River My Friend – Staff Review

In River My Friend, an extraordinary encounter has negative rather than positive effects. Gang-gang, the son of poor fisherfolk, has taken his life on the river for granted until he overhears his parents worrying about money. One day when he accompanies his mother to the market to sell fish, a wealthy woman stops and buys all of their catch; her servant tosses them a silver coin — far more than the fish are worth. Gang-gang becomes obsessed with finding silver coins to end his family’s poverty. He calls on the river for help, and one moonlit night sees the water covered with thousands of silver coins. (One does wonder how a boy who has spent all his life near the river could be so easily fooled by light glittering on water.) Frantically Gang-gang casts his net and draws it in, only to find it empty. His desperate plunge into the water to scoop up the coins in his hands almost leads to tragedy when he is swept downriver. Only as he recovers does Gang-gang realize he must begin to cast his net for fish, not for elusive silver coins. He is then able to appreciate his true relationship with the river, and to take his place as one of the wage-earners of the family. The story’s point that hard work is of greater value than luck is made rather baldly, yet the final solution is satisfying because it comes from Gang-gang himself.

All three illustrators bring a realistic style to stories that hint at the invisible magic of life. Alice Priestley’s colourful illustrations in Roses for Gita focus on Gita and the bright flowers she loves. Priestley’s plants surge with life, breaking through the boundaries of the pictures’ frames just as Gita’s friendship breaks through the boundaries that divide her and Mr. Flinch. Karen Rezuch’s illustrations similarly focus on the abundance of nature, and her fairies — beautiful, glowing children of many ages and races — are realistic enough to be believable. Ken Campbell’s paintings play with a number of intriguing perspectives to suggest much about the connections between Gang-gang and his parents and the river.


All three of these stories hint at the special nature of the relationship between humans and the natural world. Nature can be a friend, and can even draw humans closer to each other; but it can also be an implacable foe. River My Friend is the most overt and moralistic in this regard, and is less successful than the others in making its point gracefully.

These picture books all suggest that even ordinary lives can be touched by the extraordinary. Beneath the everyday layer of existence lies a kind of magic waiting to reveal new ways of seeing the world.