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All Along the River

by Blair Drawson

Grandpa Joe sips tea with his granddaughter, telling her of his exploits along the river as a young boy – and particularly of his search for the great river giant. On the way down the river he catches an enormous fish, meets friendly braves from the Chippewa tribe, is captured by pirates with rotten manners, sails over a waterfall, is rescued by mermaids, and is captured again by the same pirates, who are then attacked by the Chippewa intent on saving him. The great river giant himself puts an end to the hullabaloo and they all take tea by the river.

This rollicking, action-packed story plays with the conventions of the tall tale. Every fish the boy catches is larger than he is, the pirates are deliciously repulsive, and the mermaids are mesmerizingly beautiful. Drawson’s illustrations make it clear that the boy who sets off down the river is Grandpa Joe’s younger self, and that the adventures he encounters emerge from a youthful imagination, so we don’t expect realistic portrayals. The final tableau of tea on the lawn – in which past and present, real and imaginary merge – is a lovely depiction of harmonious closure. The river giant sipping tea from a thimble-sized teacup is a fine humorous touch, as is the dry statement: “The pirates behaved as well as could be expected.”

Younger children may find the grotesque Dickensian pirates and the river giant frightening. Nevertheless, older kids will likely notice that at the most tense moments, the boy looks pouty rather than terrified, and will enjoy this imaginative romp.