Scrap Metal Swan: A River Clean-Up Story by Joanne Linden, illustrated by Estrellita Caracol

Scrap Metal Swan: A River Clean-Up Story by Joanne Linden, illustrated by Estrellita Caracol. Barefoot Books, 2022. 9781646864980

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 2

Format: Hardcover picture book

What did you like about the book?  A group of townspeople gather together to clean up a local river. We watch as they pull old televisions, cars, pieces of furniture, and other debris from the water and a barge hauls the junk away and “gets paid money for the freight.” Meanwhile, a woman artist with long gray hair and brown skin pulls more discards from the river and, with a little girl to help, constructs a giant swan out of found materials. Other craftspeople (of all colors, ages, and physical abilities) add to the menagerie; a seahorse, a bird, a starfish, etc. soon appear to decorate a park by the river. Back matter includes information about how rivers get dirty (manufacturing discharge and runoff are mentioned), why polluted water is bad, and how to help. A photo of the actual Guard Swan (located in Wisconsin) also shows up, along with descriptions and pictures of various kinds of artists, and ideas for making art out of found objects. Linden has used short rhyming sentences in an ABCB pattern to tell her story while Caracol fashioned the collage illustrations out of found papers, which seems appropriate for the subject. 

Anything you didn’t like about it? Although undoubtedly well-meaning, I found the narrative disjointed and was unsure of the book’s purpose. The people cleaning the river and the artist run on two separate narratives; it’s not clear that they are even in the same place or time. Back matter mentions rubbish and waste (which describes what the volunteers are pulling out of the river) but also chemicals that can make “humans, animals and plants very sick” (which cannot be addressed with a clean-up day). Children will want to know where the barge is taking the garbage, but this question goes unanswered. The book strays further as it discusses conservation and encourages children to turn off the water when brushing their teeth. The “Many Kinds of Artists” section meanders through glassblowers, book illustrators, and even potters, none of whom has made an appearance in the book.

To whom would you recommend this book?  For young readers looking for conservation inspiration and heroes, I’d be more likely to recommend We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom. Or for community action leading to conservation, Energy Island by Allan Drummond.

Who should buy this book? Public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Picture books

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: August 1, 2022

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