She co-authored “The Day of Ahmed’s Secret,” but it’s her first solo book. Judith Heide Gilliland had co-authored a book about Egypt with her mother Florence (and she dedicates this book to “Mom, of course.”) But Judith turns to a different continent for “River.” The book’s first page is a map of the Amazon river, showing how it runs eastward across the top of South America.
It’s the story of the river, tracing it’s route from its origins in the tall snow-covered mountains. And there’s beautiful illustrations by Joyce Powzyk, showing the animals that live around it. A monkey clings, upside-down, to a skinny tree trunk while he lowers his head for a drink. And as Heide describes the Amazon as “the mightiest river in the world,” Powzyk draws an enormous snow-covered mountain.
There’s something exciting about the realistic drawings – especially when they’re showing exotic scenes like a tropical jungle. There’s an enormous waterfall, splashing water through the green-yellow trees, as two blue macaws fly across the bright sky. Powzyk draws a beautiful tigers, along with anteaters, toucans, and a giant anaconda. My favorite drawing shows a tribe of parrots, and a sleepy sloth trying to ignore them!
Gilliland knows that a story needs a personality, and she adds an importance to the river by establishing that it’s famous! (People have names for it along its route, calling it “The Great Speaker” or – when it’s quiet – “the River Sea.”) And she also describes the river’s neighbors, all the wonderful species that live on the river…or in it! Gilliland lists out all the fish – piranhas, eels, sharks, and needlefish – but then adds that there’s also “secret and mysterious” creatures, which “only the river knows about.
Gilliland shows a real love for her topic, and there’s a poetry to her text. (“As it rushes to the sea it rushes to the skies, becoming clouds, raining each afternoon…”) The forests stretch “for a thousand miles,” and the trees are so wet that they sometimes rain themselves. Gilliland is explaining the origin of the word “rain forest” – but she’s doing it in the perfect context.
There’s great flocks of white herons, shown filling the trees and flying grandly across a silvery lake. Are they secret birds? No – the toucans see them, and the tapirs, and “a hundred eyes that watch and wait in the forest.” Gilliland has found a way to suggest all the life in the rain forests. “It is the Amazon – river, forests, clouds, and rain. And more.