Name of book: Letting Swift River Go
Author: Jane Yolen
Publisher: Little Brown
Audience: Ages 4-8
Summary: Sally Jane tells the story of the demise of her beloved town along the Swift River in Massachusetts. The town will be flooded along with the rest of the valley to form the Quabbin reservoir that will supply water to Boston. The story covers from 1927, when the town is told about the flooding, to 1946 when the flooding is completed. Sally is just six years old when the story begins. She watches as graves are moved, trees cut, homes destroyed and the river dammed. Later she and her father are in a boat on the now filled reservoir. As she looks down into the water she recalls something her mother told her when she wanted to keep lighting bugs in a jar, “ You have to let them go, Sally Jane.” As she looks into the water, she smiles and does just that, she lets it all go.
Literary elements at work in the story: This beautiful book for young readers is told in poetic narrative form perfectly illustrated by Barbara Cooney’s soft understated watercolors. The perspective is that of an adult recalling when she was six and the Swift river was flooded. This form allows the narrator to have insight a child would not have, but still keep a child’s perspective.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story: Both Yolen and Cooney bring to the story a personal understanding of the valley. Yolen often visited the Ouabbin Reservoir and Cooney lived not far away from the reservoir. The illustrations portray the time and place perfectly with carefully selected details that will appeal to children of any time period.
Scripture: Luke 24: 36b-48
Theology: Disbelief and disappointment are common to us all. Sally Jane just can’t believe what is happening around her. The town knew this was going to happen, but the eventuality of it all was shocking. In this passage, the disciples, like Sally, had been told what was going to happen, but they didn’t believe it. Then, when it comes, they are just as shocked and fearful as Sally was. Jesus calms their fears and opens their eyes and they are once again joyful. In the same way, Sally Jane’s boat ride on the reservoir helps her find joy once again. However joy, as great and healing as it may be, is not enough for the disciples or for Sally Jane.. Jesus tells his disciples they must spread their joy by preaching in His name and witnessing to others. We, like Sally Jane, must also pass on our stories of hope and joy to those around us. If the disciples had not passed on the joy of Christ where would we all be today. Don’t let you disappointments in life get in the way of living in Christ’s joy and then pass that joy on to others.
Faith Talk Questions:
- How did Sally feel about what was happening around her?
- How would you feel if someone said your town was going to be flooded so someone else miles away could have water?
- Sally tells us her story to pass on her love for her town. What story can you pass on about something you love?
- What does Jesus say to the disciples about passing on his story?
- How can you pass on Jesus’ story?
- Which of Jesus’ stories would you share and who would you share it with?
Review prepared by guest contributor Janet Lloyd. (A review of Someday, a book for middle and high schoolers that chronicles the same event, was reviewed here yesterday.)
Letting Swift River Go by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.