Sunday, May 11, 2008

Children's Book Monday


Letting Swift River Go
by Jane Yolen
Illustrated by Barbara Cooney






I keep finding new (to me!) Barbara Cooney books, and this time her illustrations are paired with the incomparable Jane Yolen- how thrilled I was to find this quiet book on our last library visit! I proceeded to pull seven other Jane Yolen's from the shelves afterwards- if you live in my area and noticed the shortage, I will return them this week! (sheepish laugh)

Some things we love about both author's books are the details of real places- in this book, the place is Quabbin Reservoir in Massachusetts. Based on true events that occured between the years of 1927 and 1946, Yolen and Cooney bring to beautiful life the surroundings and decisions made during those years.

In a low-lying valley called Swift River, towns are filled with folks whose parents and grandparents have lived there all their lives. Through the eyes of Sally Jane, we meet up with her friends, Georgie Warren and Nancy Vaughn, sleeping out under the stars and listening to the trains starting and stopping along Rabbit Run, the backyard maples waving overhead.

Throughout the seasons in Swift River, Yolen paints vivid pictures with her words...Later, in March, we put buckets up on all the maples, dipping our fingers down into the sap and tasting the thin sweetness... Cooney, as always, paint vivid pictures literally; two friends and a cousin stand in the twilight in their summer nightgowns, holding hands over jars twinkling with fireflies, Mama standing nearby, the lights sparkling from their house on the hill.

Everything changes when men visit Swift River with the sad story of their city, Boston, and how much it needed water. The residents agree that their valley, with it's good, clear, cold, clean water could be traded for money, new houses, a better life. And so it is voted to drown their towns.

Now six-year-old Sally Jane must watch as graves are moved, as the governer sends his "woodpeckers" to clear the trees, and then, finally, homes are bulldozed or moved to other towns. Her friends scatter, and the town is unrecognizable as Winsor Dam and the Goodnough Dike are built over her memories.

We grew quiet as each page turned, the magnitude of Swift River's decision settling heavily on us. When Sally Jane returned years later and rowed out over the town below with her father, I choked up as I read the final words and was reminded of how difficult change really is.

Corban asked, "Why didn't they fight it? Why did they just let them do that?" It's true, the town quietly acquiesced that the decision to be drowned was all for the best. I once read a quote somewhere that said, "When progress is made, a price has been paid". No blame was laid, no anger expressed. We talked together of the better life this provided for not only the Bostonians, but the residents of Swift River as well, and this seemed to soothe my boy's hurting hearts.

It ends well, fellow readers- Sally Jane learns an old lesson, finally, that her mama spoke into her life years before.

I rattled on rather long in this review- but that's how much we loved it! It is difficult to describe to you how wonderful this book is without giving away everything- perhaps you should check it out for yourselves?

Happy Reading!

8 fellow travelers shared:

Quinne said...

Hi Elise :) Thank you for another wonderful book recommendation! We will be studying the states next fall, and I have added this title to our Massachusetts file.

A very happy Mother's Day to you! Love, Q

jen said...

Barbara Cooney and Jane Yolen? Two of my all-time favorite children's book author/illustrators.

I've often wondered why talented artists, such as Jane Yolen, seek to have someone else illustrate their books. But you can't go wrong with Ms. Cooney!

Anna said...

Happy Mother's Day, Elise!

I so appreciate all of your recommendations and this one sounds great, too.

We finally just got the chance to read The Quiltmaker's Gift that you reviewed - what a wonderful story! The girls could not stop looking at the detailed illustrations over and over again!

~Anna :)

Carrie at dumptrucksandteacups said...

This looks like a wonderful book - thanks for sharing it!

Enjoy your Monday!

Jessica said...

I love Barbara Cooney but don't think that I've read much of Jane Yolen so I'll have to check her out next time at the library:)
By the way I love the music on your blog, I keep coming back just to listen to Sara Groves song!
God Bless!

Ann Voskamp @Holy Experience said...

I confess: I am smitten with Jane Yolen.

Have you read Birdwatch? Or her series of "House of" (House of Ice etc)?

I send so much love, friend...
Ann

Beverly said...

Adding to my library list ...
Also, the picture below made me smile. You are blessed ;-) and a beautiful mama.

May God give you a lovely day.

Edi said...

I also love Cooney books...thanks for the recommendation.

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