The Mountain That Loved A Bird

I found this book while book hunting in Singapore last March… Bear was a wee month-old baby and was fussing up a bit at the bookstore, so I almost missed this treasure.

Beautifully written by the lovely late Alice McLerran and illustrated by Eric CarleThe Mountain That Loved A Bird is a beautiful tale that made my then 3-year-old Marz cry buckets! This book is good for kids 6 and above, but if your little preschooler enjoys a long story, then this is a keeper.

In this story, a lonely stone mountain lives in the middle of a desert. It is barren and thus, has never had company nor experienced anything beyond heat and cold. It has not much to see either – only the movement of the sun, the course of the moon and the stars when the skies were clear.

A small bird named Joy stops by one day. The mountain feels her sharp claws and her soft feathers and, overcome with amazement, asks her to stay. Unfortunately, Joy cannot comply – there is nothing that can sustain her there. However, she promises to make annual visits in spring and to name her daughter Joy, who in turn will name a daughter Joy and so on so that the mountain will always have a friend visiting once a year.

Ninety-nine springs come and go. Each time the separations become harder to endure. One day, unable to tolerate the loneliness, the mountain’s heart breaks. His tears are a stream which slowly but surely transform it and the land surrounding. Joy brings a seed and over time, the tears become tears of hope and happiness. Eventually, Joy brings not a seed, but a twig. Instead of her usual farewells, she tells the mountain that she has come to stay.

Eric Carle’s signature collages are simply superb! You will notice that the pictures become wonderfully vibrant as the story progresses. There are other versions of this book that you can check out on the author’s site.

For those in Pakistan, there is the Urdu version which the late Ms Mclerran was very happy about. This is what she said about it:

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 US – 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!

We have had so many lovely discussions and lessons centred around this book, like:

  • friendship & loyalty
  • keeping promises
  • hope
  • birds
  • mountains
  • climates
  • water, streams etc.
  • seeds
  • colours

You can also read Eric Carle’s The Tiny Seed as an accompaniment.

This review was first published on Imaan.Net in August 2005 and has been updated for this site.


Alexander McCall Smith was born in Zimbabwe and was educated there and in Scotland. A Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh, he is a best-selling author of adults’ books. He is a hugely prolific writer, probably best known for The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency featuring the delightful Precious Ramotswe – Botswana’s leading, and only, female private detective. He has other very popular series like The Sunday Philosophy Club and 44 Scotland Street.

Mr McCall Smith is also equally adept with younger audiences. A favourite in our household is the Akimbo series. Back in 2006, a kindred spirit told me about these books and so Marz and I went on a hunt. We were rewarded with a box set of the first three books that was in perfect condition! [The set features Akimbo and the ElephantsAkimbo and the Lions and Akimbo and the Crocodile Man. Two more books have been released since – Akimbo and the Baboons and Akimbo and the Snakes.]

Akimbo is a young, adventurous African boy who lives in a large game reserve where his father is a head ranger. He is passionate about animal conservation and goes through great lengths to protect them.

In Akimbo and the Elephants, Akimbo helps to bring down an elephant poaching ring. In Akimbo and the Lions, he helps to raise a lion cub and becomes attached to it. However he knows that Simba belongs in the wild. It is a heartbreaking moment when he releases Simba. (Oh how Marz cried!)

In Akimbo and the Crocodile Man, our resourceful friend is given the chance to accompany John the Crocodile man who is doing research on a batch of crocodiles. During the trip, John is attacked by an angry croc. It is a race against time as Akimbo braves dangerous waters to get help for his friend. Marz loved the bit where Akimbo hotwires a truck, drives it and barely misses crashing into a tree!

Akimbo is excited that he is finally able to visit his Uncle Peter’s snake park in Akimbo and the Snakes. A local village reports the sighting of a black mamba – the rarest and most deadly snake of all. Akimbo and Uncle Peter hope to catch it for the snake park, but Akimbo unexpectedly is trapped face to face with this deadly reptile!

Finally, Akimbo and his cousin, Kosi, join a visiting scientist, Jen, who is observing a pack of baboons in Akimbo and the Baboons. There is always danger in the wild and this time, a pack of leopards threaten the pack and Jen. Later, Akimbo notices that one of the young baboons is injured and resolves to help it.

I love his series just as much as Marz did. Young Akimbo is a such a likeable role model – he is plucky, cheerful and respectful … and he has perseverance in spades! Alexander McCall Smith manages to convey the importance of animal protection and ecological protection while still keeping the narrative accessible and upbeat. His descriptions are simple and yet incredibly detailed and will transport you to the beautiful African continent. Peter Bailey’s black and white illustrations are gorgeous – I don’t think we see enough of this sort of art.

We finished each book in one sitting. I’d recommend this for both boys and girls who are getting into chapter books and as read-alouds for younger ones. I think this book is a wonderful gateway to deeper studies of this fascinating continent.

A must-have for your home library.