CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 10. . . . January, 2003
A cool wind began
to blow. Clouds darkened the sun and suddenly I was cold. Raindrops
"Come," my father said, and he walked swiftly down an old caribou trail. Lightening flashed. A gray curtain of rain moved across the face of the mountain, closer, and then we were in it. Big drops of rain trickled off my father's hair and onto my cheek.
"The river begins here," my father said.
Go Home, River is set on the Kobuk River in 1875. The tale starts off as many bedtime stories do: "When I was young...." The reader follows the Inuit family as they travel up the river in their boat. The little boy has the opportunity to go up into the mountains with his father to where the river begins. As they continue their travel, the river meets other rivers and the water grows stronger, wider and deeper. Then the river branches out into smaller rivers. Finally the Inupiat family meets the ocean, the end of the river. The family reaches their intended destination by paddling to a wide beach alive with others who have traveled from afar to trade. The trading lasts for days during the Sisualik fair, and then the traders pack up their tents and paddle back to their seasonal camps.
Alaskan writer James Magdanz is successful in bringing this trip to life for the reader. Although the story is simple, it describes historical and cultural events with which most children will not be familiar. The text of this story is largely narrative though there is some dialogue. The only suggestion I would make is that it would have added to the authenticity of the story if some traditional words had been used. In addition, the reader gets a glimpse at the ecology of water cycles. By following the family on its journey, the reader sees how rivers flow into oceans.
The illustrations in Go Home, River are quite remarkable. Illustrator Dianne Widom has reproduced the pictures from octopus ink paintings, and she receives her ink from a fisher in Alaska. Widom notes that octopus ink is extremely concentrated and that a few drops go a long way. Although there is no vibrant color in this book, the detail and the facial expressions mean the illustrations have a considerable affect of depth and warmth on the reader. This is the first time I remember seeing a picture book use this medium, and I was very impressed with this artist's work.
Go Home, River was first published in hardcover in 1996. The author's historical note at the back of the book is very interesting and provides a context for the story. This note may be a good start to a social studies/history class discussion. Go Home, River is a recommended purchase for classroom collections and public libraries.
As the result of an exciting move, Catherine Hoyt is now the Reference Librarian at the Nunavut Legislative Library in Iqaluit, Nunavut. However, she enjoys volunteering at the local public library in the newest capital in Canada.
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