Fuse 8 n’ Kate: Three Days On a River In a Red Canoe by Vera B. Williams
As I explain on the show, about a week before Erin Overbey was fired from the New Yorker and the full extent of that whole affair came to light, there was a rather impressive article called What Should a Queer Children’s Book Do? In it I was very impressed by the people who were tapped to give their opinions. Kyle Lukoff and Justin Richardson and Sarah Brannen, just to name a few. K.T. Horning, “who recently retired as the director of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison” is also included, which pleased me to no end. But she mentioned something in her discussion with writer Jessica Winter that really popped out at me. Here’s the quote:
At the time, Horning was working at a public library in Madison. “We did also have lesbian moms and gay dads who were not fans of the Alyson books,” she said. “They felt that they were just too didactic. So we came up with a list of books that didn’t really have gay families, but they did have queer subtexts.” These included the “Frog and Toad” books, written and illustrated by Arnold Lobel, and “Three Days on a River in a Red Canoe,” written and illustrated by Vera B. Williams. “That was the hands-down favorite of lesbian families at our library, because they felt it reflected what their family life was actually like,” Horning said of “Red Canoe.” “They were not sitting down with their children and giving them long explanations of artificial insemination. The book had a great story, adventure, engaging illustrations, and kids being kids.” It also had a freewheeling approach to format: the colored-pencil drawings and text mingled with recipes, diagrams, and instructions for tying knots or pitching a tent.
And that’s when it occurred to me that we had never done this book before. And what’s more, I wanted to. Because I haven’t really seriously thought of Three Days on a River in a Red Canoe in years and years and years. Today we talk mosquitoes, this book, mosquitoes, how Canadian Geese are the worst, and … mosquitoes. Enjoy!
Here’s the Reading Rainbow sequence of the reading of this book. What’s interesting about this is how they chose to adapt the book. Due to its length, a straight reading would not have been ideal. So I was impressed how they incorporated live action into the mix. It also, if I might say so, kind of backs up what K.T. was saying about its subversive nature:
Kate noticed that the top cars completely mirror the cars on the bottom. On a related note, anyone know who edited this? It’s Greenwillow so my vote is Susan Hirschman, but I’m willing to be corrected.
Interestingly there are two images in this book where the words are cut off on the original edition of the book. An artistic choice or a mistake?
This book is just so interesting in a number of ways. The integration of the nonfiction elements into a fictional story is unusual in books from 1981.
Kate cannot with these moose. It was the calf that broke her.
These cows disturb us. That’s some scary Children of the Corn (Albeit With Cows) stuff going on there.
Kate Recommends: The Rehearsal
Betsy Recommends: The 10th Anniversary Edition of Sailor Twain
Filed under: Fuse 8 n' Kate
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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