An inspiring take on a classical theme, David Soman’s The Impossible Mountain is both a magnificent allegory and a grand adventure.
Siblings Anna and Finn have heard the warnings about going beyond the wall that surrounds their village: It’s too high to climb, and the world beyond is too scary, with far too many bears. But there’s a whole stunning world waiting to be explored beyond the shelter of the wall, and though it’s not an easy journey—the best escapades never are— off they go, Finn in his cozy knitted hat cheerfully following determined, purple-haired Anna.
Soman, best known for co-creating the delightful and bestselling Ladybug Girl picture book series with his wife, Jacky, outdoes himself in illustrating the vast scenery here. Towering cliffs and powerful waterfalls dwarf Anna and Finn, while a sparkling blue-green river dotted with boulders beckons them onward. Skilled use of light and shadow creates enchanting emerald forests and a campfire whose warmth you can almost feel. With settings this deep and intriguing, you’ll feel torn between the desire to linger over every spread and the yearning to discover what awaits beyond the next page turn.
Anna and Finn’s path includes perils, threats and mystery, but Soman imbues every moment with wonder and ensures that their adventure feels reassuring and inspiring rather than frightening. Keep an eye out for the vivid red cardinal that accompanies the siblings and appears in every scene, an emblem of protection and optimism.
Although The Impossible Mountain would feel complete as a wordless picture book, Soman’s text complements his images perfectly. With a true storyteller’s sagacity, Soman knows exactly when to elaborate (which he does with literary flair) and when to pull back. He keeps Anna and Finn’s dialogue minimal, subtly conveying their easy camaraderie and shared bravery. When the pair ascend to the top of the wall for the first time, the only thing they can each say is “Wow.” Although its narrative follows familiar beats, The Impossible Mountain’s charming characters, breathtaking art and themes of perseverance, curiosity and hope set it apart. If we learn one lesson from picture books, perhaps it should be that the impossible is never impossible—and that impossible journeys are the ones most worth taking.