CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 17. . . .January 3, 2014
A Mountain of Friends tells the story of a penguin who wants to fly, but he needs the help of his friends, and the reader, to do so. By asking the reader to physically rotate the book, the story continues vertically, with animals as diverse as can be, from elephants to goldfish, stacking themselves up to help the penguin fly above the clouds.
A Mountain of Friends’ simple story of assistance and friendship includes the reader in a unique and engaging way. By asking the reader to get involved in realizing the penguin’s dreams, the theme of cooperation can become more reflective and personal for young readers. The moment where the book becomes meta-fictive comes as a surprise to the reader, and a happy one. However, I expected that this interactive narrative would continue, but there was only one time in the book where the reader can “help out” the penguin. This seems like a missed opportunity; more spins and shifts of the book, even using the diagonal, would help this book stand out from the sea of other interactive picture books. I also felt like the reader is left out at the end of the story. Although there is a “thank you” from the penguin, I wanted the penguin or another character to acknowledge the reader’s help in a more concrete way.
As a book originally written in German, the translation is impeccable as the book allows the illustrations to do most of the talking. The text is sparse but effective in storytelling, and I appreciated the opportunity to gaze at Schoene’s beautiful illustrations. Her characters are full of animated expression and textured detail. There is an excellent use of white space, creating a sense of loneliness around the sad penguin, and that space becomes brighter and fuller as the friends gather to help out. The full-bleed style of illustration helps as well to give the impression of endless possibility to the quest. Young readers will enjoy identifying all of the animals found in the mountain of friends, and they will giggle at the clever use of levels and positions in which the animals are found.
Stacey Matson works as a program assistant for the Writers’ Exchange, a literacy program for at-risk youth in Vancouver, BC. She recently finished her MA in children’s literature at the University of British Columbia.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.