Activity #8 as the student is asked to write his own instructions on how to start a fire. This is just a small sample of the 32 different activities that are contained in this study.

We encountered two challenges in completing this study. The first was keeping our students from reading ahead; they thoroughly enjoyed George's book and had already done their own search to find out which of her other books were in our local library. The second challenge is related to the age-old question "What came first--the chicken or the egg?" In this case, the question is "Should the My Side of the Mountain project pack be considered a unit study on survival skills that uses a piece of literature as a demonstration or a literature unit study that just happens to be about survival skills?" Our family would say that it is both, and isn't that one of the many blessings of homeschooling?

Product review by Dawn Oaks, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, March 2010