Readers follow a branch as it bobs down a river and out to sea, where it transforms into driftwood.
The story begins “under autumn leaves”: A brown-skinned boy watches a beaver constructing its lodge in the river. A branch breaks loose from the structure and is carried down river until it snags on a boulder, where it stays all winter as the river freezes. When spring returns and the river thaws, the branch moves on, making a stop at the river’s edge, where turtles climb on it. When the branch floats out to sea, weary birds use it as a resting place. When the waves finally carry it to shore, “the summer sun bleaches its dark hues” until the same boy, vacationing with his family on the shore and “looking for beach-things,” finds it and picks it up. For the boy, it is everything: a pen, a sword, a souvenir. At summer’s end, the boy and his family return home to the mountains, where, once again, he watches a beaver constructing its lodge. Vess’ drawings, done in colored pencil and ink, are soft and detailed, with elements of line and motion that draw the eye all over the page. The background holds interesting changes throughout: families of different species and signs of new seasons, various habitats. The text educates stealthily, never sacrificing the soothing, poetic, and cyclical story, which has the makings of a classic. An author’s note discusses the importance of driftwood to the ecosystem.
Content and style, structure and illustrations combine to make this a beautiful and satisfying story. (Picture book. 3-9)