"The river wiggled like a fat brown thread along the flat quilt of the Red River Valley, stitching North Dakota and Minnesota together…" (from River Friendly, River Wild, children’s book by Jane Kurtz)
A couple days ago, I received a welcomed email from an author friend — someone I also consider one of my mentors. I first met Jane Kurtz about ten years ago at a writing conference on children’s literature at the University of North Dakota. A few years later, she sat down with me and the manuscript on which I’d been working. I was hoping for some direction and advice, and I learned more in my half-hour with Jane than I had in all my attempts at writing children’s stories prior. Her advice on word economy and how to apply it, as well as some other more general advice that I’ve carried with me ever since, will never be forgotten. The year I broke into publishing, I had the privilege of having dinner with her in Fargo, then driving her to Grand Forks to visit her daughter. The talk that ensued on the way there, mainly about what I could expect as a published author, was invaluable, heartfelt, and so generous on her part. She is a dear and talented person. Her relocation to Kansas a few years ago was North Dakota’s loss, but her impact on our region’s writers and readers remains.
I’d been thinking a lot about Jane lately, especially as the flood unraveled and threatened our area’s cities. Jane was an integral part of the Grand Forks flood in 1997, and after the experience of seeing her home ravaged by water, she somehow found it within herself to write about it in the form of a beautiful children’s book, River Friendly, River Wild. In 2000, the book was awarded the Golden Kite Award by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. On a personal level, reading it brought me to tears. I’d been impacted by that flood too, but not nearly as deeply as Jane. The book helped connect me to the kids who’d been affected by that disaster in a new and fresh way. Understanding the flood from a child’s perspective, through poetry, was a gift to me when I read her book, and I can’t help but think that Jane’s book has even more potential now as we continue to sift through the current mess and await a second crest.
Whether you’ve been involved in the flood directly, or just know someone who has, this book has the potential to be a connecting, healing force. Jane had had some regret that she couldn’t have turned out her book early enough to help kids immediately after the 1997 flood. However, her editors assured her the universal impact of the book would help anyone who has experienced loss. I would agree. But now that we’re up against a similar situation, there’s a new opportunity to help this book find children who need to process its wise words — from the perspective of a child. I am all too happy to promote Jane and her book, and help give it new life in these troubling times. I hope you will consider checking it out here, as well as read this interview with Jane given by children’s author Cynthia Leitich Smith. In addition, Jane mentions the book on her author website.
It would be great to get this book into the hands of the kids who will find connecting with it to be cathartic and healing. Words are powerful, and this book was made as much for the kids of 2009 as 1997.
Thanks for your consideration. And may the week ahead be restorative to you all, wherever you find yourself.
Jane Kurtz and I, Children’s Literature Network conference, 2004