By Maureen Tai, 26 September 2018
“Today is just like every other Sunday. Except a touch sunnier.”
Up the Mountain is a charming, gentle and deeply evocative picture book about a chance friendship, the simple wonders of nature, the inevitable passage of time and the healing power of kindness. The unlikely pair of friends are an older, wiser badger and a younger, curious kitten, and their relationship is reminiscent of that of a grandparent and a grandchild.
Fans of The Lion and the Bird, written and illustrated by the same author – the talented Canadian Marianne Dubuc – will fall in love with this beautifully told tale.
Old Mrs. Badger lives at the foot of a mountain. At the end of every week, she takes a walk along a narrow path to the mountain’s summit. The path winds through a wooded forest, across a freshwater river and past apple trees to a rocky incline. Once over the rocks and at the top, Mrs. Badger enjoys a picture postcard vista of lush green trees, a rushing river and blue skies (or seas?) that stretch around her as far as the eye can see.
On her way to the mountain top, Mrs. Badger stops to say hello to her neighbour Frederick, a white-throated bunting bird. She pauses to pick plump edible mushrooms for Alexander, her fox-friend. Luckily for an overturned tortoise, Mrs. Badger is happy to lend a hand to flip him over. A stout walking stick in her hand, she continues on her way and you can almost hear her humming a happy tune of some sort.
But Mrs. Badger is being watched and followed. A small ginger and white kitten peeps out from behind a bush, then from behind a tree. Mrs. Badger senses the kitten’s presence, and finally acknowledges it and kindly invites him to join her on the fallen tree trunk, where she is sat unpacking her snack of cookies. They eat together and the kitten, whose name is Leo, confesses to Mrs. Badger that he’d like to climb the mountain as well. But Leo is afraid to, because he is too little. Mrs. Badger knows better than to force Leo to do something he isn’t ready for. She tells Leo that she was probably as wee as Leo when she first climbed the mountain and so saying, she continues on her way. What will Leo do? Will he stay on the tree trunk, trepidatious and forlorn, or will he follow Mrs. Badger? Not really a spoiler (this is a children’s book after all) but Leo listens to his heart and is rewarded with the marvels of nature and the teachings of his new wise friend, Mrs. Badger.
Shared experiences, secrets and stories bind Mrs. Badger and Leo to each other, and to the next generation of mountaineers. It is only when Leo is open to new challenges and relationships that he learns about the world around him and about himself. It is worth the risk of getting hurt and of suffering the loss of loved ones. What is a life well-lived, if not that?
For ages 6 and up.