Follow a child’s vivid imagination downstream with all its twists and turns in Marc Martin’s ‘A River’.
The tale begins with a young girl looking out of her window, observing the river which flows outside it. Armed with a small silver boat with a single sail, she takes a trip along it. ‘Where will it take me?’ she asks – before drifting throughout the day and night, past built up cities and animal filled jungles. Starting with a tranquil stream, the river bends with each page, tracing a new adventure.
Along the way she observes colourful shoals of fish, navigates choppy waters and tumbles down waterfalls, taking each new experience in her stride. The river becomes a metaphor for life. We are all travelling into the Unknown.
As both the writer and illustrator, Marc Martin cleverly captures how children often see wonder and magic in the everyday and how this fuels their imaginations. She sails past not just farmland, but ‘fields that look like giant quilts’ and deep in the jungle she’s aware of the ‘many eyes watching me.’
What I love about Martin’s illustrations is his vivid colour palette of jungle green, teal, yellow with a pop of orange or fuchsia. His work is full of detail, with this book being one that children will go back to, because there is so much to spot. The opening scene, in the girl’s room, are full of trinkets and prints which represent her inner explorer. Such as the crocodile toy under her bed and the ‘wild & wonderful’ book on her shelf.
And then like magic, the animals and foliage are woven into her adventures on the river.
Towards the end of the story a storm comes and transports the character back home in a Wizard of Oz-style tornado in reverse. Now watching the river again from her bedroom, she’s in the exact same spot from the beginning of the story. However it’s now nighttime and we’re left to wonder, was she really journeying downstream, or did she spend that long pretending?
I wonder if Martin decided not to name the main character because he didn’t want it to be just her story. Instead he wanted it to belong to the reader. We are all on that river. Life can throw up surprises some scary, some wonderful. We should pause to take it in and appreciate the moment but most of all we should keep on moving. And a spot of day dreaming can never be a bad thing.