The Day the River Caught Fire: How the Cuyahoga River Exploded and Ignited the Earth Day Movement

S. & S./Paula Wiseman. Mar. 2023. 48p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781534480834.
K-Gr 4–In 1969, a passing spark ignited the sludge and pollution on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio. The river was actually on fire! While this should have been a horrifying event, the same thing had happened 13 times since 1886. Fortunately, Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes, one of the first Black mayors of a major U.S. city, knew something had to change. He and other experts and environmental activists brought attention to disasters like the Cuyahoga River Fire. Their calls for change led to the first Earth Day in 1970 as well as extensive environmental protections and regulations. The tale ends on a positive note, showing the huge strides the river has made with repopulated fish species and promising solutions such as solar power and recycling. Earth Day is now a global event taking place in almost 200 countries. The illustrations effectively convey the horror of the disgusting trash, toxic clouds, and brown slime infesting the waterway, especially as contrasted with the green grass and pristine blue water of the unspoiled waterway prior to the industrial revolution. In addition to insight into an interesting historic event, examples of onomatopoeia (plop, splash, KABOOM) make this a great volume for classroom use. Back matter includes a passionate author’s note urging young people to be good stewards of the planet, a time line of environmental events from Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring to 2022’s record-breaking heat, and additional resources.
VERDICT A timely and fascinating reminder that environmental action is necessary and can prompt remarkable recovery.

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