"In the beginning there was the river" begins this purposeful, yet effective story of changes over time. The next spread shows the first person, a native American, to visit the river. Then more people arrive to fish and to trade. Soon colonists arrive, fight off the inhabitants, chop down trees, and build a town. Next steamboats, automobiles, and factories appear. Fish no longer live in the polluted waters. But people see their mistake, tear down factories, replant trees, and eventually life returns to the river. Illustrated with a series of folk-art paintings, this book makes its statement simply and clearly in words and pictures that even young children can understand. The less-detailed scenes are particularly haunting in their evocation of place. A good companion book for Atwell's Barn (1996), which dealt with changes in another American locale over two centuries.
"In a series of folk-art paintings, Atwell (Barn, 1996) charts an American river's decline from unspoiled to trash-strewn, then its recovery due to the efforts of concerned people. Although readers may be thrown by the brief text's vagueness (``They changed the warehouses. They tore down some of the factories. They planted trees. They wanted to share''), the message comes through clearly in the striking riverine scenes, as bright skies and blue waters change to lowering clouds and gray dinginess, then back to idealized views of grassy approaches and families at play." Kirkus Reviews