Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Mountain that Loved a Bird

The Mountain that Loved a Bird
Alice McLerran (author)

The Mountain that Loved a Bird is one of my all-time favorite books. Ever. I have told it numerous times and invariably listeners find themselves enraptured.

The Mountain that Loved a Bird -by Alice McLerran, Eric Carle (Illustrator)

The Mountain that Loved a Bird - by Alice McLerran, Stephen Aitken (Illustrator)






It is the tale of a mountain made of bare stone. No rivers or streams flow from it. No plants or animals have ever touched its surface, until one day a small bird stops to rest on its side. The mountain has never known anything like this bird and desperately wants it to stay, which of course it cannot. That deep desire to connect and the kind loyalty of the bird, however, are enough to crack open big changes in the mountain.

This story is beautiful, the language spare, and the outcome completely uplifting. It is a story of renewal and hope, loneliness and connection, and ultimately the irrepressible force of life in and around us. It has found world-wide acclaim and has been translated into many languages.

There are two English language versions that I am aware of.  The first was illustrated by Eric Carle and is no longer in print, but can be found in many libraries and through used book stores. The other English version was illustrated by Stephen Aitken and is published by Tulika Books in India.

The author, Alice McLerran, negotiated the rights to the text shortly before the book publishing world was rocked by the forces of e-books, print on demand, and looming e-tail monopolies.  She is currently looking for a publisher to release the book again with its new artwork from Stephen Aitken. Let’s hope she finds one soon – this is an enduring and beautiful tale that should be in the hands of adults and children in the US too (it’s all over the rest of the world).

As I mentioned above, I have told this tale many times in worship services and it has always played very well.  It can be read of course too, but the narrative structure is very strong, the characters solid, and the plot fairly easy to follow. It is fairly long, so requires more effort to learn than say a 500 word story, but it is well worth that effort.  Either way you present it, this one will be a joy!

Themes: Rebirth, Connection, Life, Hope, Joy, Separation, Healing, Home, Longing

Motifs: Mountain, Bird, Water, Tears, Seed, Flight, Sky, Stars, Joy, Green, Tree

Reviewer:  Kristin Maier
author, A Good Telling: Bringing Worship to Life with Story

A Thirst for Home

A Thirst for Home: A Story of Water across the world
Christine Leronimo (author) Eric Velasquez (illustrator)
Walker Books for Young Readers, 2014

Thirst for HomeEach day Alemitu and her mother leave their small Ethiopian village to fetch water from the watering hole. Water, she learns, is more precious than gold.

On the long walk back, hunger often roars in Alemitu’s belly like a lion. One day, Alemitu’s mother brings her to a place where she tells her the lion will never roar again. Thus begins her journey from an orphanage in Ethiopia to her adoptive family in the United States.

Eva Alemitu (Eva is the name she takes after she goes to the U.S.) observes the world around her as she moves through her journey. She cannot take for granted the cool clean water from the tap, or food on her plate. She comes to appreciate that the sun that shines on her in her new homeland is the same sun that still shines on her first homeland.

Christine Leronimo’s book uses a gentle, even tone to portray some very intense experiences for any child. The book works because Leronimo allows the character’s experience of loss to speak for itself. The author’s tone is greatly helped by Velasquez’ illustrations, which convey a sense of both beauty and dignity.

Of course, the story cannot offer complete resolution. How could it? Because of the intensity of the issues portrayed in the book, worship leaders and religious educators will want to think carefully about their own context and be prepared for the questions the story might raise for young listeners.

This picture book is beautifully illustrated by Eric Velasquez in mixed media and oil on watercolor paper. His illustrations of Alemitu in Ethiopia have a particularly luminous and sun-touched quality. With about a thousand words from the first person perspective, this story probably works best read as a picture book. That said, a very skilled storyteller could pull-off this story, but telling it in Alemitu’s voice without either trivializing or over-dramatizing her experiences would require both lots of rehearsal and the right touch.

Themes: Adoption, Family, Hunger, Thirst, Inequality, Loss, Change, Homeland, Identity

Motifs: Lion, Water, Food, Puddle, Sun, Gold, Ethiopia, Feet, Mother


Keeper of the Rain

“The Keeper of the Rain” in A Good Telling
Kristin Maier (Author)
Skinner House, 2013

After more years than you or I can count, the keeper of the rain is weary. A new keeper has been born, but there is only one problem. He really doesn’t like rain. While he lays basking in the sun, the land around him is drying up. What will it take for the new keeper to finally whisper the word that brings the rain?

Here is that rare, engaging and funny climate change story you have been looking for. This very tell-able tale playfully engages very serious questions about our human ability to affect weather and climate.  The young keeper of the rain wrestles with his desire for comfort versus his desire to care for the world he loves. The adults and children in our congregations face this same dilemma. This story allows us to see ourselves and our own behavior from a fresh (and endearing) perspective.

GoodTelling“The Keeper of the Rain” is one of six original stories in Kristin Maier’s guide to storytelling in worship. Two more unique adaptations of classic tales are also included, as well as script for a narrator-based play.  Along with the stories, A Good Telling offers concrete techniques for delivering emotionally engaging stories, reflects on the role of  story in worship, the art of preparation, and includes an annotated bibliography of story collections, picture books, and other resources.  See the author’s website to view video demonstrations of storytelling techniques and excerpts from “The Keeper of the Rain.” A Good Telling is available in print or as an eBook from Amazon Kindle Store and on Google Play.

Themes: Climate Change, Ecology, Environment, Creation, Duty, Comfort, Self-Sacrifice, Water

Motifs: Rain, Drought, Flood, Water, Sun, Rock, Pond, Cattails, Crawfish, Whisper, Word, Cold, Warmth

Possum Magic

Possum Magic
Mem Fox (author), Julie Vivas (illustrator)
Voyager Books – Harcourt, 1983

Australian author Mem Fox has written so many gems over the years.  Here is one she wrote years ago that would be a great story for worship settings.

In this tale, GraPossum Magicndma Poss uses her magic to make the kookaburra pink and the wombat blue.  For her little possum friend, Hush, she does something extra special.  She makes Hush invisible.

Hush has all sorts of adventures in her invisible state, but what Hush really wants is to be seen.  The trouble is, Grandmas Poss can’t exactly remember the recipe to make her visible again.

This is a fun story with charming characters presented in a gentle and playful way. The story speaks to the basic human need to see and be seen and holds the potential to mine all sorts of themes around theology, community, and self-worth.

Mem Fox’s flowing verse and splashes of rhyme work well with the delightful and delicate watercolor illustrations. Perhaps in part because the illustrator was depicting invisibility, the illustrations may be hard to see from a distance. The picture book would work best with a small group or with a projection of the images.  Telling the story is a great option, though would require a little work to capture the flow and rhyme Mem Fox uses so well.

Themes: Magic, Possum, Being Invisible, Being Visible, Safety, Reflection, Recognition, Acknowledgment

Motifs: Possum, Australia, Magic, Recipe, Food, Spell

Reviewer: Kristin Maier, author
A Good Telling: Bringing Worship to Life with Story

Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse

Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse
Leo Lionni (author and illustrator)
Alfred A. Knopf, 1969

Alexander and the Wind Up Mouse coverAlexander, an ordinary, flesh and blood mouse, is not so appreciated by the human family where he lives. Oh, how he wishes he could be like the wind-up toy mouse the family seems to adore.

The wind-up mouse tells Alexander of a lizard that can change one animal into another. All Alexander needs to do is find a purple pebble to bring to the lizard.

When the family grows tired of the wind-up toy and he is put out with the garbage, Alexander has a decision to make about whether he really wants to be changed.

There are multiple theological and moral themes that rise out of this story and make it a good fit for sharing in a worship or religious education setting. In the tale are layers of meaning about valuing and accepting oneself, about helping others, and about the human tendency to discard what no longer holds our attention.

Lionni’s writing is well structured and clean and thus can adapt nicely to telling. Of course, Leo Lionni’s artwork is as classic as his story and would work wonderfully to read as a picture book.

For those interested in Leo Lionni’s creative process, check out his biography on Random House Kids .  This four time Caldecott Honor author and illustrator tells it like it is when it comes to writing.

Themes: Being Oneself, Self-acceptance, Celebrating the Ordinary, Helping Others, Jealousy, Being Content, Change

Motifs:  Mouse, Toy, Garbage, Magic, Pebble

Reviewer: Kristin Maier, author
A Good Telling: Bringing Worship to Life with Story