Review of River

by Elisha Cooper; illus. by the author
Primary    Orchard/Scholastic    48 pp.    g
10/19    978-1-338-31226-3    $18.99

A woman says goodbye to her family and begins a three-hundred-mile canoe journey down a river. "In her canoe: tent, sleeping bag, guidebook, map, life jacket, first-aid kit, waterproof duffle with food, clothes, water bottles, coffee pot, stove, lamp, book, pencils, a sketchbook." (No cellphone.) She paddles alone through rapids, portages around waterfalls, and sleeps outside every night, with Cooper's watercolor and pencil sketches illuminating the details of the trip with a rhythmic mix of vignettes and wide landscapes. The present-tense text focuses on the journey rather than the destination, with the second page asking, "Can she do this?" but otherwise choosing not to ask or answer any of the obvious questions that might spring to readers' minds: Why is she making this journey alone? What river is she on? Nevertheless, some answers can be found in the illustrations, particularly endpapers showing maps of the Hudson River from its source at Henderson Lake in the Adirondacks to its mouth at New York City Harbor; we learn even more by comparing two similarly staged scenes of the woman's entire family (placed before the title page and amidst the back matter). By the time she rejoins them, we have become so absorbed in her experience that, much as she had done on the river, we now notice every detail. Back matter includes an author's note ("I did not canoe down the Hudson River. I am not a capable enough canoer. Or a brave enough one"), a note about the Hudson, and a list of sources and further reading.

From the November/December 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is a freelance designer and consultant with degrees in studio art and children’s literature. She is the former creative director for The Horn Book, Inc., and has taught children’s literature at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogged for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.


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