Literature Connections to
River Cutters

Teacher's Guides > River Cutters

In the following collection of books, geology, ecology, and human impact on river systems are emphasized. Two fine books by Holling Clancy Holling chronicle journeys down rivers by a turtle and a wooden figure in a canoe. Real-life stories focusing on pollution of the Nashua River and at Love Canal are also featured. Many other fine books, from the classic fantasy of Wind in the Willows to the light-giving river of the Afro-American story called The River That Gave Gifts, can provide creative and imaginative connections to these river-related GEMS activities. Books that focus on erosion or its consequences, as well as those that relate to models and simulations could likewise make strong connections. We’re sure you and your students will add your own favorites.

Abel’s Island
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Biography of a River: The Living Mississippi
Danny Dunn and the Universal Glue
Drylongso
The Missing ‘Gator of Gumbo Limbo: An Ecological Mystery
Follow the Water from Brook to Ocean
Love Canal: My Story

Minn of the Mississippi
An Oak Tree Dies and a Journey Begins
Our Endangered Planet: Rivers and Lakes
Paddle-to-the-Sea
Rain of Troubles: The Science and Politics of Acid Rain
A River Ran Wild: An Environmental History
The River That Gave Gifts: An Afro-American Story
Sierra
Three Days on a River in a Red Canoe
The Wind in the Willows

Abel’s Island
by William Steig
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York. 1976
Grades: 3–5
Abel is an urban mouse who suddenly finds himself on an uninhabited island trying to survive. He discovers skills and talents in himself that help him think of ways to forage for food, cross the river, and return home. Abel’s time on the island brings him a new understanding of the world from which he’s separated as he re-examines the easy way of life he had previously accepted.
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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
by Mark Twain
Viking Penguin, New York. 1953
Grades: 6–Adult
A boy and a runaway slave start down the Mississippi on a borrowed raft in this exciting and sometimes dangerous trip. The mighty Mississippi courses through much of Twain’s work, even in his famous pen-name itself (from a riverboat working command). While the language and dialect reflect their time and can be discussed in class, Twain’s essential humanity comes through. This classic is available from many different publishers.
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Biography of a River: The Living Mississippi
by Edith McCall
Walker and Co., New York. 1990
Grades: 6–12
This extensive “biography” for older students details the history of human interactions with the Mississippi River. It begins with a chapter on Native American settlements, followed by European expeditions and acquisition by the United States, up through the engineering projects of the present. The first chapter in which the river “speaks” in the first person is particularly effective. Its discussion of engineering challenges relates directly to the dam building challenges of Session 6. The emphasis, throughout, on the “living” nature of the river underlines an important environmental lesson.
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Danny Dunn and the Universal Glue
by Jay Williams and Raymond Abrashkin; illustrated by Paul Sagsoorian
McGraw-Hill, New York. 1977
Out of print
Grades: 4–9
Danny and his friends bring evidence to a town meeting that waste from a local factory is polluting the local stream. A discussion of watersheds, water tables, and the way the pollution moved through the system of streams (on page 85) relates well to Sessions 6 and 7 of the GEMS guide.
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Drylongso
by Virginia Hamilton; illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, San Diego. 1992
Grades: 2–6
This strikingly illustrated book takes a powerful look at what happens when rivers dry up—a contrast to the flowing rivers the children create in River Cutters. An unknown boy blows into a village with a severe dust storm, and tells the villagers his name is Drylongso. He tells them that he was born in a time of great drought, but that his mother told him wherever he goes “life will grow better.” Drylongso has special information about drought cycles, agriculture, and ways to survive; he carries a “dowser,” or divining rod. He finds water beneath the ground to help a family’s planting, then disappears as mysteriously as he came. There is excellent information on climate, drought, drought cycles, and soil conditions.
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Follow the Water from Brook to Ocean
by Arthur Dorros
HarperCollins, New York. 1991
Grades: K–4
This book recounts water’s journey as it shapes the earth through erosion. The course of water is traced as it flows from brooks to streams to rivers, over waterfalls, through canyons and dams, to eventually reach the ocean.
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Love Canal: My Story
by Lois M. Gibbs
State University of New York at Albany Press, Albany, New York. 1982
Out of print
Grades: 6–12
Autobiography of the housewife who organized a neighborhood association that eventually resulted in a clean up of the Love Canal toxic waste site and relocation of the families living there. She went on to form the Citizen’s Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste based in Arlington, Virginia.
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Minn of the Mississippi
by Holling Clancy Holling
Houghton Mifflin, Boston. 1951
Grades: 6–12
The journey of Minn, a snapping turtle, is followed from northern Minnesota to the bayous of Louisiana. Her adventures with people, animals, and the changing seasons are vividly described. Wonderful drawings and maps of her travels accompany the engaging true-life story on the Mississippi River. Newbery honor book.
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The Missing ‘Gator of Gumbo Limbo: An Ecological Mystery
by Jean C. George
HarperCollins, New York. 1992
Grades: 4–7
Sixth-grader Liza K and her mother live in a tent in the Florida Everglades. She becomes a nature detective while searching for Dajun, a giant alligator who plays a part in a waterhole’s oxygen-algae cycle, and is marked for extinction by local officials. The book is full of detail about the local habitats and species and the forces that impact on them. “Look how Mother Nature’s plan for the Everglades has been tortured and diverted...the Everglades, which is really a slow river, is so rich with soil and nutrients that the Army Corps of Engineers was engaged to drain it for farmland...” Her neighbor explains how canals were built, fish and birds died, and the river changed. “You change one thing and you change the whole ecosystem.”
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An Oak Tree Dies and a Journey Begins
by Louanne Norris and Howard E. Smith, Jr.; illustrated by Allen Davis
Crown, New York. 1979
Out of print
Grades: 3–5
A storm uproots an old oak tree on the bank of a river and its journey to the sea begins. Animals seek shelter in the log, children fish from it, mussels attach to its side. The tree, even after it dies, contributes to the environment. Older students can appreciate the fine pen and ink drawings.
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Our Endangered Planet: Rivers and Lakes
by Mary Hoff and Mary M. Rogers
Lerner Publications, Minneapolis. 1991
Grades: 4–9
An attractive and user-friendly reference book covering the dangers of surface water pollution with many illustrations and photographs. Other relevant titles in this series (all published in 1991) include: Groundwater, Population Growth, and Tropical Rain Forests.
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Paddle-to-the-Sea
by Holling Clancy Holling
Houghton Mifflin, Boston. 1941
Grades: 6–9
A Native American boy carves a wooden figure in a canoe and sets it afloat near the headwaters of a river north of the Great Lakes. This book chronicles the canoe’s four-year journey to the sea. Caldecott honor book. (A detailed review of this book is on page 228.)
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Rain of Troubles:
The Science and Politics of Acid Rain
by Lawrence Pringle
Macmillan, New York. 1988
Grades: 5–12
Acid rain’s discovery, formation, transportation, its effects on plant and animal life, and how economic and political forces have delayed action are discussed. The negative impact of acid rain on lakes and rivers can also be related to the toxic waste modeling activities in Session 7 of the GEMS activities.
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A River Ran Wild:
An Environmental History
by Lynne Cherry
Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, San Diego. 1992
Grades: 1–5
True story of the Nashua River Valley in North-Central Massachusetts from the time that the Native Americans settled there, naming it River With the Pebbled Bottom. The book traces the impact of the industrial revolution on the river and the eventual clean-up campaign mounted by a local watershed association. The graphic borders are packed with historical information, showing the original wildlife, tools and utensils used by Native Americans and early settlers, and continuing on to modern artifacts such as a plastic water jug.
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The River That Gave Gifts:
An Afro-American Story
by Margo Humphrey
Children’s Book Press, San Francisco. 1987
Grades: K–5
Four children in an African village make gifts for wise old Neema while she still has partial vision. Yanava, who is not good at making things, does not know what to give, and seeks inspiration from the river. As she washes her hands in the river, rays of light fly off her fingers, changing into colors and forming a rainbow. After all the other gifts are presented, she rubs her hands in the jar of river water she has brought and thus gives a rainbow of light and the gift of sight to Neema. In addition to the themes of respect for elders and the validity of different kinds of achievement, the river is portrayed as a primeval source of power.
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Sierra
by Diane Siebert; illustrated by Wendell Minor
HarperCollins, New York. 1991
Grades: 4–8
Long narrative poem in the voice of a mountain in the Sierra Nevada. It begins and ends with the lines:

I am the mountain
Tall and grand
And like a sentinel I stand.

Dynamic verse and glorious mural-like colored illustrations depict the forces shaping the earth as well as the plant, animal, and human roles in this ecosystem.
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Three Days on a River in a Red Canoe
by Vera B. Williams
Greenwillow/William Morrow, New York. 1981
Grades: 3–6
Mom, Aunt Rosie, and two children on a three-day camping trip by canoe, encounter currents, wild winds, a rainbow, a moose, and more. In Session 4 of the GEMS guide, your students, like the children in the canoe, take careful note of the characteristics of the river they create.
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The Wind in the Willows
by Kenneth Grahame; illustrated by Ernest Shepard
Aerie Books, New York. 1988
Grades: 4–Adult
This wonderful, humorous classic, filled with the bustling lives of eccentric animal characters, takes place along a river. The scenic descriptions accurately reflect the habitats of each animal. While the book is often read out loud to younger children, the pace and comic timing of the conversations makes it highly entertaining for adults.
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— Mark Twain
Huckleberry Finn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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