April 21, 2022

Martin and the River

Written by Jon-Erik Lappano
Illustrated by Josée Bisaillon
Groundwood Books
36 pp.
Ages 3-6
March 2022
As Earth Day nears, we need to consider that the experiences of young people with the natural world will be quite different depending on where they live. But, if Martin and the River shows us anything, it's that it doesn't have to be that way.
From Martin and the River by Jon-Erik Lappano, illus. by Josée Bisaillon
Martin lives in a rural community where the river and its environs are more than just the landscape of his life: they are his companions. He watches the frogs, great blue herons and crayfish. He knows the behaviour of the otters and osprey. Countless hours are spent at the river that runs through the fields behind his house. Then a new job moves the family to the city.
From Martin and the River by Jon-Erik Lappano, illus. by Josée Bisaillon
As Martin prepares to leave the river and its life force, he seeks a plan to help. But it's not until his parents take him for a visit to the city, with its subway, museum, and its own natural area that Martin finds a way to bring the river to the city with him.
From Martin and the River by Jon-Erik Lappano, illus. by Josée Bisaillon
Story from Jon-Erik Lappano? Art by Josée Bisaillon? I was already sold on Martin and the River. I knew it would be impactful and it is because it touches on big ideas of adapting to change and of our relationships with nature. Every child will experience some change in their lives, especially the leaving behind of the familiar and going to the unknown, whether it be home, family or school. How they deal with that change is important in determining how disquieting the transition will or will not be. Martin may be a resilient child but change is still change and leaving behind his beloved river was going to be hard. Thankfully he and his parents knew enough to help make that transition smoother by finding another river for him to embrace.

Beyond the concept of change, Martin and the River is a big story because of the child's relationship with the river and its elements, hence my choice to review this book for our upcoming Earth Day. For Martin, Earth Day is everyday. It's appreciating the natural world and its plants and animals and water. It's acknowledging how nature sustains us, especially spiritually. He was fortunate to be able to spend time communing with the river and experiencing the life within. But these experiences helped him to bridge a difficult transition because he was able to appreciate that another natural environment had much to offer as well, just different. 

And don't Josée Bisaillon's illustrations, blends of coloured pencil, pastels, gouache and digital art, just burst with the life of that river and the scenes of the city? From the lush greenery, golden fields and busy indoor and outdoor city scapes, Josée Bisaillon has taken us into Martin's busy brain, imagining, appreciating and feeling. Everything is big and bold and wild.

Not every child is fortunate to have a river as a friend, but I hope that every child finds their own natural element, as Martin did with his rivers, to underscore their lives and guide them with reflection, resilience and imagination.

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