Monday, March 23, 2009

Storytelling by others is powerful source of self-knowledge

Such is the conclusion of some research reported in e!Science News. The focus of the research is on how good a predictor other people's experiences might be upon our own decisions affecting future happiness. The money quote that reinforces the importance of storytelling is:

"People do not realize what a powerful source of information another person's experience can be," says Gilbert, "because they mistakenly believe that everyone is remarkably different from everyone else. But the fact is that an alien who knew all the likes and dislikes of a single human being would know a great deal about the species. People believe that the best way to predict how happy they will be in the future is to know what their future holds, but what they should really want to know is how happy those who've been to the future actually turned out to be."


Mountains, to a young child, are everywhere. Adults are giants that can cause a crick in the neck trying to read the expression on that boulder way up there on top of the shoulders. Furniture in the living room is for scaling or burrowing into or behind. Steps on the stairs stretch forever upwards.

The only time we as adults regain some of this perspective is when we visit one of those amusement park features where you enter a room that is scaled so that the furniture is as large to an adult as regular furniture is to a child. It always causes a thrill of excitement and is at the same time somewhat disconcerting. I can recall when we would visit my grandmother in the summers when I was perhaps three or four. One of the many wonderful attractions of her home was Grandmother's Big Bed. Covered in a white patterned coverlet, her bed seemed to be the highest we had ever seen. You couldn't just sit on it or throw yourself down on it. You had to launch yourself up to it. Running for a high leap that might get you far enough up to pull yourself up the rest of the way. Alternatively, you had to climb up the crevasses and intersections made by the footboard. Once up there, you surveyed the entire room from what seemed a great height. The final act in this play always seemed to be the inevitable, king of the mountain contest. Once all the pint-sizes were up, there ensued a general wrestling riot to see who would remain as king and who would topple over the plunging side.

In hindsight, I realize that it was probably not all that extraordinarily high but if you are three foot high and the bed is three and half foot high, then you have a childhood mountain.

Mountains play an interesting iconic role in our culture - places of distance, purity, remoteness, asceticism, challenge. Remote fastnesses that are to be attained but still stand separate.

Perhaps part of this stems from folk memory. With the constant movement of peoples in human history, one group is always in some way encroaching on another, pushing aside, displacing and absorbing the weaker. The stubborn resisters, where numbers do not permit them to effectively turn back the incoming tide, often end up in one of three places; in desolate lands not desired by anyone else, on islands, or in the mountains.

We have wonderful stories of the noble and ascetic cultures of the Highlanders whether they be from Scotland or in other places on earth that scrape the sky, the Alps, the Himalayas, the Andes or Caucuses. In some places these are truly mountainous and almost impossibly inaccessible such as the Andes, Himalayas and Alps. In other circumstances, the peoples of the mountains are really just the people of the higher places: remote - yes but not truly inaccessible. People of the Appalachians, Apennines, Pennines, the Pyrenees, the Central Massif, the Rift Valley, the Atlas mountains, the Ethiopian Highlands, the Caucasus and the Zagros, and the ultimate icon of fierce, remote steadfastness - the Hindu Kush.

Mountains seem to end up as symbols of three different things. They are a place of purity and almost otherworldliness. They are a place of personal challenge, trial and exertion. They are a way of life with many desired attributes but not necessarily desired in itself. The stories we have collected here touch on all three of these elements.

As a place of remoteness and otherworldliness you have James Hilton's classic Lost Horizon, Rudyard Kipling's The Man Who Would be King. At the picture book level, Barbara Helen Berger's All the Way to Lhasa, and Ann Nolan Clark's Secret of the Andes.

We are heavy with the challenges of the mountains, primarily the challenge of climbing said mountains or the challenge of surviving said mountains. There are the iconic works by Jean Craighead George about surviving on one's own on a mountain, My Side of the Mountain followed in turn by On The Far Side of the Mountain, and finally Frightful's Mountain. Jon Krakauer's books also capture the exhilaration and terror of the stark mountain terrain in Into Thin Air, Into the Wild, and Eiger Dreams. It certainly is not primarily a book about mountains but there is a final chapter in Alfred Lansing's Endurance about the survival of the crew of Shackleton's Endurance which culminated in Shackleton and a couple of crew sailing a lifeboat some thousands of miles to the Sandwich Islands, landing on the west side of the island and having to scale the ridge of mountains which had never before been climbed in order to get to the island's whaling station from which they could dispatch a rescue mission to retrieve the remaining members of the crew. The climbing of the mountain ridge is gripping.

Finally there are the books about the people of the mountains. We have a great collection of tales of the people of Appalachia. Cynthia Rylant's Silver Packages is absolutely wonderful as a tale of giving and community and continuity. As is Rosemary Wells' Mary on Horseback, the true story of one of the early health pioneers to bring medical care to isolated communities in the mountains.

There are some great stories here that introduce children and teens to the mysteries and wonders of the mountains. Let us know which you enjoyed and what others you might recommend.

This book list is divided into three sections:

(1) Picture Books

(2) Books for Independent Readers

(3) Young Adults

The list begins below with Picture Books, but you can use the following link to skip directly to the Independent Readers or the Young Adults sections.

Go to books for Independent Readers

Go to books for Young Adults

Picture Books

Harold and the Purple Crayon written and illustrated by Crockett Johnson Highly Recommended

Silver Packages by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet Highly Recommended

All the Way to Lhasa written and illustrated by Barbara Helen Berger Recommended

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston and illustrated by Barbara Cooney Recommended

Mountain Dance written and illustrated by Thomas Locker Recommended

Maxwell's Mountain by Shari Becker and illustrated by Nicole E. Wong Suggested

Tiger of the Snows by Robert Burleigh and illustrated by Ed Young Suggested

Mountains of Tibet written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein Suggested

Sally Goes to the Mountains written and illustrated by Stephen Huneck Suggested

Henry Climbs a Mountain by D. B. Johnson Suggested

Amber on the Mountain by Tony Johnston and illustrated by Robert Duncan Suggested

Ming Lo Moves the Mountain written and illustrated by Arnold Lobel Suggested

Blue Moon Mountain by Geraldine McCaughrean and illustrated by Nicki Palin and Tomislav Tomic Suggested

The Snow Leopard by Jackie Morris Suggested

The Sun, the Wind and the Rain by Lisa Westberg Peters and illustrated by Ted Rand Suggested

Planet Earth by Leonie Pratt and illustrated by Andy Tudor and Tim Haggerty Suggested

Mountains by Seymour Simon Suggested

Wild Places by Angela Wilkes and illustrated by Peter Dennis Suggested

How Mountains Are Made by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld and illustrated by James Graham Hale Suggested

Independent Reader

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George Highly Recommended

Heidi by Johanna Spyri and illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith Highly Recommended

The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning and illustrated by Kate Greenaway Recommended

Ida Early Comes over the Mountain by Robert Burch Recommended

The Bears on Hemlock Mountain by Alice Dalgliesh and illustrated by Helen Sewell Recommended

The Secret of Skull Mountain by Franklin W. Dixon Recommended

Frightful's Mountain by Jean Craighead George Recommended

On the Far Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George Recommended

Dogsong by Gary Paulsen Recommended

When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Diane Goode Recommended

Banner in the Sky by James Ramsey Ullman Recommended

Mary on Horseback by Rosemary Wells Recommended

Wish You Well by David Baldacci Suggested

High as a Hawk by T. A. Barron and illustrated by Ted Lewin Suggested

Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark and Jean Charlot Suggested

Over the Mountains by Michael Collier Suggested

Lost on a Mountain in Maine by Donn Fendler Suggested

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale Suggested

The Forgotten Door by Alexander Key Suggested

The Contest by Gordon Korman Suggested

To the Top! by Sydelle Kramer and illustrated by Thomas Lapadula Suggested

Christy by Catherine Marshall Suggested

The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen Suggested

The Fear Place by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor Suggested

The Haymeadow by Gary Paulsen Suggested

Mystery on Everest by Audrey Salkeld Suggested

Blind Mountain by Jane Resh Thomas Suggested

The Donner Party by Roger Wachtel Suggested

Young Adult

Endurance by Alfred Lansing Highly Recommended

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann Recommended

Miracle in the Andes by Nando Parrado Recommended

Alive by Piers Paul Read Recommended

The Mountains of My Life by Walter Bonatti and Robert Marshall Suggested

High Exposure by David Breashears Suggested

My Life As an Explorer by Sven Anders Hedin and Lisa Thomas Suggested

Eiger Dreams by Jon Krakauer Suggested

Between A Rock And A Hard Place by Aron Ralston Suggested

Peak by Roland Smith Suggested