The river is the place to be! It bustles with energy and life as a flotilla of brightly coloured boats travels through the seasons towards the sea. Ships, boats, canoes carrying people, animals, fruits, plants, flowers, smiles and laughter.
Along the River is a book with a relaxed and positive vibe. It isn’t just the peace sign necklaces that make me think ‘peace and love’. Boats have names like ‘I am happy’, ‘Beautiful smile’ and ‘Good life’. Characters, mainly dark-skinned, are engaged in a variety of activities: preparing food, eating, greeting one another, sleeping and, in one glorious illustration, jamming together. There’s even a blossoming romance, or two!
Text is minimal and simple with some repetition, and the words wash over you like ripples in the water:
‘You will have to search for . . . your own way . . . and your own rhythm . . .’
There’s no doubt that many of the characters depicted in the book have found their happy place right there on the river. Perhaps by slowing down, listening to ourselves and going with the flow, we readers can do the same.
I’d hop on board one of those boats right now given the chance! Vanina Starkoff’s bold folk-art illustrations on sunshine yellow pages hold a wonderfully welcoming cast of characters. Readers of all ages will enjoy seeking out the little stories on each page among the fruits and plants and fairy lights. And there’s not a TV screen, laptop or mobile phone in sight! They are not needed. Along the River is a reminder of the importance of human connections and the simple pleasures of life. Definitely things to celebrate and enjoy.
Along the River by Vanina Starkoff, translated from the Portuguese by Jane Springer (Groundwood Books, 2017)
Vanina Starkoff is a graphic designer, illustrator and author of children’s books. Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, she now lives in Brazil where she runs art workshops for Indigenous children.
Jane Springer is an author and consultant in international development, who has lived in Mozambique and India. She has translated several books from the Portuguese including Nest Egg and Tales of the Amazon.
Along the River was an USBBY Outstanding International Book in 2018.
This is an edited version of a post originally published on Planet Picture Book in April 2019.
Laura Taylor is the founder of world children’s literature blog Planet Picture Book. She is a small business copywriter, NAATI-certified translator of French into English and member of AUSIT. When she is not writing, she is reading and chasing after her two young children. She tweets regularly @plapibo and posts at www.planetpicturebook.com