Down by the River: A Family Fly Fishing Story

Book review by
Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media
Down by the River: A Family Fly Fishing Story Book Poster Image
Boy learns from his grandpa in warm family tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Solid intro to fly fishing techniques, equipment, vocabulary, including "angler," "waders," and "catch and release." Back matter introduces and explains concept of conservation. Some basic safety tips about wearing sunscreen, proper clothing, boots, and a flotation device when in a boat or wading.

Positive Messages

Don't give up -- keep trying till you succeed. Family outings are fun. When you have a special day with family, you'll have that memory to keep your whole life. Releasing a fish after you catch it helps maintain and increase the fish population. In some areas, you can keep a maximum number of fish of a particular size to eat. "Be sure to find out what the rules and regulations are where you fish." 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Art's mom is upbeat, active, great at her sport, and close with her son and father. Grandpa is warm and proud of his daughter, and teaches Art with kindness and patience. Art tries hard to learn the techniques his grandpa teaches him and doesn't give up, even when he's disappointed and frustrated.

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Down by the River: A Family Fly Fishing Story, by Andrew Weiner and illustrated by April Chu, tells the story of a boy's day out fly fishing with his mom, grandpa, and family dog. Eight-year-old Art experiences ups and down, but the whole day becomes a treasured memory for him. With a gentle pace and warm illustrations that make the action clearly understandable, it's an accessible family story as well as a solid intro to the sport with additional illustrated vocabulary and information in the back matter. 

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What's the story?

Young Art loves loading up the car with fly fishing gear and spending the day DOWN BY THE RIVER with his mom, grandpa, and family dog, hearing stories of how Grandpa taught his mom how to fish when she was Art's age, 8. Art experiences some frustration at not being the "natural" his mom was and getting his line tangled in a tree. But, in the end, he catches a fish and makes a promise to himself: I'll never forget this. The next page has the story's last line, "And he never did," above Art and his interracial family walking toward the river, as he presumably passes along the family lore and love of fly fishing.

Is it any good?

This sweet, gentle fishing tale celebrates family and the power of shared memories. It's a quiet story that moves with the rhythms of the river and its calm pools. It acknowledges the boy's feelings of frustration and incompetence as he compares his skills with those of his mother and captures his joy at finally casting well and catching a fish. Mainly, his pleasure comes from being with family, hearing his grandpa's stories, and having a memorable day out in nature.

Down by the River also offers a basic introduction to fly fishing, and April Chu's illustrations convey its intricacies and intimacies from varying perspectives -- close up, far away, and from a soaring osprey's-eye view -- in an autumnal palette of green, orange, yellow, red. Back matter explains and illustrates fly fishing practices (such as "catch and release") and vocabulary, and endpapers showcase the diversity of flies crafted by humans to fool the fish. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how fishing looks in Down by the River: A Family Fly Fishing Story. Does it look fun? Hard? Would you like to try it if you never have? 

  • What stories have you heard from your mom about what she did when she was your age? Do you like hearing family stories? 

  • Have you ever tried a new sport and found it frustrating? Did you keep trying or give up? 

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