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From The Asian Reporter, V17, #24 (June 12, 2007), page 15.
A River Dream
By Allen Say
Houghton Mifflin, 1988
Paperback, 30 pages, $6.95
By Josephine Bridges
A River Dream begins and ends with a boy named Mark sick in bed with a fever, though his temperature is easing toward normal when we take our leave of him. Maybe thereís magic in the little box for trout flies his uncle Scott has sent him. When he opens the box, "a cloud of mayflies" rises out of it and takes the boyís neighborhood with them. "A river flowed where the street had been, and a forest spread out as far as he could see."
First the mayflies, then fish jumping, then a mysterious rowboat "bobbing in the shallow water" at the intersection of reality and magic lead Mark to a fisherman down the river. Sure enough, itís uncle Scott, who wonders what his nephew is doing in his boat. From there on, itís a sumptuously illustrated adventure in which Mark releases the first fish he has ever caught. "Mark rocked the fish back and forth, back and forth, until the fins began to wave. Then the sleek fish stirred, as though waking from a long sleep. With a flick of its tail the rainbow slipped out of the boys hands, and the boy watched his trout swim away."
When Mark and Scott hear the boyís motherís voice calling from the house upstream, they know itís time to go. Mark climbs back into his room through the window and feigns sleep while his mother worries that her son could have hurt himself with the fishing lures scattered over the bed and his father notices that the boyís temperature has dropped.
Allen Sayís watercolor illustrations shimmer with their own magic. His various depictions of the river rippling, churning, and catching reflections are so watery that readers may find themselves wondering if thatís a cool, moist breeze wafting across their skin. His rainbow trout are almost as dazzlingly beautiful as the real thing; imaginative readers may be able to feel the slippery muscularity of the fish in their own hands. And the look on Markís face as his uncle hands him a knife with which to kill his trout is enough to make a catch-and-release fisherman out of just about anyone.
Besides, as Mark jokes, paraphrasing his uncle, "I might catch a mermaid some day." A River Dream is a keeper.