cover image River Friendly, River Wild

River Friendly, River Wild

Jane Kurtz. Simon & Schuster, $16 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-689-82049-6

""The river wiggled/ like a fat brown thread/ along the flat quilt of the Red River Valley,"" begins this detailed, powerful cycle of poems describing how a girl and her family--like Kurtz (I'm Sorry, Almira Ann) herself--survived the disastrous 1997 Red River flood (near Grand Forks, N.D.). When ""spring creeps into the city/ one toe at a time,"" a surprise April blizzard hits; soon, its fast-melting snow makes ""the river wild."" Moving to a shelter for what they anticipate will be only a few days, the narrator and her family leave their cat at home with plenty of food. A poem titled ""Ocean of Feelings"" sparely chronicles the girl, imagining the cat ""in our island house,"" watching TV with her family in a ""borrowed"" home and seeing city buildings burn. Brennan's (Let's Go to the Petting Zoo with Jungle Jack) paintings are sophisticated and artistically rendered, but they are also restrained to the point where they might distance readers. Characters are more frequently seen from the back or dwarfed within a panorama than frontally; their expressions are often obscured. There are exceptions: a painting of the burning buildings when ""fire tongues lick the sky"" and the illustration of headlights fleeing on a dark street amplify the emotional intensity of the book. Ages 4-8. (Mar.)