The Mountain That Loved a Bird


Educators have found many ways to use this book -- as have

clergymen, grief counselors, and therapists in general. The story has been offered as a dance-drama by a children’s theater in Boston, as a dramatization by a talented group of young mothers at a Montessori school in Yokohama, as a shadow-puppet play by a gamelan in Vermont (all three performances with impressive original music!)  -- and as a play created by kindergarten students in Changsha, China.

First published by Picture Book Studio in 1985 with illustrations by Eric Carle, the title was later acquired by Simon & Schuster.  The Carle version remained on sale in the U.S. through April 30, 2007, after which -- by terms of an agreement its publisher’s head lawyer and I had signed the previous spring -- all unlicensed rights in the text reverted to me.  The chance for me to have an edition of this tale with new art came just as the world of publishing was thrown into chaos by the implosion of bookselling -- and soon of publishing itself.  The appearance of POD and e-books, and problems with the economy have complicated the situation.  But I don’t regret taking the risk of regaining the rights I’d need to have an edition here with new art.  While I search for a publishing home for what I hope can be a Definitive Edition here, the story is flourishing in a satisfying way abroad with new art of all kinds.

Most translations are licensed by the original publisher, but for this book I began bargaining back unused translation rights from the beginning.  I, rather than the publisher, licensed the Russian translation of it in 1989.  That book made me the first modern American children’s  author to be published in what was then the U.S.S.R!   Detskaya Literatura printed  300,000 copies; they sold out within a year.  And the colorful illustrations by David Khaykin’s colorful images offered the first new graphic interpretation of the tale.

In the spring of 2003, even as Americans were invading Iraq, there was a new edition that seemed to me almost a miracle.  In Pakistan -- a Muslim country with considerable ambivalence about the Iraq invasion by the U.S. - a non-profit group of educators published a new edition of this story in Urdu, using gentle and pleasing collages by Adeel-uz-Zafar.  The printing costs of this book -- a story written by an American, published at that point in history -- were underwritten by a donation from an Arab oil company!

Another bonus of the Pakistani editions was making friends with two of those who contributed to them.  I continue to exchange e-mails with writer/translator Amra Alam, who provided splendid translations for both books.  When she became editor of Suntra, an Urdu-language children’s magazine in Pakistan, I began providing what is now a total of four stories that she has translated and published there. Adeel, the talented artist who created the art for the Urdu edition of this title, also stays in touch with me -- and  provided illustrations for one of those stories!



The 2006 appearance in India of the Tulika edition of the story -- with art by Stephen Aitken -- was an event that still continues to spark spread of the story. I’m thrilled that more than two decades after this tale was first published, it has images that have a chance to tell the story along with the words with such eloquence. 

Words can tell that a seed in the story sends down roots.   Art can tell you that, and more!  Notice how Stephen Aitken’s image lets you see how the stream of the mountain’s tears brings water to the new roots.

Tulika published the book not only in English, but in editions translated to other languages used in India: Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, Guajarti, Marathi, Urdu, and Bangla -- a total of ten languages.  The art Stephen first developed for India soon began to be used in other countries, other languages.  It next appeared in Turkish, and soon thereafter in Arabic.

While Stephen’s art continues to be that most often used with the tale abroad, there are  always alternate ways to illustrate any story successfully.  Early in a complicated and memorable trip to Asia with my husband in  the fall of 2006, while Larry talked with colleagues in Tokyo I made a quick side trip to Manila.  I arrived just in time to be part of the launching of editions of this tale in English as well as in a total of five translations into other languages spoken in the Philippines by  Mother Tongue Publishing, Inc.  All featured new art by a long-time friend -- illustrator Beauah Taguiwao -- that draws its beauty from the local landscapes. 

Our next stop on that long trip was in China, and while my husband was participating in a physics conference in Shanghai I was able to spend a few days in Changsha.  There I signed a contract with Hunan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House, authorizing a Chinese edition using Stephen Aitken’s art.  The kind of picture books so familiar in the West is still new in China, but this publishing house is a  part of changing that. 

This publisher understood that part of its role is helping parents learn new  ways to use picture books within the family -- not for rote learning, but  to stimulate the imagination and build a foundation for the love of reading. Their staff had  been sharing the translated story in a local kindergarten even before my arrival!

After the contracts were signed I went there too -- to meet the kids, admire the art they had made for it, see them act out the play they had made of the story, and enjoy a special question-and-answer meeting with their parents.  Skillful translation let us have meaningful and natural-feeling exchanges.  I came home with drawings the children there gave me, showing how they had imagined the mount and the bird. I’ll remember that visit all my life.

On my return, “Galen”  (my contact before the visit, translator during it, and friend ever since) began to  coordinate the  global team that raced to prepare a book that could be ready before a January 2007 book fair in Beijing.  She and her colleagues in Changsha, artist Stephen Aitken in India, our translator Zhuo Jing in Germany, and I in the U.S. worked together through the holidays, often in what has deep night in our respective time zones, and managed to prepare the edition in time.

With input from art staff in Changsha, Stephen created a new cover for their edition,and he and I wrote a special preface that Zhuo quickly translated.

Meanwhile, publicity

arranged by our

publisher helped the new

title enter the Chinese

market with a splash.

Stephen and I continue working together to let this tale reach new parts of the globe.

The next new edition, issued in 2008  by Mkuki na Nyota  Publishers  in Tanzania, let our version of the story enter yet another continent -- Africa! -- with a sunny new cover adapted from the new cover-design created for China.

I first learned of this remarkable publishing house from a returned Peace Corps volunteer, daughter of friends.  She showed me the children’s books they already had developed themselves.

Walter Bgoya, head of this publishing house, hoped not only to distribute his English-language edition in East Africa, but to create translations to languages native to Africa that can be shared both there and elsewhere in Africa. I hope such translations can appear.

Meanwhile, I had begun carrying on an email correspondence with a young Korean mother and translator named Dongmi.  She was at that time both working as a translator of children’s books, and working in a child-care center serving English-speaking families. In that center she had fallen in love with this story, one of the books that she read to children there.  She wanted to know if I might consider offering in Korean translation -- and volunteered to help me find a publisher if so. 

I was impressed by Dongmi’s  unusual energy and obvious intelligence, and eventually in spite of her youth I felt comfortable  encouraging her to see if she could find this tale a Korean publisher! 

The resulting book is lovely, although it has many more pages than the normal U.S. picture book (over 50 of them) and is really of a subtly different genre.  The graphics make little attempt to tell the story along with the words, but offer images that relate to it in a less direct way.

I confess I find the cover puzzling -- there is no sign of a mountain!  And why is our bird building her nest in a slender tree on level ground?

On the other hand, a wordless spread showing Joy’s departure from the mountain’s point of view conveys a sense of sadness that makes it one of my favorite images of those created for this story.

It is exhilarating to watch the spread of this tale around the globe.  It has already appeared in translation to 24 languages -- and there soon will be more.

Seeing the book cover that he seems here to be smiling at gave me my first glimpse of the unusually elegant characters in which the Tibetan language is written.  The book seems to be lingering in preparation, but when it comes out, I suspect --  although I fear it sounds vain -- that it may turn out be the favorite of the five titles chosen. The other titles seem to be ones that will introduce Tibetan readers to features in cultures very different from their own.  This one is about emotions that move people in cultures everywhere on the globe. Tibetan families who remember the beautiful mountains of the homeland from which they are now parted may find the tale moving indeed.

Yes, the tale behind each of these covers is the same one, although the languages in which they are told may differ. The story is suitable for any reader from kindergarten on up. Adults buy it for themselves. The story tells of how a bird’s commitment to friendship brings life to a barren mountain.  But it’s also about wanting to stay with something forever -- when that’s impossible.

The second new edition, released at end of January, 2014,  is a translation to  Chuvash, the native tongue of Chuvashia, a republic that is part of the Russian Federation. 

Irina Kalentieva is the artist who has created the edition’s

handsome illustrations.  The one showing life beginning near the

stream of tears is one of my favorite images for this new telling of

the tale --  you can view it just to the right.

The third project began with an email from young man named

Oleg who had loved the the story since he first read the Russian

translation as a boy; he now wants to see it in his native language.

Ukrainian. Oleg, who speaks  perfect English, made a translation

I can trust,  He  was very helpful to me several times in relation to the Chuvashian edition, and I am particularly indebted to him for putting the contract with the Chuvash publisher into proper

I  have three  new editions under contract that are emerging soon, all of them ones in unusual languages.  I hope all three will be in print by the end of the summer of 2014.  One is a special printing in Tibetan, using the art by Stephen Aitken again -- an appropriate choice, for it was created in the artist’s studio in the Himalayas, the lovely mountains that are the traditional home for the families that will read it.  The small printing of this special edition  will create copies that will not be sold to the general public, but offered without cost to Tibetan-speaking families currently living in refugee camps in northern India. That project seemed not to be moving as fast as predicted for a while, but now at last there is progress.  The translation by a young but dedicated translator is now finished. Below and to the left, you see the face of Damdul, the 24-year old translator.

Russian after I had prepared it using Google Translate.  That software can convey the meaning of such a document’s intent -- but usually in a rather surreal way. Not long after that time-consuming favor Oleg  found an excellent publisher for the Ukrainian translation of the story through a friend of his now studying in  Switzerland, with whom he had shared his translation of the tale.  The friend’s mother, who works for a educational publisher in Ukraine,  loved the tale when her son sent it to her. She shared it with the director of the company -- and it won him over too.  So Steve Aiken and I have yet another translation now in progress!  It should move ahead efficiently and quickly, and be released sometime in early spring at the latest, for the friend’s mother will be its editor, and she speaks perfect English. Working together promises to be simple and pleasurable. 

But  although anticipating having this trio of nearly simultaneous editions in unusual languages is elating, I continue to long to see the story back in my own country again -- with art that will help it be loved  by readers of all ages for many more years to come.  Although the market for new picture books may never have been worse, this dream is not an impossible one. My hope is that before too long I may have something to offer that will convince a courageous editor to welcome this work into a good publishing home in the country where it was born. Wish me luck!

Meanwhile,  this tale may soon be available as audio book both in Finnish and English.  The music background for those CD’s by the Finnish composer Esa Orre conveys the emotions of the story perhaps more vividly than most illustrations thus far in print.  The lovely Joy of the Finnish cover that is coming out first was created by the American artist Jim Postier. 

News Flash!!

The first copies of the Chuvashian edition are now out, and I received my 10 “author copies” from the publisher on January 21, 2014!

Irina plans next to make a new and more ample set of illustrations for this tale, designed for an edition with 32 pages rather than the 24 pages to which the Chuvashian edition was limited by the publisher. In spite of the fact that we share no common language and carry on our email conversations with the help of GoogleTranslate, Irina and I have become real friends. I’ll do my best to find us a publisher for a new design with 32 pages edition, perhaps this time in Russia or Sweden, for I expect soon to have translations in both those languages.   I am hoping it  will be a design that is appropriate for readers of all ages, and very beautiful.  Viktor Bychkov, the brilliant young translator who whose translation the story in the  Chuvash edition, has promised to make the Russian translation next. To the left, you can see this talented translator.  Truly skilled translators are hard to find, and I have been lucky to find ones like Viktor and Kerstin and Oleg, the translator of the next book to come out, one using the art created by Steve Aitken. Oleg deserves special thanks, for he not only made a translation of the story (he speaks fluent English) -- he found it the perfect publisher!

Above:  Irina Kalentieva, the talented Chuvashian artist to whom I am indebted both for her  lovely art --  and for ensuring that the Chuvashian edition is finally out!

That the publisher assigned the book to the perfect editor should not have surprised me, and I’ll let her announce the next edition of this story to come out by typing in the words of the  joyous email she sent from Kiev to Oleg, Steve, and me on March 3, 2014.  (The days  just before that date, the TV news from Kiev involved bloody confrontations in a main square, and while most of my fears had to do with the eruption of  violence in the initially non-violent demonstrations there, in the back of my mind I worried that the book might not be able to go to press.)  But the first email I opened that Saturday was from Lesia, our editor, and even the subject heading let me guess that her news had nothing to do with violence:  it was “About the BOOK” -- and the message was the book’s birth announcement: 

Dear friends! Dear Alice, Stephen, Oleg! I am pleased to announce that our book is published. This is a great event and I am happy that we did it. . . . .   I thank everyone for their patience, understanding and support.  A lot of force majeure arose in the way of book publication.  But fortunately, we all did.  We will also send this book to children’s libraries in all regions of Ukraine as soon as possible. I will send you all the addresses and websites of children’s libraries in all regions of Ukraine as soon as possible.  I will send all the addresses and websites of children’s libraries.  I am currently working on a children’s  Book for Summer Reading. Dear Alice, I would like to ask your permission to include the story The Mountain That Loved a Bird in this book. It makes possible for many Ukrainian children to read this incredible, kind and touching story.”

Oddly enough, of the last three new publishers of this tale only this  has seemed to know much about producing books -- which involves much more that putting the text on the page, adding illustrations if it needs them, and printing and binding the pages.  A LOT of the success of a new book is related to distributing it and making the public aware that it exists and can be found in libraries and bookstores. This admirable editor is already doing that very energetically as part of the process of releasing the book, and of course I gave her permission to put the tale in her anthology.


            Viktor Bychkov

    Translator par excellence

Return to My Books                Return to Home

More news soon!