Synopses & Reviews
"Less effective than Atwell's similarly themed Barn, this eco-fable features well-wrought paintings but serves up clichés. 'In the beginning there was the river. Trees grew. Fish grew big. And one by one, the animals came to drink the water,' opens the narrative, often stilted in its emulation of a biblical tone. A person arrives in a canoe 'He knew the river was good,' reads text opposite a painting of a Native American hunter, his head bowed in acknowledgment of a fine sunset. Yet 'the first people had to leave to find peace' once white settlers appeared. Balancing elements of Impressionism and folk art, Atwell's appealing paintings reveal both the river and sky darkening as factory stacks spew smoke into the air, motorcyclists speed along the riverbank and trash bobs in the water ('The animals no longer came to drink. The fish disappeared. There were too many needs'). Then, 'people remembered how it had been,' and tear down some of the factories and plant trees because they (cryptically) 'wanted to share.' The message is simplistic and the delivery predictable; the tug-of-war between man and nature is rendered more credibly in Atwell's artwork than in her words. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"In the beginning there was the river" begins this purposeful, yet effective story of changes over time. The next spread shows the first person, a native American, to visit the river. Then more people arrive to fish and to trade. Soon colonists arrive, fight off the inhabitants, chop down trees, and build a town. Next steamboats, automobiles, and factories appear. Fish no longer live in the polluted waters. But people see their mistake, tear down factories, replant trees, and eventually life returns to the river. Illustrated with a series of folk-art paintings, this book makes its statement simply and clearly in words and pictures that even young children can understand. The less-detailed scenes are particularly haunting in their evocation of place. A good companion book for Atwell's Barn (1996), which dealt with changes in another American locale over two centuries.
"In a series of folk-art paintings, Atwell (Barn, 1996) charts an American river's decline from unspoiled to trash-strewn, then its recovery due to the efforts of concerned people. Although readers may be thrown by the brief text's vagueness (They changed the warehouses. They tore down some of the factories. They planted trees. They wanted to share'), the message comes through clearly in the striking riverine scenes, as bright skies and blue waters change to lowering clouds and gray dinginess, then back to idealized views of grassy approaches and families at play." Kirkus Reviews
With direct language and colorful paintings, Debby Atwell relates the changes that occur through the centuries along a riverbank, from the arrival of the first humans to the coming of the first settlers, from the industrial revolution to the present day.
About the Author
Debby Atwell is a well-known landscape painter and the author and illustrator of River, Barn, and Pearl. Barn earned a starred review from School Library Journal and was named a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year in 1996. Pearl also received a starred review in Publishers Weekly. Ms. Atwell lives in Maine.