By Greg Fitz
I don’t have children, so the original publication of Andrew Weiner’s picture book Down By The River a couple of years ago wasn’t on my radar. I wish it had been. It is a beautifully illustrated and heartfelt story that will resonate with anglers or anyone who values time spent outdoors. If you’ve been lucky enough to share time on the water with parents or grandparents or had the privilege of teaching a young person to fish, you will especially understand where this story is coming from.
I learned about the book recently when it popped up on my social media feed. Curious about the project, I ordered a copy from my local independent bookstore. I was impressed by the book and plan on ordering more copies for my nieces and nephew and friends with young children at home or on the way. They are going to love it.
Down By The River takes place during a day on a trout stream with a boy named Art, his mother, his grandfather, and their family dog. Art’s grandfather is teaching him to fly fish, read the water, and identify insects the same way he had taught Art’s mother years earlier.
The first time I read it, I was pleased by how authentically fly fishing, and trout water was depicted. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Andrew Weiner, the book’s author, is a lifelong angler who grew up fishing with his father in New England and has spent his life fishing throughout the American West. He gets the crucial fly fishing details absolutely correct. But, more than anything, I was surprised by the book’s genuinely lovely story.
April Chu’s illustrations are fantastic, too. The stream, trout, caddisflies, and mood are all beautifully represented. One of my favorite pages in the book depicts an osprey the family of anglers had been watching. Instead of showing the view from the ground, as a small bird high in the sky, the painting tips the scene’s perspective on end and shows it from the soaring bird’s vantage.
The book provides a young reader with a practical introduction to how fly fishing works, but this instructional aspect isn’t awkwardly forced into the story. Instead, the book ends with multiple pages showing the required tackle and gear, explains many of the sport’s terms, and most importantly, introduces the importance of conservation for the future of our rivers and fisheries. It is a perfect collection of resources for a child captivated by the world of moving water and fish and eager to learn more.
In the story, Art’s mother is a skilled angler who has spent years fishing with her dad and is now happy to share that experience with her son. As more and more women are getting into fly fishing, it was great to see such a matter-of-fact depiction of a female angler. I really like the idea that my nieces, and my friend’s daughters, all of whom love the water as much as my nephew and friends’ sons, have such a great early role model in a children’s book. This certainly wasn’t the case thirty years ago when I was a little kid obsessed with fishing.
If you know a child in your life who would love this book, be sure to check out the Down By The River website. You can order the book through all the usual online channels, and there are links on the site, but I’d encourage you to support a local bookstore or fly shop if possible. Many of these small businesses are struggling during the past months of the Coronavirus Pandemic and could use all the support they can get.
If you’re local fly shop doesn’t have a copy of Down By The River, encourage them to pick a few up. They’ll make a great gift for all the young parents, grandparents and small anglers visiting the shop, especially as the holiday season gets closer.