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Author Chat With Jean Craighead George
Transcript of Live
August 17, 2004
NYPL Welcome to our online chat with Jean Craighead George, naturalist and author of over 100 books. Her book, Julie of the Wolves, won the Newbery Medal in 1973. My Side of the Mountain, the story of a boy and a falcon, was a 1960 Newbery Honor Book.Welcome Jean!
JEAN_AUTHOR Welcome readers, on this beautiful day! This is Jean Craighead George calling from Chappaqua NY!
HarlemSoul Do you still have wild animal pets?
JEAN_AUTHOR I don't have any wild animal pets right now because you have to have licenses and permits to possess them. I do have an African grey parrot, however, that is legal and she says "Who let the dogs out...." she also says "Vote for Kerry!"
ecfs I really loved "My Side of the Mountain." I felt like I was there with Sam. How do you make it seem so real?
JEAN_AUTHOR I think I make it seem real because I was there too. Those were the things I did as a young girl with my father and brother. We would find plants and live off the land. We would build lean-tos and tables way out in the woods. And we even trained falcons. So I know how it all feels. I think as a writer you do your best when you write about your own experiences.
ecfs What do you do when you can' t think of anything to write?
JEAN_AUTHOR Fortunately, I have never been in that position because I have 250 million species to write about... all the wild things on the earth including human beings. I was just looking at a bumblebee on a flower as I came in my house today and I thought now there's a beautiful story. What I'll do is look up bumblebees... and write a story... and hope I won't get stung!
Dian hello. what is ur favorite book?
JEAN_AUTHOR My favorite book is the one I'm working on and it's called Luck. It's about a sandhill crane on his way from Texas to Siberia. He stops at the Platte River in Nebraska where I visited and watched 500,000 of these huge, six foot tall cranes come down to the river every night to sleep. What a sight. They wrote the story for me.
EastVillageSara Is it true that Julie of the Wolves is coming to Broadway as a musical? When? I would love to play Julie!!!
JEAN_AUTHOR Yes, Julie of the Wolves is coming to Broadway. It's in the workshop stage. It was presented at the Museum of Natural History. It takes a lot of work. I hope it will appear next year, but I have no idea. This is a difficult business.
Fran Would you tell us the story about the crow?
JEAN_AUTHOR I had a crow that my son called Crowbar. He fell out of his nest in a storm and Craig brought him home. We fed him, looked after him, got him up on his feet. Because we were feeding him and taking care of him we became his parents. It's called imprinting and it's a charming way to take care of a bird. He followed us around the house. He walked my son to the bus stop every morning . He slept in the apple tree outside the house, and I had read that you can teach crows English or Swahili so I began repeating "Hello" over and over to Crowbar.
Nothing happened and I had just about given up when the man who delivered the groceries said "Oh, Mrs. George I am glad to see you here. I heard you in the apple tree saying hello." I ran out and there was Crowbar in the apple tree saying hello. He was smart and learned how to make use of that word. All around me are picnics and neighbors having BBQs and Crowbar discovered that if he flew down to a laden picnic table and said hello they were terrified. They grabbed their children and went indoors... and Crowbar had the cheese and the olives and the candy and stuff himself and then come back to the apple tree in our yard.
Crows love shiny things and I would have to hunt around the house to find car keys, or a bracelet. We played with him outside in the sandbox where there were shiny things. One day I came to the back door and said "I'm not going to play with that crow anymore, he takes all my toys." And there were the toys in the apple tree. I said "okay, do something else, slide down the sliding board."
Off I went to work and all was going great until Crowbar appeared at the top of the slide. He started pushing himself down but got stuck. He took off, went to the sandbox, picked up a coffee lid, and took it too the slide and zoom, we had a sliding crow.
If you think crows are fabulous, I have just finished a book called Charlie's Raven. This is the same family of birds as crows, blue jays, and western nutcrackers. Ravens not only work things out, they are social birds and work together . In the back of the book is a raven vocabulary and what all of the different sounds mean. You can talk raven talk to your friends and your mom and dad won't know what you're saying.
EastVillageSara Do you have children? Do you take them camping?
JEAN_AUTHOR I have three children, Twig, Craig and Luke, and six grandchildren. Two boys in the Arctic, two in Baltimore and two in California. What do we do for a holiday? We all get together and go camping. I used to take them camping when I write a book, because I won't write a book unless I've gone and camped in the environment. It was so much fun that when we get together we go camping.
kay11 What got you inspired to write children's books?
JEAN_AUTHOR I just love to write and I love to write about animals, and the children found me. I wasn't sure what I'd written.... My first books were animal biographies about a mink and racooon and I kept getting letters from children. I thought, "there's my audience, I love animals and they love animals". I have written for adults but it's much more exciting to write for children. I don't know why except I feel that they respond more. They are more interested and really want to learn about the things other than human beings on this earth.
ecfs Who is writing the music/lyrics for the musical?
JEAN_AUTHOR A very talented musician and composer called Chris Kubie. I am the lyricist. I studied poetry first in my career under Theodore Roethke, a Pulitzer Prize winning poet, and I have always loved poetry although I always thought I wasn't as good at it as prose. Barbara Dana and I are working on the book and she is an actress, TV writer, play writer and a fabulous person to work with because she loves wolves.
JEAN_AUTHOR Chris went to high school with my daughter and lives nearby and was always considered a young genius. His music is unbelievable. You'll love it. I was lucky to get him.
Stephen Did u ever think of writing another autobiography other than There's A Tarntula In My Purse?
JEAN_AUTHOR I probably should pick up from where I left off in the other autobiography but I'm intrigued now with combining music and art and literature and I 'm very involved with that. Maybe I'll get back to it in my old age! I'm 85 but my mother lived to be 103 so I have some time!
Shanti What kind of music do you listen to?
JEAN_AUTHOR I listen to opera and symphonies. I love symphonies. I like a lot of the modern music, particularly the indigenous music, particularly salsa and the Maori, Eskimos and other cultures.
DIEGO_ How many years have you been writing books?
JEAN_AUTHOR I began writing in 3rd grade, that's 82 years ago and haven't stopped since. My first book was published in 1946. After college I worked for newspapers, the Washington Post and a wire service, International News Service. I loved it. Boy, you picked up stories in Washington in those days. I really wrote my best when I was writing about the animals and plants that I had grown up with and that my father had taught me about and that I had learned about in college.
KPJ do you have lions?
JEAN_AUTHOR I only took and raised the North American animals. I left the lions and tigers to other people. However, I never had a wolf or a bear. The reason I never had a wolf was because one of the wolf scientists told me that wolves would pull out the lining of the couch to find out what the springs are all about. They get up on china closets. The real reason to not take a wolf as a pet is that people shoot them. We are still terrified of the wolf for no reason. They have never killed a person in North America! They run away when they see us.
ecfs What are your hobbies?
JEAN_AUTHOR I'm a big fisherman but I paint... I don't think of these as hobbies they are part of writing. Everything you do as a writer is part of your work and gives you insight.
HarlemSoul What are the best tasting wild foods you have eaten in research for your books besides blubber?
JEAN_AUTHOR The best tasting wild food, of course the berries are all wonderful. I think it's dandelion heads. They are delicious. You take the flowers, dip them in a little bisquick and fry them in a little butter. Day lilies are good too, when they are buds.
Aaron Why do you like birds so much?
JEAN_AUTHOR I like birds because they are visible and you can watch them and how they behave. You think about how often you see a squirrel or a beaver or any of the mammals compared to birds at your feeder. And they are beautiful!
ecfs Do you speak other languages?
I did speak German and I can understand it when I hear it, but as for conversing, I lost my vocabulary a long time ago. Raven talk, and dog and cat talk is fascinating, too.
Stephen In Julie of the Wolves, the boy that likes Julie, does he go to college?
JEAN_AUTHOR That's in Julie, a boy who comes from Siberia, a dancer who comes to one of their festivals. That's who Julie meets and that's who she marries. No, he didn't. They learn from their elders and what they have to learn is when the ice is safe, where the polar bears are, and how to hunt for whales. There is now a college in Barrow Alaska that the young Eskimos are going to now, today, to learn about the new world that they live in.
VNSummerReaders have you ever been in the Bronx, or visited Bronx schools before?
JEAN_AUTHOR I talked to one of the Bronx schools maybe 7 or 8 years ago, and their questions were remarkable. They have good schools there!
DIEGO_ Is it fun to be an author?
JEAN_AUTHOR I just love it. I have a perfect life where I read, I go out into the wilderness and camp. I meet scientists and learn about their studies of wild animals and then I come home and I sit at my computer, close my eyes and start creating the world I have seen. Then I get up and make supper! I have a bird feeder and a waterfall in front of me and the birds are there now. Put up a bird feeder. You get more information about yourself, about birds, about.... It's fun!
aqib_ where do you come from?
JEAN_AUTHOR I was born in Washington D.C. and went to high school there and every weekend my brother took us to the Potomac River wilderness. Then I went to Penn State because in the summers my family lived in my father's old home in Craighead, Pennsylvania near Carlisle.
After college I came back to Washington to work for the newspapers and then I married and lived in a tent with my husband for four years while he got his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan studying the birds of the farmland. Living in a tent with these animals night and day was the best education on nature I ever got. Now I've been in Chappaqua 42 years. I like it here!
KPJ Are you an illustrator and an author?
JEAN_AUTHOR Yes, I am. I illustrated all of my animal books and also My Side of the Mountain and that trilogy. I've illustrated Charlie's Raven. There are so many better artists that I only do the books where I know more about the animal behavior than the artist would and could illustrate them better. But I love it! I still go painting.
Mike When your were a kid, did you ever want to run away??
JEAN_AUTHOR I sure did. We have a family story... My mother got mad at her mother and said I'm going to run away from home... Mother got down to the end of the walk and came home. I told my mother I was going to run away and my mother packed my suitcase. I got to the bus stop and came home. This got me started writing My Side... and how he got out to the wilderness. His dad thought "Oh, he'll be back" but Sam made it.
Mike Did you have brothers and sisters?
JEAN_AUTHOR They wrote for National Geographic when they were 17. They were the first to put radio collars on the bears, learned where they went in the winter, who their friends were and how not to become extinct. They were very well known for their work. They are identical twins! I wrote a book about twins, called Tree Castle Island.
Aaron Why do you write about wild animals so much?
JEAN_AUTHOR I like to write about wild animals because a lot of the things they do are like the things we do. I get a better understanding of myself when I understand birds get up in the morning, stretch and yawn, have breakfast, bathe, get upset and angry (their emotions are short-lived but they are real.) So do we. I learn a lot about myself watching these incredible creatures. What do you think about a beetle that lives in the desert? How does it get it's water? Early in the morning the change of temperature condenses in the air and puts little droplets of water on the hairs on the back of the beetle. When he wants a drink he stands on his head and all the water runs down to his mouth. He's called the headstand beetle and I love him! The world is full of things. Turn over a stone and you will find under it beetles, and a cricket. Look at the cricket and how he makes music. He has a file on his wings and he scratches it like a violin.
HarlemSoul You have traveled to Alaska, land of the midnight sun, and to the swamps of the Everglades, do you have a favorite place on the planet?
JEAN_AUTHOR Up under the snow. It can take 7 years to become an adult moth. It takes him a month down here. My second favorite place is the forest we live in, I call it the forest of the falling leaves. It's the most beautiful, oldest and most varied of all the forests on the earth. I look down at the floor of partridge berries and ferns and I want to get out and lie down and sleep for the night. Take good care of it.
ecfs Are any of your books being made into movies?
JEAN_AUTHOR Yes, My Side of the Mountain was made into a movie in 1969 I think. Theodore Bikel was Bando and Teddy Eccles was Sam and the falconry is beautiful in that movie.
Aaron My brother and I have created a website called wesaveanimals.org. It's about animals, and saving them.
JEAN_AUTHOR That's fabulous! I'm going to look it up. Good for you. You will have lots to write about!
ecfs How do you come up with funny moments like when Sam thinks that Bando is a criminal?
JEAN_AUTHOR :-) Well when you are out in the woods and trying to be alone and quiet, anyone who comes walking along is a criminal! Although, I think Sam really wondered what Bando was doing out in the woods if he wasn't a criminal.
kay11 Who was your favorite writer when you were a kid?
JEAN_AUTHOR I loved Mark Twain, he was terrific. And Louisa May Alcott. Charles Dickens. We didn't have a lot of children's literature when I was growing up. A.A. Milne came along when I was in college. I read everything I could and there were a lot of good books around in those days.
Shanti If you had to be an animal what animal would you be and why?
JEAN_AUTHOR I think I would be a wolf. That's a beautiful life, and they live up in Alaska, and Yellowstone. They are friendly and live in a nice big family of wolves and seem to have a great time together. Every spring I go to Yellowstone to see the reintroduced wolves. They play with their puppies. They go out and bring back food. They chase coyotes. They sit down and howl for the pure joy and fun of it.
Tania_Islam Did your mom and your dad want you to be an author?
JEAN_AUTHOR They encouraged me, yes, but I never thought I 'd be an author. I just loved to write. They gave me my first typewriter when I was 12. They were always very proud of what I did which helped a lot. There's nothing like having parents go along with your ambitions and love.
DALINDA_B.C.K Did any one of your family members help you make up your stories?
JEAN_AUTHOR No they didn't because they are not made up. Often they are part of it. When you read Charlie's Raven I am watching them and more or less making a novel of what they do. You can't have anyone help you in that sense. You have to be the observer.
VNSummerReaders What kind books do you like to read?
JEAN_AUTHOR For information and ideas so I subscribe to science magazines. I read my friends books. I read a great deal before I start writing. I read a lot of poetry, too.
NYPL Jean, is there anything else you wanted to add?
JEAN_AUTHOR I want to say to all those wonderful children: read, read, read and write, write, write!
NYPL Thank you for coming to our online chat. Please visit the website in a few days to see the full transcript!