Four children (two girls and two boys) discover that their favorite swimming hole is smelly and overgrown with slimy green stuff. They walk upriver to find the source of the problem, and they encounter a mysterious woman who calls herself “Riparia.”
Riparia shows them that the water has become polluted due to herbicides applied on a farm nearby. In addition, cow manure and fertilizer are causing too much algae to grow in the water. The children want to help solve the problem. They know the farmer’s daughter, Amy, and decide to talk to her.
Riparia cautions them that it might not work to tell other people what to do. The children decide to invite Amy to go swimming with them, so she can see the problem for herself. At that moment, Riparia disappears.
The children, with Amy’s help, talk to Amy’s father. However, her father says he does not have the time or the money to deal with the problem. He invites them to figure out a solution themselves. Riparia’s words give them an idea. The children, with Amy’s father’s help, move the farm fence farther away from the river, to create a buffer zone. They also enlisted the help of others to plant wildflowers, trees, and shrubs in the buffer zone.
Two years later, their buffer zone has turned into a beautiful habitat for animals, and the swimming hole is clean again.
This picture book for elementary-age kids combines an environmental message with an example of youth leadership and initiative. The illustrations by Olga Pastuchiv are beautiful, and at the end is a list of animals that can be found in the pictures throughout the book. The author, Michael Caduto, is an ecologist and storyteller.