About the Holiday
Rivers are beautiful, provide recreation, and are crucial to our water supply. Did you know that in the United States 65% of our drinking water comes from rivers and streams? This month environmentalists and others promote awareness of the importance of keeping the nation’s rivers pollution free to protect the fish and animals that call them home and increase enjoyment for all. To help the cause, find out how you can help an environmental organization in your area. This year might be the perfect time to get to know your local river system better and then plan a trip to fish, swim, boat, or just have a picnic on the bank.
By Elisha Cooper
As a woman begins her solitary trip on a mountain lake, she turns and waves to her family. The familiar shore recedes, and she dips her oar into the blue water under gray skies and in the shadow of the tall mountains. “Three hundred miles stretch in front of her. A faraway destination, a wild plan. And the question: Can she do this?” As she enters the Hudson River, she plucks a pebble from the shallow water and places it beside her gear. Here, she must navigate the scattered rocks—and one that is not a rock at all, but a moose taking a dip.
Ahead, she rides rapids that steal her hat and threaten to flip her. But she hangs on and makes it out on the other side. Now it’s time to set up camp for the night. Huddled in her tent, “she is alone, but not. The river stays beside her, mumbling to her and to itself all through the night.” With the dawn, she is on the river again, along with “otters, ducks, dragonflies, a kingfisher.” When she stops to pick blackberries, a bear cub ambles by to watch. The woman backs away slowly and continues down the river.
When she comes to a dam, she must carry her canoe. She trips, falls, and bloodies her knee, but on the other side of the dam, she returns to her paddling. When she comes to a waterfall, she gets in line for her turn to go through the lock. Once on her way again, she moves on to “farms with faded barns, to villages with white clapboard houses, to chimneyed factories on the outskirts of a town. Here, she pulls her canoe onto a levee where two boys are fishing. They ask her where she’s going, and she tells them. “It feels funny to talk.” As she walks into town, her legs also feel funny beneath her. She buys supplies and replaces her hat. That night is spent on a small island.
When she wakes, the white fog has blanketed everything. She can’t see the river, but she watches an eagle high in a tree eating its breakfast. She takes out her sketchbook and draws. The fog lifts and she continues her journey. The days and nights are marked by her hardening callouses and darkening suntan, shortening pencils and waning sketchbook pages. She paddles past “craggy hills” and “around bell-ringing buoys, next to railway tracks and a clattering freight train.”
She dodges a tugboat oblivious to her presence and makes it to another village, where she mails postcards and buys a cookie. A rain drop falls just as she climbs back into her canoe. The raindrop turns into a drizzle and then “a single sheet blowing sideways. A squall.” Her canoe capsizes, “dumping her into the raging water.” When she is able, she drags her canoe and herself onto a rocky shore. “Shivering, she takes stock. Tent, gone, Clothes, soaked. Sketchbook, safe.”
In the morning she starts again. As she rounds a bluff, the city spreads out in front of her. Far above her a gull watches as she makes her way past skyscrapers and boats large and small to the harbor and on to the boatyard, where “a bearded man in overalls—the builder of her canoe”—eagerly waits to hear about her trip and the sturdiness of her craft. After a cup of coffee, she launches her canoe for the last leg of her journey.
She is now in the open ocean with its wild waves. The horizon beckons, “but closer in she sees the lighthouse, and she knows it is time for her to be home.” She paddles harder and faster. “She can’t wait to be with them again. Can’t wait to tell them about moose and eagles, rapids and storms…to turn her sketches into paintings and her words into a story.” Her family is on shore waving, her dog running into the surf to greet her. She scuds into the shallows “…and brings the canoe to shore.”
An Author’s Note about the creation of River as well as a Note on the Hudson River and a list of sources and reading resources follows the text.
Elisha Cooper’s loving and lyrical tribute to nature, courage, and self-reliance is nothing short of spectacular. His fluid storytelling plays out with the rhythm of an oar cutting and pushing a canoe along while transporting readers smoothly through this most evocative journey. With exquisite descriptions and compelling obstacles that will leave children wide-eyed and holding their breath, River is an expansive adventure story of one woman pitting herself against the power of the Hudson River and her own tenacity. The story is also one of love—respect for the environment, awe for community, and devotion to family and the support found there.
Cooper’s soft and sprawling watercolors envelop readers in the river setting, where the woman appears tiny against the rocky coastline, towering mountains, waterfalls, dams, and cityscapes. Double-page spreads swell the heart and invite wanderlust in even the most ardent homebodies. And there may be no better way to share this personal and universal journey than by gathering together and reading River in one sitting or—for younger children—breaking away at one of the many cliffhangers that will have everyone yearning to dip into the story again.
A must for school and public library collections, River is highly recommended for all home bookshelves as well for its inspiration for personal goals, it’s reflections on nature, and its encouragement that anything is possible.
Ages 4 – 8 and up
Orchard Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1338312263
To learn more about Elisha Cooper, his books, and his art, visit his website.
National Rivers Month Activity
World Rivers Word Search Puzzle
The world’s rivers provide homes for fish, animals, and birds; offer opportunities for recreation; and supply drinking water for millions. Can you find the names of twenty rivers of the world in this printable puzzle? Then learn where each river runs!