Monday, April 27, 2009

A River Ran Wild


I've owned A River Ran Wild: An Environmental History by Lynne Cherry almost since it was first published in 1992. It is the perfect book to help students understand how the introduction of other species, man, and pollution can affect an entire ecosystem or environment.

The environment in this book is the Nashua River in Massachusetts. The initial two-page illustration shows a beautiful, clean river winding its way through lush forests. The text tells us that many, many, many years ago this area was home to bears, moose, deer, hawks, owls, geese, beavers, turtles, and many schools of fish.

On the next pages, we watch as a Native American group of people looks down on the river from atop Mt. Wachusett. The native people went down to settle by the river, and they used the resources of the area, being careful only to take what they absolutely needed.

Then traders came, and they started trading posts. The traders were followed by settlers who started to claim the river as their own, ignoring the rights of the native people.

Then came the great Industrial Revolution when many factories and mills were built along the river, and dumped their debris into the river. This "progress" continued for years as more and more people and more and more industries came to the Nashua River valley. Finally, there came a point where no animals could survive in, or nearby, the Nashua River.

Eventually, an activist named Marion (an ancestor of the chief of the Native American group), started to bring attention to the horrible conditions of the Nashua River. Because of her efforts and grass roots movement, eventually laws were passed and people had to stop polluting.

When people stopped polluting, the river started to get healthy again.

Okay, that is the short synopsis, but the power of the story isn't in just the words and events, but also in the way Lynne Cherry organized and illustrated this book. Each two-page layout represents another period in the "life" of the Nashua River. On the right side, is a beautiful illustration that represents what was said in the text. On the left side, she makes a border of pictures around the text. Each of these pictures reflects another event in how the Nashua River was changed. You could spend a long time just sharing the borders and their importance with students. The life cycle of this river is just amazing!

Another wonderful section of this book is the front inside cover pages. There is a map of what Massachusetts looked like in the 1500's and another map of how it looked in the 1900's. In addition, there is a timeline of the events that happened in the book, starting 7,000 years ago when Indian peoples came through the Nashua River Valley to 1979, when "bass, pickerel, perch, trout, bald eagles, osprey, and great blue heron return to the Nashua."

A River Ran Wild will be a powerful book, both in text and visually, to help my students understand the effect of humans on the environment (both in a positive and negative way).

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