Mrs Badger lives at the foot of Sugar Loaf mountain and every Sunday she climbs to the top, greeting her many friends on the way. One day she befriends Leo a young cat, who becomes her regular walking companion. As Mrs Badger grows older, however, she is no longer able to journey up the mountain.
There are so many reasons to love this beautiful book and Mrs Badger is most definitely one of them. She is a gentle, thoughtful soul who always has a cheery greeting (and sometimes a special snack) for her friends. And she always stops to help those in need, with an outstretched paw or some words of wisdom and reassurance. Her knowledge and love of the natural world is impressive and she is more than happy to share it with Leo, the young cat she befriends on one of her weekly walks up the mountain. It is during Mrs Badger’s interactions with Leo that we learn why trees have leaves (‘To say hello to the sun’), what defines the perfect walking stick, and that you can make pink lemonade from sumac leaves (Who knew that this was a thing?)
Yes, there is much to admire in Mrs Badger and her bond with Leo is particularly special. So, I was moved to discover that author/illustrator Marianne Dubuc was inspired to write this story by her own grandmother ‘Mamie’, who loved nature, helping people and books. Open the book and you’ll read that Up the Mountain is also dedicated to Mamie, ‘with honey and cinnamon’, which might well be another delicious story.
I enjoyed the gentle pace of this picture book. This is no sprint up the mountain to plant a flag at the top and claim victory; it is an unhurried exploration of the evolving relationship between Mrs Badger and Leo and their interaction with the environment they are journeying through. At 68 pages, Up the Mountain is longer than your average 32-page picture book, but I assure you that there is never a dull moment! Each page contains short pieces of text, such as greetings, questions and answers (Leo is full of questions) – making it easy to read and absorb. And the illustrations are enchanting – Marianne Dubuc has created a gorgeously appealing cast of animal characters against a mountain backdrop using a gorgeous natural palette of green, blue, brown, yellow and grey, with dashes of bright colour. Check out Mrs Badger’s fabulous red spotted kerchief!
Despite its leisurely feel, time does pass in this picture book – a considerable amount of time. When we next journey with Mrs Badger and Leo up the mountain, Leo is no longer young and uncertain, but confident and knowledgeable; he stops when Mrs Badger needs a rest and helps her climb the final boulder to the top (‘Nearly there’) in a beautiful echo of the assistance she provided to him on their first meeting. Mrs Badger has been both mentor and friend to Leo, providing wisdom, guidance and support for growth. Now Leo is more than able to go it alone, and indeed ready to share his own knowledge and experience of the mountain in turn.
On a frenetic day (or any day), Up the Mountain is the book to reach for. A few pages in, you’ll feel yourself slow down as you let the beauty of the story take over. And later, you might want to venture outside to explore your surroundings – by yourself or with a friend – greet the wildlife you encounter, and perhaps collect a few special objects for the treasure shelf in your home.
Many thanks to Book Island for providing me with a review copy of this book.
Up the Mountain by Marianne Dubuc, translated from the French by Sarah Ardizzone (Book Island, 2018; original title Le chemin de la montagne)
Marianne Dubuc launched a successful career as a children’s author/illustrator following studies in graphic design at the University of Quebec in Montreal. She has received many awards for her work, including the prestigious Canadian Governor General’s award for Le lion et l’oiseau (The Lion and the Bird) and the TD Canadian Children’s Literature award for L’autobus (The Bus Ride) and Le chemin de la montagne (Up the Mountain).
Sarah Ardizzone is an award-winning literary translator from French into English. She has translated over forty titles, including children’s, young adult and adult literary fiction. Amongst other professional commitments, she is a judge for Book Trust’s In Other Words initiative, which promotes the translation and publication of outstanding children’s books from around the world.
Do watch this lovely video clip where author/illustrator Marianne Dubuc talks about inspiration behind Up the Mountain and its key themes (viewing time: 1:47)