My class read Clan Of The Cave Bear in fifth grade. I'm not sure why — was it part of English? History? Sex ed? What I do know is that it was vivid, and steamy, and taught us a gesture that meant, "You, on your knees for fornication. Now."

Clan Of The Cave Bear, published in 1980, was the first hefty novel in Jean M.Auel's "Earth's Children" series, which included 1982's The Valley of Horses, 1985's The Mammoth Hunters, 1990's The Plains of Passage and 2002's The Shelters of Stone. Combined, Auel's novels have sold more than 45 million copies worldwide; Shelters of Stone debuted at #1 on bestseller lists in 16 countries. Daryl Hannah starred in the poorly-recieved Hollywood movie based on COTCB, and Auel tells Reuters, "I got burned so badly with that film… To me it was such a terrible film."

Still, for a fifth grade girl interested in ancient civilizations, Clan Of The Cave Bear held a magnetic pull. Most history lessons were male-oriented, from cavemen to pharaohs to Mozart and George Washington. Clan Of The Cave Bear imagined what a little Cro-Magnon girl (Ayla) could have been like, and dealt with hunting, gathering, sex, childbirth and survival from a female point of view.

Auel's sixth and final book in the Earth's Children series, The Land of Painted Caves, hits stores today. Auel was a 40-year-old mother of five when she first came up with the idea of writing COTCB; she's now 75. She says leaving Ayla's world behind is "going to be sad," but she claims to already be thinking about what's next:

"I'm thinking that it might be fun to find a whole other era, something like the beginnings of agriculture," she said.
"Why did we go from millions of years of hunting and gathering to putting seeds in the ground to putting fences around animals and domesticating them?"

Jean Auel Concludes Prehistoric Saga With 6th Book [Reuters]
Jean M. Auel [Official Site]