Cover of Letting Swift River Go by Jane Yolen

Letting Swift River Go

I had lived in the Connecticut River Valley for a number of years, and had known (and visited) that lovely created wilderness, the Quabbin Reservoir. But I hadn’t known the human story behind it until the local newspaper did an article. It seems that in the late ’30s, the people of the Swift River Valley towns had sold their property and therefore their futures to Boston. Boston, it seems, had a long thirst. Trees and buildings were removed, the people relocated, and then the entire area was drowned to make a reservoir for the folk of Boston, sixty miles to the east. At first I thought I wanted to write a novel. I had a picture in my head of a girl in a boat looking over her drowned town. Eventually (about five years later) that picture in my head became the last scene in the picture book. Barbara Cooney’s illustrations are a gift, each one stunningly perfect. There is a Trumpet Book Club edition and a Japanese edition. The book was one of Yankee Magazine’s 100 Classic New England Children’s Books.

I wrote an article, “On Writing and Illustrating Letting Swift River Go.” which was published in ALA’ Book Links Magazine, 9/92, p.10.


  • An ALA Notable Book 1993
  • Nominee for the Young Hoosier Book Award 1994-1995
  • School Library Journal list of Best Picture Books 1992
  • Parents Magazine Best Picture books 1992
  • Horn Book Fanfare, best picture books 1992
  • An NCSS-CBC 1992 Notable trade book in the field of Social Studies
  • International Reading Association Children’s Choice book

What reviewers have said:

  • *STARRED REVIEW* “This is a poignantly told story that has the immediacy of an oral history. Yolen relates the events in sparkling prose that is tender in tone. Cooney’s exquisite soft-tone impressionistic landscapes have an ethereal quality…This is a book for generations of readers to have and to hold.”—School Library Journal, starred review
  • “The intimate, almost lyrical narrative recalls the bittersweetness of the reservoir’s creation, not only the lovely wilderness that resulted. . .A quiet, nostalgic pairing of text and art meant to be shared.”—Booklist
  • “In serene language laced with metaphor”—Five Owls
  • “This is a powerful allegory about our thirst—for water, for wood, for endless other resources—impacts places very far away…”—Nature’s Course
  • “Both pictures and words convey the poignancy of change, as well as the healing effects of accepting change and moving on.”—Los Angeles Times Book Review
  • “If there were a modern equivalent of Aesop, it would probably be Jane Yolen…”—New York Times
  • *STARRED REVIEW* “Yolen’s poetic narration, in the voice of a woman who was six years old when her family learned they would have to give up their home, recalls the tranquillity of a rural community where children fished in the river and picnicked in the graveyard. … Cooney’s luminous, exquisitely designed watercolors, in tenderly glowing colors, focus on carefully selected details, like loving memories that retain only the most significant particulars. …A lovely book about reconciling necessary change with the enduring value of what is lost.”—Kirkus Reviews
  • “<T>his felicitous marriage of text and art portrays the impact of modernization on one community. Yolen’s gently poetic text . . . . Cooney’s charmingly detailed, childlike and colorful art. . .the perfect choice for this New England tale. Children will be captivated by her perspective of earlier days, when kids played mumblety-pegs and walked to school on scenic country roads. A stirring and resonant book.”—PW