Monday, March 16, 2020

Downstream to the Sea: River by Elisha Cooper

Morning, a mountain lake. A traveler, a canoe. As she paddles out into the blustery middle of the lake, she turns for a last wave to the shore. Her journey begins.

The canoe cuts across the lake, to the headwaters of the river.

She is alone.

With the river's flow doing part of the work, the Hudson River's 315 miles still requires a lot of paddle strokes. To paddle the entire course to its meeting with the Atlantic Ocean in New York City is a tremendous feat. The river flows from a mountain lake south through towering cliffs that inspired the Hudson River artists, over rocky rapids and through hills and fertile fields where deer and cattle sometimes mingle in meadows, past green forests, villages and cities, until it reaches Manhattan and gives itself to the ocean.
A seal pops its head out of the water and watches her go. And there is the lighthouse, growing larger by the minute...Now she sees them. Her family. Her children waving, her dog racing down the sand.

Elisha Cooper's River (Orchard Books, 2019) allows the reader a vicarious chance to take that journey one a day at a time, experiencing currents and rapids, rain and sunburn, the slow and dignified progress of a great river and a quick drop through locks, the jostling wakes of long barges and the busy chug-chugs of tugboats, black flies and dark nights spent sleeping on the shore, and always the timeless mumble and presence of the river, with the sandy reunion with her family as the river eases into the sea. To paddle the whole river is a tour de force, and so is traveling visually with author-illustrator Cooper, whose watercolor illustrations are both lovely and detailed.

For those kids who never see a body of water without wanting to get in it or on it, Caldecott winner Elisha Cooper's words and art provide a full immersion in one of America's great rivers. Says the New York Times reviewer, "This stunningly illustrated account of a woman's solo canoe trip down the Hudson is a remarkable example of the art of the picture book... Cooper's oversize gem is for the ages, and for people of all ages." And Booklist adds, "Evocative watercolor illustrations show differing perspectives and vary from tiny vignettes to large double-spread paintings offering many details while remaining soft-edged." 

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