When my family and I were living in Seattle, I wanted to take an oceanography class (why not — I was living near the ocean), but it was full. I got into a geology class instead and loved it. I was especially struck by the idea that the earth’s crust is made up of recycled rock and sediment. I was also struck by the fact that mountains — huge, solid landforms — are not forever. They always wear down. I wanted to be the first to tell children of these discoveries.
My first story plan was to trace the journey of a quartz crystal. I sought help from a geology professor. He helped me identify a specific place in the Pacific Northwest that I could use as a reference, the Chuckanut Sandstone formation near Bellingham, Washington. My quartz crystal (it even had a name: Smoky) eroded out of a granite mountain. But personifying a crystal that was eventually buried by tons of sediment in the mountain building process turned out to be a big problem.
I changed the focus of the story to the mountain rather than the crystal, and introduced a boy and his mother to increase the story’s appeal for children. And then I discovered that I could use the sun, the wind and the rain as symbols for change and the passage of time.
I introduced the parallel story structure — a child making a mountain and the earth making a mountain — to bring a difficult concept closer to a child’s level. At the time, my young daughter was more interested in sand piles than magnificent mountain ranges.
I sent the story around to publishers and it was rejected fifteen times. An editor at Henry Holt bought it, the very talented Ted Rand illustrated it, and it’s been in print ever since. It was given starred reviews, named an Outstanding Science Trade Book by the National Science Teachers Association and was selected for Washington Reads, an online book club for children. I still love the book.