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Resources, Resources: Rolling on the Rivers

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Resources, Resources: Rolling on the Rivers

By Becky Rupp


June is American Rivers Month – so this may be just the time to study watersheds, water rats, dams, floods, and Huckleberry Finn.

A good starting point here is Nancy F. Castaldo’s River Wild: An Activity Guide to North American Rivers (Chicago Review Press, 2006), an 144-page book targeted at ages 8-12 and crammed with information, projects, recipes, and experiments. The topic is introduced with a general overview of rivers, followed by a survey of the major rivers of North America, categorized by geographic region. While learning about everything from the St. Lawrence to the Rio Grande, kids build a dam, pan for gold, experiment with evaporation, build a rain gauge, and bake a batch of Mississippi Mud Pies.

Lynne Cherry’s A River Ran Wild (Sandpiper, 2002) for ages 6-10 is a picture-book ecological history of New England’s Nashua River from the 15th century, when native tribes lived along its banks, through the days of the Industrial Revolution, the pollution and destruction of the river, and its restoration by environmental activists in the 1960s. Included are colorful maps and timelines, and border illustrations provide supplementary information.

For ages 4-7, see Debby Atwell’s River (Sandpiper, 2004), which tells a similar story with a spare simple text, illustrated with appealing folk-art paintings.

In Michael J. Caduto’s Riparia’s River (Tilbury House, 2011) for ages 6-10, four kids are horrified to find their favorite swimming hole contaminated with green slime. They then meet a mysterious naturalist named Riparia – her name means “of the riverbank” – who explains the ecology of rivers and inspires the kids to repair the damage.

Thomas Locker’s Where the River Begins (Puffin, 1993) is the story of young Josh and Aaron who, on summer nights, “liked to sit on their porch, watching the river and making up stories about it. Where, they wondered, did the river begin.” And so, in company with their grandfather, they set off to find out. It’s a beautiful book, illustrated with exquisite paintings. For ages 4 and up.

Also gorgeously illustrated is Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’s The Secret River (Atheneum, 2011) – originally published in 1955. It’s hard times in the Florida boonies and Calpurnia’s father has no fish to sell. So Calpurnia takes matters into her own hands and – following the advice of the local wise woman – travels through the forest to find a fish-filled secret river. It’s a wonderful story, a marvelous river, and the illustrations, by Leo and Diane Dillon, are simply magical.

Three Days on a River in a Red Canoe by Vera B. Williams (Greenwillow Books, 1984) – a perennial favorite for ages 4-8 – is the story of two kids on a wonderful trip with their mothers, with enchanting illustrations and a lot of along-the-way information about camping, canoeing, and rivers.

For ages 5-9, Gail Langer Karwoski’s River Beds (Sylvan Dell Publishing, 2008) follows a boy in a rowboat around the rivers of the world, discovering where river animals sleep, among them otters and beavers, dolphins, capybaras, and hippopotami. The book includes an appendix with related activities and puzzles.

Hudson Talbott’s River of Dreams (Putnam Juvenile Books, 2009) is a multifaceted picture-book history of New York’s Hudson River for ages 8-12, from the carving of the river bed by the glaciers of the Ice Age to the present day.

Holling C. Holling’s Minn of the Mississippi (Sandpiper, 1978) is the story of the mighty Mississippi for ages 9 and up, told from the point of view of a snapping turtle traveling south from its headwaters. Notes, maps, and sketches in the margins enhance the text with details of Mississippi geography and wildlife.

And then there’s the very tall tale of Mike Fink, who ran away from home when just two days old to become a keelboatman on the Mississppi River. For picture-book versions of his outrageous exploits, see Steven Kellogg’s Mike Fink (HarperCollins, 1998) or Stephen Krensky’s Mike Fink (First Avenue Editions, 2007).

From the California Banana Slug String Band, a quartet of talented musicians/educators, We All Live Downstream is a catchy CD of river and water songs, among them “We All Live Downstream,” “Thankful for the Watershed,” and “River Song.”

The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes (Hyperion Books, 2009) is a picture-book version of what is perhaps Hughes’s best-known poem, with watercolor illustrations by E.B. Lewis. “I’ve known rivers/Rivers ancient as the world,” the poem begins. Pictures and words trace the intertwining of African-American history and rivers across the world.

Jane Kurtz’s River Friendly, River Wild (Aladdin, 2007) for ages 5-10 is an illustrated series of personal poems that convey a child’s experience living beside North Dakota’s Red River and surviving its disastrous flood of 1997. The poems begin with happy days fishing along the river; then, following an April blizzard, the river turns wild, overflowing its banks, sweeping away houses. The message is one of the caring and community that help families survive disasters.

Patricia Lauber’s Flood (National Geographic Children’s Books, 1996), subtitled “Wrestling with the Mississppi,” is a 64-page history of Mississippi floods and flood control efforts for ages 9-14, illustrated with photographs and maps.

Still – serious and devastating though floods are – James Stevenson’s We Hate Rain! (Greenwillow Books, 1988) for ages 4-8 is a wonderful account by MaryAnn and Louie’s Grandpa of the days when he and little brother Wainey (who says nothing but “Yump”) are caught in a tremendous rain that fills their Victorian house to the roof. Unfazed, they swim through the rooms, and visit and send messages by boat, until Grandpa himself finally solves the problem by pulling the plug in the clawfoot bathtub. It’s shamefully out of print – look for it at your library.

The Enchanted Learning website includes basic information on rivers, world and U.S. river map printouts, river quizzes, and a glossary of river terms.

The Riverlorian has a lot of river information in a kid-friendly Q&A format, illustrated with colorful diagrams. Questions include “What is a watershed?” “Why do rivers meander?” “Why do rivers flood?” “Why are dams built?”

See Mr. Donn for a series of lesson plans and activities related to the Mississippi River.

EDITOR’S NOTE: While the site shows the Mr. Donn link crossed out, it really does work! (Can’t quite figure out what’s going on with it here. Thanks!)

Visit Core Knowledge and type “rivers” in the search box for a list of detailed river-based hands-on lesson plans, among them “Rivers Rock and Rivers Roll,” “Life Giving Rivers,” “Rivers of the World,” “River Time Travelers,” and a literature unit (partially featuring a river) on “The Wind in the Willows.”

The river of Kenneth Grahame’s classic The Wind in the Willows is, of course, the very English Thames. For more information, see “A Pictorial Guide to the River Thames” which features a virtual trip from source to sea, accompanied by pictures, maps, photos, historical notes, and Winnie-the-Pooh in a rowboat.

River Legends” is a lesson plan for a range of ages in which kids read river tales (available online), among them “How Coyote Made the Columbia River,” and then write river legends of their own.

At the NeoK12 site, a source for “Educational Videos, Lessons, and Games for K-12 School Kids,” you’ll find a series of short videos on river topics – among them river features, meanders, the formation of the Grand Canyon, and hydropower – and a gallery of river pictures, useful for reports and posters.

From the Environmental Protection Agency, here’s a clickable map that allows visitors to locate their local watersheds and resources on watershed protection.

Missouri’s Bryant Watershed Education Project has several activity-based lesson plans on watersheds for grades 4-9.

“Rivers Project” from Southern Illinois University was designed to increase the science literacy of high-school kids through water study. The website includes a list of project suggestions (among them “13 Things You Can do for a Healthier River”). Detailed curriculum units on river biology, chemistry, earth science, geography, math, and language arts are available for sale at the site ($25 each).

Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – the all-time classic of a boy and a river – was originally published in 1885 and today is available in many editions, including graphic-novel and abridged versions for younger readers. The complete text can be found online at The Literature Network.

See also “Water Experiments” by Becky Rupp.


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One Response to “Resources, Resources: Rolling on the Rivers”

  1. […] Rupp, homeschool author and Resource Queen Extraordinaire, has a fantastic guest post at Parent at the Helm.  Here, she lists a plethora of river-related books and websites complete […]

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