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When Rivers Burned: The Earth Day Story (Once, in America) Hardcover – January 1, 2013
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This is a nice, succinct, historical treatment written by someone who lived through it. Her facts gibe with my recollection of the times and the events, although her politics shines through here and there. But since this is a children's book, she really can't get too deep into the weeds there. And I don't necessarily buy her causation arguments. A happened, B happened, C happened, so therefore D. Having said that, all these things DID happen in and around the time and D did happen, so while I may quibble with the logical connections she proposes, the facts are what they are and she presents them very well. Very entertaining. The layout is also inviting: lots of sidebars with factoids sprinkled in.
On a personal note, I can remember going to school in the city and, if I exhaled really hard, I could taste the sulfur in my mouth. Yuck. This book brought back many unpleasant memories and serves as a good overview of the "bad old days."
While a children's book, I think adults will appreciate it just to remind ourselves how far we've come.
WHEN RIVERS BURNED is part biography, part environmental thriller. It opens with brief synopses of crucial environmental catastrophes in this country: the unchecked use of DDT, the killer smog in a small industrial town, the flaming Cuyahoga River. It immediately hooks the reader in. I can't imagine any child not being fascinated by the idea of a river so polluted it was set afire. Period photos are used to good effect to illustrate to young readers who are (thankfully) used to a cleaner world that once, yes, rivers burned and a hand stuck into polluted water came out gloved with black goo. Colorful illustrations are also used to complement the photos.
These stories are interspersed with biographies of key players in the Earth Day movement, Gaylord Nelson and Denis Hayes. The author sets their lives in historical context to detail the chronology of how the first Earth Day was born, complete with all its initial setbacks. The book is well-written and Brennan patiently draws all the threads together, revealing what happened to the smog-filled town and silent skies, and extending her coverage to present day oil spills. It is also quite nicely laid out, with a large number of interesting sidebars on everything from a mini-biography of Mahatma Gandhi to the first earth Day ad to lyrics from HAIR. The sidebars help to flesh out the narrative and give a great feel of what it was like to live in the days of hippies and sit-ins.
A highly recommended book for any young reader interested in science, politics, or in the environment. Also recommended for classroom use in teaching about Earth Day.
Crotta Brennan does a good job here laying out her material as a narrative. She begins with the pre-Earth Day problems that led to the activism that led to the political action that led to Earth Day. It's not just an environmental book, it's a good beginner nonfiction book. I can see this book being recommended to upper elementary students so they can learn what nonfiction should be and how they should read it.