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The River Ran Wild

Page history last edited by bought14@msu.edu 13 years, 5 months ago Saved with comment






This book centers upon these significant themes: human effects on the environment, pollution and being a responsible citizen.

Human effects on the environment are a significant concept, A River Runs Wild provides both text and illustrations that show the changes of pollutions throughout history and how people in each period affected the Nashua river. Beginning with the Natives and through today, this text supports the theme of human pollution.


Native Americans (pages one through five)

Agricultural/Hunting (pages six through eleven)

Industrial Revolution (pages twelve through sixteen)

People Today (pages seventeen through to the end)


The illustrations also provide excellent visual representation of how the river changed throughout time based upon the types of pollution that were affecting it and the activities of the people that surrounded it. In addition, the boarder illustrations serve as text features that support key practices of people at that time with regards to the river.

By the end of the book the reader will come away with a deeper understanding of what it means to be a responsible citizen and how their actions affect their surrounding world and can build up over time. The story in A River Runs Wild shows that all humans impact their surrounding environment daily and at times they are not fully aware of the implications their actions have on the air that they breathe, the water that they drink, and the world in which they live.

This is an excellent book to have in a classroom and great for connecting to students' prior knowledge of what a citizen is and what it means to be a responsible citizen, especially in a social studies context. It is also a practical book for discussing within science as it pertains to pollutants, the water cycle and ecology in science lessons.

Key classroom terminology introduced in this book includes "runoff", "watershed" and "environment"





            A River Ran Wild: An Environmental History, written by Lynne Cherry, is considered nonfiction. While a non-fiction book it is unique in that it does not read like nonfiction, rather it includes definite elements of narrative story telling. As non-fiction books are less popular with student's on the whole, having a story-like quality enables the book to reach a wider audience.

  The first sentence in the author’s note states, “The story of the Nashua River is true.” The author continues by briefly telling the Nashua’s history including important and factual dates, names of locations, people and groups of people involved in the changes of the Nashua River.

            This book is also considered a picture book. It is fairly short and contains several illustrations that accompany the text. 


Plot Summary


            A River Runs Wild describes the changes the Nash-a-way River undergoes over time. Before the interaction of people with the river it was clear, healthy, and a water source for the animals that lived near the river. Native Americans found the river and settled near it. Their lifestyle consisted of hunted only what they needed to for food and clothes. The Native American’s respected the land and the river where they settled. One day, Europeans came and began to trade with the Native Americans; these Europeans decided to settle here too. They did not value the river and the land the way the Natives did and abused it. They cut down the forest and hunted more than necessary. The Natives didn’t agree with this lifestyle and began to fight the Europeans. The Natives’ bows and arrows couldn’t compete with the Europeans guns and thus, they were driven away from the land.

            The beginning of a new century brought an industrial revolution. Although it seemed like progress, a side effect was the polluting of materials into the Nash-a-way River. As time passed, the condition of the river got worse; it was no longer clear, it smelled, and animals could no longer drink the water. The cleaning of the Nash-a-way began with Oweana and Marion, two people that were extremely disturbed with the river’s condition. Once word spread, the factories that lined the river’s edge stopped dumping waste into the river. Eventually the river returned to its original, beautiful state.


Please see a short historical documentary on Nashua and hear Marion Stoddart describe what the Nashua River was like in the 60's


Literary Elements 


            The setting takes place at Nashua Valley and spreads over a period of over 7000 years (as stated in the author’s note). The text make the changes of the Nashua River sound like it happened over a period of 200 years or so, which isn’t the case. The audience in which the book is directed towards is younger, elementary aged students. The text is written in a basic form that makes it easy for younger students to follow. For instance, the story starts as, “Long ago, a river ran wild through a land of towering forests.” The author chooses to use the term “Long ago,” versus using a more specific timeline.

            There are a few characters mentioned in the book but it's the Nashua River that plays the main role. The human characters include Oweana and Marion. Oweana was a descendant from the Native American tribe that originally settled near the river and Marion was a friend of his. The two together took actions that began the cleansing of the river. The antagonists of the book are the “pale-skinned” people who arrive in the area and take it over. They are the reason the river becomes so polluted. It’s important that the reader sees how each different group affects the river, either positively or negatively.


Artistic Elements


            The illustrations in this book make a huge contribution to the effect the book has on the readers. Half the illustrations are created on their own page and fill up the entire space. The other half of the illustrations accompanies the text on the same page. The full-page illustrations are extremely realistic and detailed. Colors used throughout the whole book are very true to the objects’ colors in real life, (e.g., trees are different shades of greens and browns, the clean river is drawn using greens and blues). This book uses illustrations interestingly. On the pages with text, the illustrations are different elements that go along with what the text is expressing. For instance, when the text is describing the river in its clean state, it described all the different animals that used the river. The bordering illustrations were pictures of the different animals. Many of the pages follow this pattern. Illustrations were done in watercolor and colored pencil.

            The illustrations did an excellent job of corresponding to the text. The reader can look at each of the illustrations and image the way the river looked during that period of time and how different it looked when it was affected by different groups of people or animals.


Analysis and Critique



Positive Aspects:         


What is great about this book is that it shows the reader the effect that humans have on the world around them. The reader not only learns about human impact by reading about the changes that occurred to the river but also by using vivid imagery to create a picture of how the river looked at any particular point in time.

            This book also has the advantage of being used to teach across different subjects in a single lesson. It is literature and students can survey the book, make predictions about what the book is about and read individually, in groups, or as a whole class. The story is nonfiction so students are getting a history lesson while they read. It also teaches science in the aspect ecology, of animals in their environment and the ripple affect that is caused when a change occurs in any part of a food chain. This is a great book to use in a lesson.

Because this A River Ran Wild inter-connects many different subject areas it makes a fantastic resource for teachers who are trying to cover multiple GLCEs (Grade Level Content Expectations: Michigan State Standards) in one lesson.

For Example in a 4th Grade Class one could integrate aspects of Social Studies with English Language Arts; through literacy fuse history with  environmental geography, while hitting these GLCEs:


      Asses the positive and negative effects of human activities on the physical environment of the United States.   


    Apply significant knowledge from grade level science, social studies and mathematics texts.


    Connect personal knowledge, experiences and understanding of the world to themes and perspectives in text through oral and written responses.

    Identify and describe informational text patterns including compare/contrast, cause/effect, and problem/solution.
    Explain how authors use text features including appendices, headings, subheadings, marginal notes, keys and legends, figures, and bibliographies to enhance the understanding of key 
    and supporting ideas.



Negative Aspects:


Author Lynne Cherry ties together history and science by discussing the environmental history of the Nashua River. Cherry explores different effects on the river chronologically, based upon "progressive" developments in the Massachusetts area. While Cherry bring to attention several harmful effects the European settlers had on the environment, she neglects to discuss any harm the native peoples had on the river, leaving the reader romanticizing indigenous people's traditional ecological knowledge or lack thereof. This is not the most factual representation of Native American affects on the land. While Native American's did practice sustainable agriculture such as growing corn and beans together (so that the nitrogen used by the corn could be fixed back into the soil by the beans ) they also reeked significant environmental harm through their slash and burn clearing techniques.

Another problem with the text comes in the stories conclusion. In and amongst discussing how beautiful the Nashua River is after all the efforts put forth to restore it to its pre-industrial condition is the line,

“Slowly, slowly, the Nashua's current began to clean its water. Year by year the river carried away the dyes and fiber to the ocean.”

Cherry has made this sound like it is a positive outcome, when the reality is that much of the pollutants have spread into the ocean. When discussing pollution one of the most important concepts students need to grasp is that the effects of your actions on the environment may not have negative repercussions on your life but can be detrimental “further downstream”. For a book with a large proportion discussing how a factory upstream mucks up a river further downstream to glisten over the negative effects on the ocean purely because it is out of site seems hypocritical. It comes across as self-centered even because the people of Nashua have cleaned up their area and are not concerned about the pollution carried away. Environmental Stewardship is not simply about protecting ones area for one's benefit but is about responsible behavior  for the benefit of all, including the ocean. "Out of site, out of mind." is not the attitude I believe is intended to be fostered by A River Ran Wild and so it is unfortunate that Cherry has neglected to expand her concern to the ocean.




Cherry, Lynne. The River Ran Wild. Singapore: Gulliver Green, 1992


Stephens, Mark. Project F.I.S.H. Michigan State University.

        The designer, Mark Stephens, created project F.I.S.H to get youth and adults interested in fishing education and fishing skills. Stephens focuses on environmental awareness, responsible behavior and positive community behavior. Project F.I.S.H is an ongoing program that helps students not only learn about aquatic biology but also encourage youth to participate in long term programs within their own communities. This project, which was created at MSU, fails to discuss aquatic biology outside of the Great Lakes area. Project F.I.S.H was the main inspiration for the lesson activity used in our microteaching demonstration.


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Clean Water Act: Storm Water Discharges. 1987. http://www.epa.gov/agriculture/lcwa.html
    The Clean Water Act is a federal law that includes provisions for regulating storm water discharges from urban and developing areas. They impose restrictions upon facilities and often require a pollution prevention plan to be implemented. The Clean Water Act was used to tie our lesson plan in with issues of today that students could connect with.


Below is the attachment of the whole book for anyone interested in reading it. 






Comments (1)

bought14@msu.edu said

at 11:05 pm on Dec 19, 2010

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