August 22, 2013

A Mountain of Friends

by Kerstin Schoene
Translated by Natalie Hyde
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
32 pp.
Ages 4+
August 2013

I wish I could enlarge the cover illustration of A Mountain of Friends by Germany's Kerstin Schoene even more than I already have so that readers might appreciate the scale at which this small penguin, eyes crinkled with pleasure, can produce such a heartwarming and fully embracing hug of appreciation for his friends.  Without going into song, I can really feel the overwhelming love extended from his heart to his wingtips.

Courtesy of Canadian author Natalie Hyde's loving translation, readers of all ages will feel for this little guy who is heartbroken that he cannot fly.  After all, he is a bird, right? And birds fly, right? 
"Just once I want to soar above the clouds..."
he laments regularly.  His friends include a kangaroo, a giraffe, an elephant,  a rabbit and a goldfish (in his bowl), and they enlist the help of everyone, reader included ("Yes, you!"), to be a friend and help Penguin.  With a turn of the book (literally) and a little help from a lot of friends, the little bow-tied and top hat-wearing seabird has no problems reaching the clouds.

Though the message may seem very simple, it's one with which a lot of young children are unfamiliar.  Is it our competitive world or the need to succeed above others that drives so many of us to excel, to do that which is extraordinary?  Children understand play but do they comprehend that teamwork can reach far beyond sport competitions (in which there are still winners and losers) and be based in cooperation to achieve one goal for all?  If not, A Mountain of Friends, brilliantly illustrated by Kerstin Schoene, and translated by Natalie Hyde (author of over 30 books of non-fiction and fiction, including Saving Armpit, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2011) may help them understand that by pulling together, the impossible can be achieved.  And without stepping on others' toes.  Maybe stepping on their heads, as in A Mountain of Friends, but not their toes. Delightful!

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