Hard times have come to the Florida forest where Calpurnia lives with her mother, father, and her dog named Buggy-horse. There are no fish to catch, so the people are weak with hunger and unable to work. Calpurnia can feel the hard times, but she isn’t worried. She is a loved child who feels a kinship with the world, and this helps her to feel safe and brave. Determined to help end the hard times, she follows her nose to a secret river deep in the forest, abundant with catfish. On her return home, laden with fish, Calpurnia encounters several dangerous (and obviously hungry) animals; because she knows there is enough to go around, she shares her catch and stays free from harm. When she returns home with the fish, her parents are overjoyed. Her father is able to sell the fish, the people in the forest are strengthened and able to go out and find work, and the hard times turn to soft times.
This story is moving to me because it demonstrates the powers of imagination, faith, love, and wonder to overcome hardship. It is illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon, with warm, deep, lyric paintings. Both the text and illustrations are evocative of a different time and place, but the simple fairy-tale-like structure makes it easily accessible and comfortably familiar. The Secret River is a longer picture book that would make a wonderful class or family read-aloud.
Posted by: Parry