As the threat of climate change becomes more and more scary, it’s necessary to focus on the helpers, those who are doing their part to help the planet recover from human mistakes. One such mistake was the damming of the Elwha River on the Olympic Penisula in the Pacific Northwest.
Mountain Snow melts. Plip…plop…plip.
The drops flow together as trickling streams,
and then unite as one river.
In the lyrical opening spreads, the reader learns what the Elwha River was like millions of years before human habitation. How it evolved to become a spawning ground for young salmon. And then how the Native Americans’ lives (the Klallam people) and the river’s lives became intertwined.
Then came the settlers who saw the wilderness as a place to be tamed and harnessed. Harnessing included building dams to produce electricity, resulting in huge losses for the river and for the Klallam people.
Descriptions of how dams work and the effects they have on wildlife (in this case the salmon who were of vital importance to the Klallam people and larger predators throughout the watershed); the creation of Olympic National Park; the Klallam people’s fight to get two dams removed on the Elwha; and the coordinated and intense efforts to rehabilitate the drained lakebed into the vibrant ecosystem it once was are all interwoven within the narrative. There’s also a fascinating visual depiction of how the two dams were removed and how a rock that had been submerged for 100 years, a rock that was a sacred site to the Klallam people, was reclaimed by the tribe.
The story ends with the river coming full circle, becoming once again a thriving watershed that flows unrestricted to the sea, nurturing wildlife and the people who care for it. It is so heartening to see how we can have such a huge positive impact on the Earth and its inhabitants when we work together for the greater good.
Natasha Donovan’s illustrations, made with pen, pencil and Procreate, are reminiscent of woodcuts. And I really like how she splits the frame of some illustrations, showing what’s happening under and above the water in the same spread.
Select an activity from the teacher’s guide for this book.
Make a food web that reflects your backyard, garden, or woods. What plants do insects in the area eat? What predators eat the insects? What predators eat the predators that eat the insects? Are there some predators that eat plants, insects, or other predators? Where do you fit in the food web?
Make a floppy paper salmon.
Title: A River’s Gifts: The Mighty Elwha River Reborn
Author: Patricia Newman
Illustrator: Natasha Donovan
Publisher: Millbrook Press, 2022
Ages: Elementary school
Themes: watersheds, habitat restoration, Native Americans, ecosystems
For more perfect picture book recommendations, please visit Susanna Hill’s website.