Fifteen-year-old Sam Gribley has decided to run away from his crowded apartment home, but unlike most kids who rarely get beyond their block, Sam goes from New York City all the way to the ruined farm of Great-grandfather Gribley in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York. There are no buildings or people on the old Gribley farm, so Sam sets up residence by hollowing out the trunk of an ancient Hemlock tree. He has brought only a few tools of survival with him: a penknife, a ball of cord, an ax, 40 dollars, and some flint and steel to help him make fire. Using these simple tools and his wits, Sam learns to live off the land, and in the course of a year, discovers just how much he values freedom, independence, and adventure when faced with the challenges of blizzards, loneliness and fear.
Jean Craighead George is particularly adept in her use of animal characters, whose actions and habits communicate as much as if they were imbued with the unrealistic ability to speak. Sam's pet falcon, Frightful, for example, is a lively and complex companion, as is The Baron, a humorous weasel who lives nearby.
This Newberry Honor Book combines recipes, drawings, diary entries and narration to create an enthralling portrait of a boy's self-sufficiency. Outdoor lovers will find lots of information about survival skills, and all readers will identify with Sam's ups and downs as he lives out every child's secret dream. For those who would enjoy reading more about Sam and Frightful, George has penned a sequel, On the Far Side of the Mountain, as well as the final book in the trilogy, told from the falcon's point of view, Frightful's Mountain.