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River by Debby Atwell


by Debby Atwell

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A river gradually becomes depleted as more and more people use its resources to build cities, transport goods, and handle sewage.



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"In the beginning there was the river. Trees grew. Fish grew big. And one by one, the animals came to drink the water." So begins the simple but evocative text of this picture-book examination of the life, death and rebirth of a river. Tracing the use of the river by humans, from the first people - Native Americans - who settled by its banks, to the coming of more people - European settlers - who fought with the original inhabitants, in order to also settle there, the narrative and artwork document how increasing use and lack of care lead to the death of the river - to its inability to support any life. But the people, the narrative informs us, remembered how it had been before, and slowly, by cleaning up their act and learning how to share, they helped the river to recover...

Although the setting is clearly somewhere in New England, no specific river is mentioned in author/artist Debby Atwell's River. But then, it could be so many rivers, in so many places. The text is brief, each two-page spread presenting five or six simple, declarative sentences, with text on the left-hand side paired with full-page paintings on the right. Atwell's narrative does not pass judgment, simply stating facts - "the new people cleared the land," she tells us, or "new inventions changed life for the people" - but her colorful, folk-art style paintings fully communicate the massive social and ecological upheaval her text describes. The changing color of the river itself, as it gets darker and darker, more and more polluted, offers a vivid, more emotional counterpoint to her fairly sedate text. This approach - pairing an understated text with such descriptive illustrations - works immensely well, and is far more effective, I think, than a more didactic text alone would have been. Atwell doesn't need to tell us that pollution and overuse are bad - her artwork documents it for us. Engaging, thought-provoking, and beautifully illustrated, this one reminded me of Lynne Cherry's A River Ran Wild: An Environmental History, which covers similar territory. Recommended to anyone looking for more narrative picture-books addressing ecological themes, as well as to fans of this artist. ( )
  AbigailAdams26 | Dec 11, 2018 |
Over time more and more human activity depletes a river until the people realize they must change their way of life.
  UWC_PYP | May 18, 2007 |
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