Tag Archive | Rivers

River, by Judith Heide Gilliland and Joyce Powzyk

River, by Judith Heide Gilliland and Joyce Powzyk

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.

“And more.”

Good Morning, River! by Lisa Westberg Peters

Good Morning, River! by Lisa Westberg Peters

Inspired by her childhood memories of a river in Maine, Lisa Westberg Peters wrote Good Morning, River. It was the beautiful St. Croix River, and the book’s flap says that because of her fondness, she’d “wanted to write a story that would make rivers seem less scary to children.” Her book traces the river’s appearance through milestones in the life of a little girl. It’s a simple story with beautiful illustrations that were drawn – of course – with watercolors.

The drawings capture the seasons around the river, whether it’s autumn leaves in the misty forest, or green springtime leaves when the ice thaws. Deborah Kogan Ray teaches the art of children’s book illustration, and she’s created an impressive suite of pictures. The book’s cover shows a peaceful snow along the river’s edge, but there’s a hazy yellow-green when it’s mid-summer and “the river sparkled in hot white sunlight…” And when the book takes a somber turn, the river even turns a dismal grey, matching the sky and dark leaves of the forest against the silhouette of a dreary brown mountain.

The book opens with a strange mystery: will the river ever talk to the little girl? An old man named Carl says the river will tell him when it’s safe to walk on its ice.

In the springtime, Carl and Katherine take a canoe ride, and pretend they’re boating through a steamy jungle stream filled with alligators and snakes. “Shimmery heat” rises from the riverbank’s sand in summer – and the little girl takes her first swim in the river’s water. But it’s when she’s relaxing against a log, singing songs to herself, that the river “answered with its own music – a steady slap…slap…slap of the evening ripples.”

One morning Carl isn’t there, on a grey autumn day when the wind whips the river into waves. The book hints that he has a health problem, and the little girl watches as “the car disappeared in the dust of the gravel road,” in a beautiful orange illustration. It’s the real message of the book: how the river seems to magically reflect the girl’s moods. “All that fall, the cold drizzle chilled the chickadees into silence…” The text savors each season’s changes with its own kind of poetry. (“The river was swollen with snow melt and rain. Floodwater rose to the limbs of the trees, and everywhere was the sweet smell of rotting leaves.”)

And at the end of the book, the little girl hears the river’s voice after all.