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A DAY ON THE RIVER by Richard Michl (Barrons: $6.95; 28 pp; ages 4-9).

June 08, 1986|KRISTIANA GREGORY

It's hard not to think of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn when flipping through these dreamy drawings of boys exploring a river. Paul, Bernie and Thomas are playing hooky, armed with a fishing rod, a bag of sandwiches and a giant inner tube. As they laze their way downstream, beautiful full-colored illustrations show their imaginary adventures where monsters lurk and treasure awaits on an island that "bulges up out of the river like the long, white back of some underwater creature." Michl also pays careful detail to the wildlife as they peacefully go about their business: a mallard swimming with her young, the dragonfly about to be eaten by a pike.

On the copyright page in the very back of the book is an emotional note from the author, explaining how this reflects fond memories of his own boyhood near the mouth of the Danube. But today, because of concrete technology, the old trees are gone, as are many of the indigenous animals. "We simply must preserve this," he says of the river.

"We cannot sacrifice another mile, not only for the mallard, the kingfisher and the heron, but for ourselves." But these important words hardly are noticed by the reader, and are certain to be missed by children who usually skip microscopic type. If Michl could have incorporated his plea into his story, then this journey would have been meaningful instead of merely sentimental.

Robert Frost once remarked that poetry is what gets lost in translation, and the same goes for paraphrase. On that note, let me simply say of SEA SONGS (Holiday House: $14.95; 32 pp.; age 5 up) by Los Angeles poet Myra Cohn Livingston: Take a child onto your lap and read aloud:

Tilted umbrellas nod in soft sand. Patchworks of bright towels

sprawl beach picnics. Surfboards ride the foaming surf. Painted pails

pour water into moated castles, buried in the lost digs of summer.

Storms, mermaids, whales and shipwrecks also appear in this book of ocean images, all of them handsomely illustrated by Leonard Everett Fisher.

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