Book Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
The Adventurous Salmon by Rebecca Neal and Tania Crockett illustrated by Year 5, Robert Ferguson Primary School and Clare Waring. West Cumbria Rivers Trust and Eden Rivers Trust. £6.
The Atlantic salmon leads an almost incredible life. The eggs are laid “in a shallow gravel nest, called a ‘redd’, in a clean river with fast flowing water.” Many of the west flowing rivers of Cumbria, such as the Eden, provide the ideal habitat. The young salmon migrate thousands of miles out into the ocean. There they may live for many years before, remarkably, returning to their home river to lay their own eggs. We’re told that “The ‘smells’ of the river get imprinted in their brains when they swim out to sea and this guides them back home. Amazing!”
This is the story at the heart of this book and the accompanying project created by the combined forces of the West Cumbria Rivers Trust and Eden Rivers Trust and the imaginative minds of Year Five of Robert Ferguson Primary School.
The children spent three days with the authors and the artist exploring the River Caldew and then developing their artistic ideas in the classroom for Clare Waring to combine to form this very attractive book.
The adventurous young salmon dreams of a day, “When he’d soar through the air doing fishy ballet.” (The story is told in rhyming couplets. I imagine the students of Robert Ferguson would accept nothing less.) And there is the salmon swimming in the waters in his fasten-across coat with its wavy join and red-buttons wearing his yellow school cap and there he is again in a thought bubble clad in pink frills leaping in the air. The other fishy creatures are nowhere near so adventurous. The bullhead sticks around near the river bottom and the stone loach with his grey whiskers has never gone further than the Mayfly cafe.
The wily salmon drifts down river on a li-lo with his cap pulled over his eyes. Another less adventurous fish struggles to stay afloat with a lifebelt.
The salmon has to hide from the otter. He’s a little over-weight, but he is a wonderful creation with his dapper moustache, his neat little red bowler hat, his red-dickey bow and his manicured claws.
Deep in the Atlantic the salmon eat sand eels and krill and swim among a remarkable variety of fish. One with rainbow stripes wears a yellow crown. Another, covered in blue spots, seems to have a yellow bib and sports a purple hat decorated with a pound sign.
The salmon feels the urge to create other salmon. He returns to his home river without “a map to direct” and swims up stream. The weirs, which might have hindered his journey have been removed by “the friendly local Rivers Trust”
“In winter his girlfriend laid five thousand eggs, / On a bed of clean gravel, her nest was a redd.” In spring the fry hatch and dream they can fly.
The Adventurous Salmon is an engaged and an engaging book. It’s produced with an educational purpose. At the back of the book are things to think about like food chains and life-cycles and there’s some illustrated notes on animal identification including our friend the otter, this time minus his red dickey bow. There’s a friendly list of actions you and your family can take to help rivers and a few notes on what the River Trusts are doing by making rivers more natural again in order to help the adventurous salmon.
It would be nice to think that when the artists from year five in Robert Ferguson went out to the River Caldew they caught a glimpse of the adventurous salmon and even had sight of the otter, with our without his dickey bow.