See the wonders of an imaginary river from a tiny boat

Who's it for?

Sharing at storytime or reading independently 3-7 years

Sharing and exploring through creative cross-curricular activities  4-8 years

Adapt our activities to suit your children’s interests and abilities

About this book

From a bedroom high above the city, a girl looks at a river stretching away in both directions. She imagines herself being swept along it “in a silver boat towards the horizon.” Subsequent spreads show her boat following the river through very different landscapes and locations, from car-jammed city flyovers and smoke-filled factories to patchwork fields and waterfalls. Information mixes with dreamscape as the river takes her through jungles, past mangroves and out into the open sea.  

Part exploration of the power of our imaginations and part introduction to habitats and the water cycle, this appealing picturebook offers gloriously immersive, densely-coloured artwork with a sophisticated edge. Martin’s pared-back text leads us through each landscape, framing the reader’s observations but leaving plenty of room for thinking, questioning and responding. 

Observing the river      illustration copyright Marc Martin for Templar

Sharing this book and talking about it

Before reading, ask your children what they know about rivers and what experiences they can share. Is there a river near you? Where does it come from and where does it go? How do you cross a river or travel along it? 

Look at the front cover. What kind of place is this, do you think? Does it look like anywhere you recognize? Who could be in the boat and where could they they going? What other questions does this cover raise?

Share the story, making sure everyone can see the pictures – you might like to have extra copies available, or use a projection visualiser. Read the whole book for enjoyment, questioning and reflecting on individual illustrations but keeping the momentum going, then revisit each spread to look more closely and interrogate the images.

How is the river in this book similar to the one(s) you talked about earlier? How is it different? 

Where can you see the sky in this book? Why do you think Martin didn’t show more sky?

In this book, do you think Martin wanted to teach you facts, tell you a story or do something else?  

If you had a little silver boat, where would you sail?

Sailing through the jungle     Illustration copyright Marc Martin for Templar

What next? Activities...

If you were a water droplet, how would you drip and splash and flow? Observe water on the move (spouting from a tap, gushing along a stream, swirling down a plughole) and collect words to describe it. Use your bodies to explore these movements then showback, discuss and try again. 

How would a group of water droplets spout and gush and flood? Set your movements to music and give your best performance.  How does it feel to act together as one big wave? Write descriptively about water on the move (and your part in it…)

What happens to a single water droplet when it’s alone? Observe one through a magnifier and talk about it. Try tipping the droplet to see what happens, then leave it alone. How long does it take to disappear? Where has it gone? 

How long does it take a water droplet to evaporate from your outdoor yard or indoor floor? Set up an investigation to time droplets in different locations.

Find out about the water cycle. As water droplets, can you act it out?
Once you can remember everything that happens, draw diagrams showing the water cycle and present what you’ve learned to another person or group. 

Look at the traffic-jam cityscape – too many cars can certainly cause trouble! 

Draw toy cars from life, then choose your favourite and turn it into a colourful Martin-style illustration. Using the traffic-jam spread to help you, paint a spaghetti-junction of roads and bridges on a roll of display paper or wallpaper. Cut your cars out and stick them onto the roads to create a traffic-jam frieze. 

How many cars pass your setting? Do the numbers differ according to the time of day? Find out about air quality and design posters encouraging people to leave their cars at home.

Look at the spread after the storm - what can you identify in the swirling darkness? How do these things relate to the rest of the book? 

Talk about dreams and the kind of things that happen in them. Is this book about a dream? Why / why not?

Write a story about a dream, including the phrase “and as the clouds clear, I’m sitting in my room again…”

"Sitting in my room again...."       Illustration copyright Marc Martin for Templar


Compare the first cityscape with the second. How are they similar and how do they differ?

In the second, it’s raining – you can see the drops running down the glass. 

Looking out of a rainy window      Illustration copyright Marc Martin for Templar


Look out of your window at the rain. Talk about what you notice (use all your senses!) and collect words, phrases and images to describe it. 

Listen to the rain and try to capture its rhythms using percussion instruments and/or found objects. 

Have a go at dripping and dropping watery paint or ink onto paper and letting the droplets run, like the rain on your window.

Add to your word-collection and use it to help you write descriptively or poetically about your rainy day.


Look at the picture showing the boat on the calm sea, then turn the page to look at the fish.
Talk about both illustrations – what details do you notice? What colours have been used? How do these pictures make you feel? 

Ask children to lie comfortably with their eyes closed and pretend they’re in a silver boat that’s floating on a calm blue sea. Describe the gentle breeze and the warmth of the sun, then ask them to imagine looking over the side of the boat and seeing lots of fish. What do the fish look like and how are they moving? What colours, shapes and patterns do children notice?

Allow time for relaxing and visualizing, then hand out paper and drawing materials and ask children to sit up and draw the fish they’ve been imagining.

How did it feel to be bobbing in an imaginary boat, surrounded by fish?  Could you keep an imaginary boat in your mind and go there when you need some peace and quiet? 

You could extend this by observing real fish swimming in a tank (talk about them, draw them, write poems...) or visiting an aquarium (how are the fish cared for? What do thy need to live healthy lives?)

Looking down into the water....      Illlustration copyright Marc Martin for Templar

Use watercolours to decorate paper with washes and patterns...
When they’re dry, write your hopes and wishes for the future on them. Fold your papers into origami boats and set them sailing on a mirrored base.

Look closely at the artwork in this book. What techniques do you think Marc Martin used to create it? Could you use any of these techniques to help you create a River-style giant frieze for a corridor or shared space?

  • layering watercolour washes onto paper, then cutting shapes to create boulders, patchwork fields or rolling hills
  • adding patterns with darker paint (or printing them)
  • creating an impression of watery depths by allowing paint puddles to dry
  • adding brushstrokes of white paint to create spray and clouds 

Put children into groups and allocate one of the landscapes or settings to each group. Cover sheets of blank paper with watercolour washes and patterns - use different shades of blue for the paper you'll use for the river, shades of grey for rocks etc. When your blue papers are dry, cut shapes from them and stick onto friezepaper to create a river running across every section of the frieze. Then use your brown and grey papers to add hills and rocks, and so on, until you've added everything you need to your background (patchwork fields, sky and clouds...) Then add collaged trees and landscape features, plus free-painted vegetation and other details. 

Find out more about the landscapes and geographical features depicted in your frieze, then write about them and display alongside your finished artwork. 

Patterns, shapes and colours in a patchwork field        Illustration copyright Marc Martin for Templar

Look closely at the night-time jungle illustration 
How many eyes can you count? Can you identify the creatures? Find out about nocturnal jungle animals.

The colours in this spread are dense and dark. Investigate shades by adding small amounts of black pigment to coloured pigments. Record the increasingly dark colours you produce by painting sample squares along a strip of white card. 

TIP: it’s easy to overwhelm coloured pigments so add black pigment sparingly!

Open a large cardboard box so that it lies flat, then paint night-time jungle scenes over the inside surface, looking at the book for inspiration and using the darker paint shades you’ve mixed yourselves. 

Draw or paint animal silhouettes and collage them onto your scene. Add eyes using luminous paint, then reassemble your box so the artwork is inside. Place the box upside down across the gap between two desks (so it can be safely accessed from beneath). Supervise children as they use torches to explore the scene within, then use as a stimulus for writing – a report about what you’ve done, instructions on how to make a similar box, a description of the artwork you’ve created, a poem about the animals …

Look at the factory cityscape and talk about it 

Why is there so much smoke? Is there any smoke in your town or city? Where does it come from?

Factories long ago used to create lots of pollution, but now they create less. How and why did things change? What still needs to be changed to make the world cleaner? 

Are there factories in your neighbourhood? What do they make? Could you visit one? 

Mix a variety of grey shades of paint and ink, and provide other black, white and grey media (charcoal, graphite, chalk, pastels, wax crayons…) Use Martin’s cityscape to help you paint montages of factory buildings and chimneys. Photograph your artwork, then obscure part or all of your picture with grey washes, splodges and lines representing smoke and other pollution. Take photos to show your picture becoming more and more obscured.

Examine the “before, during and after” photos of your artwork and discuss. How did it feel to create your picture and what do you think of the end result? Write about what you did and display alongside your artwork and photos.

Using found materials together with card, glue and sellotape, can you design and build a boat that will float?
Construct your boats, then test using a water-filled paddling pool. Adapt your designs as necessary and test again.

How long does it take children to blow their boats across the pool? Can you find another way to power the boats? 

How many toy animals will each boat support before it sinks? Write about what you’ve done and illustrate with labelled diagrams.

Look closely at each of the pictures showing the little boat. What do you think the girl can see, hear, smell and taste while she's sailing along the river?

How do you think she’s feeling? List words to describe her emotions.

If you had a little silver boat of your own, what would it be like? Describe your boat, then imagine you’re building it. What will you do, and which tools will you use? Mime actions like sawing planks and planing them; lifting them and hammering nails; dropping a heavy mast into place and tying a sail to it…. 

When your boat’s ready, prepare to sail down river. Where are you heading and what happens along the way? Mime your actions and show your reactions to events as they unfold. Use your experiences to fuel creative writing – from descriptions of the boats to stories about your adventures.

If you liked this, try...

River Stories
by Timothy Knapman, illustrated by Ashling Lindsay and Irene Montano, Red Shed 2020

Once Upon a Raindrop by James Carter and Nomoco, Caterpillar Books 2018 - read about this book on Cast of Thousands here

The Rhythm of the Rain by Grahame Baker Smith, Templar 2018

Rain by Sam Usher, Templar 2016

Float by Daniel Miyares, Simon and Schuster 2016

River Story by Meredith Hooper and Bee Willey, Walker 2015

Water Dance by Thomas Locker, Houghton Mifflin 1997

Rivers: A Visual History from River to Sea by Peter Goes, Gecko Press 2018

Song of the River by Joy Cowley and Kimberley Andrews, Gecko Press 2019

The River: An Epic Journey to the Sea by Patricia Hegarty and Hanako Clulow, Caterpillar Books 2018

Little Boat by Thomas Docherty, Templar 2009

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, Red Fox 2000 (new edition)

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