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14 August 2009 RIVER OF DREAMS: THE STORY OF THE HUDSON RIVER by Hudson Talbott, Putnam Juvenile, January 2009, 40p., ISBN: 978-0-399-24521-3


"On the Hudson there was always the opportunity to be educated deeply in the heart. The beauty of the landscape did the rest, along with the magic of the moon, the river's hot and reedy bays, the glittering silver ice, days of summer or days of snow submerged in an ocean of clear blue air, fields never-ending, the wind from Canada, and the great city to the south."


-- from WINTER'S TALE by Mark Helprin (1983)


"...Down the Valley one million toilet chains

Find my Hudson so convenient place to drain

And each little city says. 'Who, me?

Do you think that sewage plants come free?'"

-- from "My Dirty Stream (The Hudson River Song)" by Pete Seeger (1961)


"The water turned greenish brown, except by the GM plant, where it turned red or yellow or whatever color that they were painting the cars that day."

I grew up knowing of the Hudson as a river that was dead and only getting worse, the tainted lifeblood of a region that must have been awfully beautiful at some point in a previous century. As a Boy Scout I was occasionally in the vicinity of the river, participating in weekend campouts at Bear Mountain and, once, touring the grounds of the U.S. Military Academy. In my early years of raising and showing dairy goats, I would glimpse the river as I drove Upstate to fairgrounds in the Hudson Valley and beyond.

"When George Washington made his headquarters on a steep cliff overlooking the river, it became the most important military post in the country. Known as West Point, it had views of all boat traffic in both directions. The river wrapped around its base, forcing ships to slow down and to come into easy range of cannon fire. Washington called West Point the 'key to America.'"


In RIVER OF DREAMS, Hudson Talbott, who illustrated Jacqueline Woodson's beautiful Newbery Honor book SHOW WAY, leads readers on a four-century visual tour de force of the River with whom he shares a name. Incorporating natural history, colonial and American history, art and literary history, science, technology, and the environmental movement into a visual celebration of all things Hudson, Talbott demonstrates repeatedly how this river has played a unique and pivotal role in America over the four centuries since Henry Hudson first navigated it in September of 1609.


The river's importance has grown in step with the nation:


"George Washington had once envisioned a canal across New York State, connecting the waters of Lake Erie to the Hudson. Governor Dewitt Clinton picked up the dream, and finally saw it completed in 1825. Three hundred and sixty-three miles long, forty feet wide and only four feet deep, its nickname switched overnight from 'Clinton's Ditch' to the 'Eighth Wonder of the World.'


"Suddenly the great, untapped heartland of America was connected to the world by water. New York-to-Cleveland travel time went from ninety days by land to thirty days by water. The price of grain dropped from ninety cents a pound to nine cents as Midwest farm products flooded eastward...The Hudson became America's first superhighway, and it made New York City into the greatest marketplace on earth. Money was pouring into the city from all directions."


The river has given and Americans have taken. Over the centuries, businessmen and business concerns large and small benefited -- in the short run -- from exploiting the Hudson River, but the long term effects to health and to the quality of life have been well-documented (if not as obvious as the tip of one's nose).

"From approximately 1947 to 1977, the General Electric Company (GE) discharged as much as 1.3 million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from its capacitor manufacturing plants at the Hudson Falls and Fort Edward facilities into the Hudson River."

-- from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website


The U.S. environmental movement began in the sixties in the Hudson Valley, thanks to the way the river was mercilessly exploited, and while it has taken the better part of a lifetime to turn things around, many things are now getting better. Toward the end of RIVER OF DREAMS we learn of the increasing fish, osprey and bald eagle populations and how there are people actually swimming in the Hudson these days.

"I would explain that the Hudson was a 'drowned' river, up to about Poughkeepsie. The Ice Age had depressed the river bed to a depth that allowed the Atlantic Ocean to flood inland. Consequently, the lower Hudson was really a saltwater estuary."

--from MY AMERICAN JOURNEY by General Colin Powell (whose undergrad was Geology)


Hudson Talbott's paintings flow through the 400 years of "civilization" on the river. The illustrations include maps, depictions of the various sailing and steam vessels, the process of ice harvesting, the work of the Hudson River School of painting, and images of important characters in the story of the Hudson such as King James II, Washington Irving, Franny Reese, and Pete Seeger. An exceptionally notable two-page spread reveals a bucolic scene of sloops plying the river and cows in a meadow into which a coal-burning locomotive comes (literally) ripping through the page charging toward us.

A visual love song for all who have first-hand experience with the Hudson, for all who have read stories set along the Hudson, and for all who know it up to now only as a thick line of blue on a map of America, RIVER OF DREAMS is an inspiring and beautiful picture book for older readers who -- with a little luck and the help of librarians -- will hopefully become the next generation of Riverkeepers.


Richie Partington, MLIS

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