The Secret River: Luminous Loveliness


The Secret River by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon

Luminously illustrated by the Dillons, this new version of a classic children’s book truly shines.  The only children’s book written by the author of The Yearling, this story is about Calpurnia, a young girl who is a poet.  She woke up one gorgeous morning and found that she had a journey ahead of her.  Her father told the family that he had no fish to sell in his fish market.  So Calpurnia decided to catch some fish herself.  She made roses out of crepe paper for bait and then headed to get advice from Mother Albirtha, the wisest person in the forest.  When Calpurnia asked Mother Albirtha where she could catch big fish, Mother Albirtha told her of the secret river that was full of fish and advised Calpurnia to follow her nose.  So off Calpurnia went with her dog at her side to find the river.  Eventually, Calpurnia found the river and caught some large fish to help her father.  But that was just the start of her adventures in the forest, because she had to get back home.

Rawlings’ writing is filled with such depth here.  While the story is written for children, it will ask them to stretch, to imagine and to dream.  The writing is filled with small touches, turns of phrase that add such beauty to the text.  Rawlings also had a poet for a main character, so Calpurnia’s poems are throughout the book.  One of my favorite passages happens early in the book where Calpurnia creates a poem and after her mother criticizes one of the phrases turns right around and creates a new poem that focuses on that phrase.  Just that one piece is a testament to writing and creativity, as is the entire book.

Dillons’ illustrations take the book to an even higher level.  They are illustrations that are celebrate the beauty of light on skin, the depth of dark in a forest, the shine of wisdom on a face, and the blackness of animal fur.  The illustrations vary in size, ranging from full page images to smaller illustrations in the margins of the text.  There are illustrations so lovely here that one lingers on the page long after the words have been read, just absorbing the image.  It is simply beautiful.

This is a treat of a new version of a classic.  It is a perfect marriage of illustration and writing that celebrates both.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.