Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

River of Words: Young Poets and Artists on the Nature of Things

River of Words: Young Poets and Artists on the Nature of Things

Introduced by Robert Haas, Edited by Pamela Michael
For ages 10 and up
Milkweed Editions, 2008   ISBN: 978-1571316851

In 1995 Pamela Michael and poet laureate Robert Hass founded River of Words. Every year since 1996 this non-profit organization has hosted a poetry and art contest that focuses on nature, specifically on watersheds. Children participating in the contest have sent in thousands of pieces of art and thousands of poems since the contest was launched, and in this book readers will get a taste of some of the poetry and artwork that they created. The hope would that in creating their poetry and art young children would develop “an informed understanding of place that would help them grow into active citizens.” The hope is that as they look at the natural world around them, children will learn to see its beauty and its fragility, and that they will begin to realize that it belongs to them and that they need to take care of it.

   In this remarkable collection readers will find little poems written by kindergarteners and longer poems written by teens who are on the cusp of becoming adults. We begin with the poems that were written by the youngest poets. First of all we hear from Elijah, a five year old who describes how a waterfall greeted him that day. “The river also talked” to him, wanting to make sure that he knew that his name is important.

   Nine-year-old Richard captures a moment in time, gathering together images of nature into eight lines of verse that are powerful and beautiful. We see a green snake “Slithering on a dirt path,” and a robin sitting in a tree. We watch as the “sun floats down,” and then “the moon’s white eye” can be seen.

   In her poem Royal Oaks thirteen-year-old Lauren takes us on a journey so that we see a redwood, a slough, and a meadow, and she shows us why these places are her special places and why she claims them with the words, “This is where I live.”

   Every so often in the book, readers will encounter one of the many pieces of artwork that were entered in the contest. They will see pictures that are lifelike, and those that are stylized. Some explode with color and movement, and some are quiet, thoughtful pieces.

   This is a collection that children and adults alike will enjoy exploring. It is a collection of voices that belong to young people who all have their own individual picture of the natural world.