Photo courtesy of Bankstreet Bookstore

In a tiny village, in a valley, high in the mountains of Tibet, a little boy was born. He loved to fly kites. On clear nights he liked to look up at the Milky Way and the stars. “There are other worlds up there,” he said to himself. “Someday I’m going to visit them…” So begins the story of The Mountains of Tibet, one of the first books published by Barefoot Books back in 1993.

The New York Times named The Mountains of Tibet an Outstanding Children’s Book of the Year and Best Illustrated Children’s Book of the Year when HarperCollins first published it in 1987. The Guardian called it ‘A timeless tale at ease with the rhythm of life and death.’

This gentle and inspiring look at life after death is just as relevant today. We are pleased to share with you this interview with Mordicai Gerstein, Caldecott-award winning illustrator, and author of The Mountains of Tibet. In it, he reveals his inspiration for writing the story, what he’d like to come back to life as, and a few other surprises.

How did you get the idea for The Mountains of Tibet?

Many, many years ago, in my 20s, I was reading the Tibetan Book Of the Dead on my first trip to Europe. The book along with my bag dissappeard in the Milan train station. A lifetime later on the eve of a second marriage and a new life, as I thought about the choices I’d made that led me to this moment, I remembered the Book of the Dead‘s advice about how to choose a new life as I was about to do; you can live many lives in this one – living reincarnations. At that moment the idea for The Mountains of Tibet came to me.

It is a book that is enjoyed by children as much as it is adults. What do you hope adults will learn from the story? What do you hope children will learn from the story?

As in all my books I want readers to think about their own lives and to provoke questions about the things touched on in the story.

Can you share a little bit about why you dedicate the story to Susan and your daughter Risa?

Because they are both so much part of the book.

The book was originally published in 1987 by HarperCollins. The world was quite different back then, there was no Internet, cell phones, social media, apps, and the like. Why do you think the story is relevant as much today as it was  back then?

It’s about what it is to be living being on this earth and all the questions that will always arise about what that means.

What was your inspiration for the distinctive illustrations?

I was inspired by Tibetan mandalas.

What was the illustration process like?

It was a demanding and fascinating journey.

Have you been to Tibet? If so, what was the experience like for you?

I have not been to Tibet.

What would you like to come back to life as?

As a woman, to see what that’s like.

You won a Caldecott Award for The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. What was that experience like, receiving the prestigious prize?

It was a dream come true.

Any future plans for books?

I am working on three.


While creating this interview, we were delighted and quite moved to come across these gems of speeches that Mordicai has given over the years. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did.

You can learn more about Mordicai Gernstein by visiting his website. Buy the book: US Shoppers / UK Shoppers



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