Henry Climbs a Mountain

Henry Climbs a Mountain, by D.B. Johnson

henry climbs mountain coverThis is a story of Henry David Thoreau and of slavery.  It is a story of hope and freedom.  In this picture book, D.B. Johnson portrays Henry David Thoreau (and other characters) as a bear.

On a trip to town to get a shoe that was being repaired, Henry is stopped by the tax collector and jailed for not paying his taxes.


“Pay a state that lets farmers own slaves?  Never!” said Henry.

Henry stares at the walls and ceiling of the jail cell, then begins to draw a different world.  He draws his shoe, a flower, and a hummingbird….then a tree, a path, and a river.  Henry steps into the picture, getting his feet wet in the river, and continues drawing his way up a mountain.  As Henry climbs and draws, he sings: “The bear goes over the mountain…..to see what he can see.”

When Henry reaches the top of the mountain, he meets a traveler coming up the other side.  This bear is singing:  “The other side of the mountain…will set me free at last.”  This bear is wearing patched clothing, and a metal band (he has escaped) on one leg.

Henry and the other bear talk and sing on top of the mountain.  When Henry learns that the other bear has a long way to walk (“As far as the star in the North”) and has no shoes, Henry gives the other bear his own shoes.

The bear heads off to the North.  Henry heads back down the mountain without his shoes.

This is a good book for introducing the concepts of slavery and the underground railroad.  When I read this with my young children, they noticed the escaped bear’s metal band and asked many questions about slavery.  This can be a starting point for discussions with older children as well – about slavery, ethics, civil disobedience, and perhaps even about the ways groups of people influence government.

There is a page of biographical information about Thoreau at the end of this picture book.

Thoreau is known for his time spent in the woods near Concord, MA – and his book, Walden.  Thoreau also wrote Civil Disobedience – and his ideas influenced people all over the world including Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.  Thoreau went to jail for not paying his taxes – in protest to a government that let people own slaves.  Thoreau was an abolitionist and helped slaves escape to freedom.  Thoreau died in May 1862.  Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863.


  1. Jaymie Shook on April 25, 2013 at 10:18 pm

    I love the illustrations. Thanks so much for linking into the Kid Lit Blog Hop!

  2. bookwormbear on April 25, 2013 at 10:42 pm

    D.B. Johnson has illustrated several other books about Thoreau – as a bear. The illustrations are great. My children loved finding red winged black birds and other small details in the illustrations. Johnson also illustrated Bear’s Picture – one I highly recommend. Thanks for visiting through the Kid Lit Blog Hop!

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