Michael J. Caduto, illustrated by Olga Pastuchiv,
Tilbury House, 2011.
Riparia’s River is author and ecologist Michael Caduto’s story of a community coming together to bring the river they love back to its natural, clean state.
Upon finding their favorite swimming hole full of slimy, smelly stuff one summer day, a group of young friends decide to follow the riverbank upstream to find out why. From a woman named Riparia, whom they find “surrounded by the arching branches of ancient trees”, they learn about the ways in which a nearby farm has been unintentionally affecting the river’s health, and come up with a plan to set things right.
Riparia gives the river voice by showing the kids how it responds to the process of human and natural disturbance. That she quietly and mysteriously disappears after showing them may leave some readers wondering… Who was she, really? If a river could talk, it is likely it would sound like Riparia.
Many of the solutions currently offered to our environmental challenges seem to rely upon a faith in the power of education, community and the human spirit, and that is precisely the message Riparia’s River conveys so well. Out of concern for their river, a group of children inspires a community to come together to restore and protect the body of water they all rely on and benefit from. Together they move the farm’s fence and transplant “wildflowers, shrubs and trees between the river and the new fence-line”to create a buffer zone.
Pastuchiv’s soft, fuzzy watercolors feature undefined characters that serve the text well. By making the children look vaguely generic (albeit clearly multicultural in their complexions), the illustrations reinforce the idea that they represent all children; that their river could be our river; their efforts, ours.
As more and more people these days learn about the importance of living in harmony with nature, this book provides a timely opportunity for parents and educators to talk to children about the role humans play in the creation of environmental imbalances—in particular those related to river habitats and their ecosystem—and how we can all be a part of the solution.
At story’s end, the children head out to the now clean swimming hole, and readers are presented with “The Fauna of Riparia’s River”, a list of birds, animals, reptiles and insects that appear throughout the book, as well as an invitation to find them all.