From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 3–5—Rawlings penned what she called a "child's story" in 1947 to accompany paintings by Robert Camp. Found in her papers after her death, The Secret River
was finally published in 1955; it posthumously received a 1956 Newbery Honor. Originally illustrated by Leonard Weisgard, the 55-page story followed young Calpurnia and her ever-constant puppy, Buggy-horse, on a self-determined expedition to "turn hard times into soft times." Spurred on by Mother Albirtha, a wise woman of the forest, the girl and her dog find a fish-filled river and, with the help of a red boat and the pink paper roses tied to Calpurnia's pigtails, bring in a giant catch and cleverly devise a way to get the fish back home. Now, Rawlings's story, somewhat trimmed to picture-book length, has a whole new aura. Illuminated by the Dillons' exquisite artwork, the tale accentuates the enchantment of Calpurnia's journey. Brilliantly composed images, where the young girl's face is at times superimposed over objects in the story or seemingly floats over the magical river, have a lustrous glow. Imagined in striking scenes, Calpurnia and Buggy-horse's encounters with an owl, a bear, and a panther effectively capture the Florida back country that Rawlings famously drew upon in her writings. Characters, well delineated throughout, pulse with life. Overriding the adventure is the determination and spirited effort of the child to help her family in need. The mix of reality and fantasy sits well in the economically troubled world of today and is sure to strike a chord with many young readers and their families.—Barbara Elleman, Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst, MA
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Rawlings’ 1956 Newbery Honor title is newly illustrated here in the Dillons’ signature style, with glowing, full-page acrylic paintings and small freestanding images that capture the story’s magic realism from a child’s viewpoint. At the breakfast table, Calpurnia’s father says hard times have come, especially for poor people. Calpurnia does not feel poor, but her father has no fish to sell in his market. So with the advice of a wise soothsayer, Mother Albirtha, Calpurnia dares to venture out into a dark forest and follows her nose to find a secret river, where she catches fish and brings them home. Filled with pattern and texture, the images occasionally have a static quality. They are at their best in scenes of the brave child on her perilous journey, finding her way back in the dark, past an owl, a big black bear, and a crouching panther, until she returns to her parents’ loving embrace and feels the joy of saving her community. Preschool-Grade 3. --Hazel Rochman