Perfect Picture Book Friday – The Day The River Caught Fire

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Everyone!

Coincidentally, it is also Perfect Picture Book Friday! How serendipitous!

And what do I have for you? An absolutely fabulous picture book that has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with St. Patrick’s Day! It doesn’t even feature true green on the cover.

Here I had the perfect opportunity to share a St. Patrick’s Day book on St. Patrick’s Day and instead I’m sharing a book about the beginning of Earth Day!

At least it’s also a holiday… 🤣


I don’t want you to feel unfestive because I failed you, so here is a shamrock and a tiny leprechaun and a little rainbow and pot of gold so you’ll feel St. Patrick-y 😊

Before I show you today’s book, I am delighted to announce that the winner of last week’s giveaway – winner’s choice of a 30-Minute Ask-Me-Anything or a 20-minute Virtual School Visit (Reading/Q&A) from the incomparable Rebecca Gardyn Levington – is Robin Currie!

Woo hoo, Robin! Come on down and collect your prize!

(By which I mean email me 😊 – handy contact button in the menu bar above)

Have fun with that awesome prize!!!

Now then, everyone, get ready for this awesome non-St.Patrick’s- Day book!

Title: The Day the River Caught Fire: How the Cuyahoga River Exploded and Ignited the Earth Day Movement

Written By: Barry Wittenstein

Illustrated By: Jessie Hartland

Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, nonfiction, March 28, 2023

Suitable For Ages: 4-8, but I think some older kids will be interested too, especially in the back matter

Themes/Topics: environmental conservation, origins of Earth Day

text copyright Barry Wittenstein 2023, illustration copyright Jessie Hartland 2023, Paula Wiseman Books

Opening: “On a sticky, sunny Sunday in the summer of 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland did something rivers should never do.

text copyright Barry Wittenstein 2023, illustration copyright Jessie Hartland 2023, Paula Wiseman Books

Brief Synopsis: This is the true story of the 1969 fire in the Cuyahoga River, one of the most polluted rivers in America, and how it sparked the national Earth Day movement.

text copyright Barry Wittenstein 2023, illustration copyright Jessie Hartland 2023, Paula Wiseman Books

Links To Resources: the back of the book has an author’s note, an environmental time line, a list of resources “To Learn More”, ways to get involved, and a list of titles for further reading. Earth Day Activities for Kids – 2023

text copyright Barry Wittenstein 2023, illustration copyright Jessie Hartland 2023, Paula Wiseman Books

Why I Like This Book: This is great nonfiction delivered in true Barry Wittenstein style. Just look at that opening sentence: “On a sticky, sunny Sunday in the summer…” Alliteration, consonance, and word choice that makes you feel that summer day even though this is nonfiction! The story unfolds, about how over time the Cuyahoga River became increasingly polluted. By the time it ignited in 1969 no one was even surprised – it had happened 13 times! It got to the point where it didn’t flow – it “gulped, gurgled and ooooooooozed.” The story goes on to mention the role of young people, and of Carl Stokes, “the first Black mayor of a major American city” in making a move for change; how Congress responded by passing laws to help the environment, and how the first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970 as a result of people finally realizing that something had to be done. The book is interesting, well-written, and will engage young readers. One of my favorite parts was the Author’s Note – an impassioned plea to young readers to take care of their Earth, to do what they can to help her before it’s too late, followed by lots of suggestions for how they can. The art is full of great details, from the signs with protest slogans to the illustrations of electric buses, organic farming, solar power, and recycling. A great addition to home, school, and library shelves!

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do 😊

For the complete list of books with resources, please visit Perfect Picture Books.

PPBF folks, please add your titles and post-specific blog links (and any other info you feel like filling out 😊) to the form below so we can all come see what fabulous picture books you’ve chosen to share this week!

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone! 😊

36 thoughts on “Perfect Picture Book Friday – The Day The River Caught Fire

  1. viviankirkfield says:

    Well, I love reading anything written by Barry Wittenstein. Plus, I love stories that teach me something I didn’t already know. And the illustrations by Jessie Hartland look amazing! Thank you for sharing this one, Susanna!

  2. robincurrie1 says:

    I had no idea of the backstory of Earth Day – and it is exciting! All that NF picture books can be. Thank you. (PS – I WON something!)

  3. CJ Penko says:

    Being from Cleveland, I can’t tell you how many times I thought to write a draft on this event, but I could never get past the research. Breaks my heart to think about. Such a sad, humiliating day in Cleveland’s history. And believe me, we’ve had a few. Thank you so much for sharing this. I’m picking up my copy ASAP.

    • Susanna Leonard Hill says:

      I had the same experience over an event that was local where I live, CJ – Sybil Luddington’s ride. I loved the idea so much, but I was intimidated by the research, and now it’s been done several times. I’m glad this book speaks to you, though, and I’m glad for Barry that you’re going to pick up a copy to read!

      • CJ Penko says:

        Just looked up Sybil Luddington’s ride – WOW. Totally understand the intimidation. So interesting, though. Thanks, Susanna and Barry!

  4. Ellen Warach Leventhal says:

    I can’t wait to read this book. I remember that event well, and I love everything Barry Wittenstein writes!

  5. Jilanne Hoffmann says:

    Susanna, I love Barry’s other books. He pays such close attention to language, as you’ve mentioned. So musical. And what a great idea to pull this (almost) unbelievable event from history, provide context, and give kids some tools to help. Can’t wait to read this!

  6. palpbkids says:

    This will certainly be a welcomed addition to bookshelves from schools to libraries to homes.
    Thank you, Susanna, for highlighting this important book.

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