Holly Webb is renowned for her gorgeous stories with animals at their heart, and although I was very familiar with her tales for younger readers, I hadn’t seen very much for children as they move through KS2.
Having now read ‘The Story of Green River,’ I’m delighted to confirm that this would be perfect for older animals lovers. Think ‘The Animals of Farthing Wood’ (I loved that series!) or the classic ‘The Wind in the Willows.’ It has everything a reader could want – interesting characters, vivid descriptions, peril, and heart. I also enjoyed the story being told from the perspectives of our two central characters, Silken and Sedge. I was really rooting for the pair of them!
Make sure you read Holly’s exclusive piece about why she chose otters as the stars of her latest adventure…
‘The animals of Greenriver are in danger. Can Sedge and Silken find their way along the river to each other in time to save their home? A gorgeously illustrated adventure story that readers aged 8+ will treasure.
Last spring, the otters’ home flooded. Now the water is high again.
Young otter Sedge believes he can save his holt from another flood – but he has to be brave enough travel downstream for help.
Downriver, the beaver lodge is also at risk. Silken – who is too small and weak to do the work needed to strengthen the beavers’ dam – feels something calling her up the river.
As the two animals unknowingly swim towards each other, they are drawn to the spirit of Greenriver, who takes the form of a snow-white otter, Lady River.
But will Lady River hear their plea for safety?’
Why Otters? A special piece by Holly Webb.
I’ve loved otters since I was very small. My family used to spend our summer holidays in Suffolk, not all that far from the Otter Trust’s sanctuary in Earsham, just over the Norfolk border. Back then (we’re talking the 1980s!) otters were much more endangered in Britain than they are now – their recovery is partly due to the Otter Trust’s amazing conservation work, and their success reintroducing otters to wetlands across the country. I’m sure I didn’t realise how important this was, aged seven or eight when we first went to visit the sanctuary. Our family story was mostly about the smell. Otters use their spraints (poo!) to mark where they’ve been and leave messages to other otters – which means otters not in their natural habitat are quite smelly… They were also amazing to watch, and I loved them. I still make a bee-line for the otters whenever we visit a zoo, especially when they have glass-sided pools, and you can see their incredible swimming!
Around the same time I discovered a copy of The Wind in the Willows at home. I grew up loving books, and my father is a graphic designer, with a huge interest in book design. There were illustrated books all over our house. I’m pretty sure that this copy of The Wind in the Willows was my dad’s, bought mostly for the gorgeous, funny, E. H. Shepard illustrations, and not for me to read, but I borrowed it – and it was wonderful. Kenneth Grahame wrote about the river and the river creatures in a way that I adored, even if I didn’t understand half the words. I have to admit that my absolute favourite bit of the book is still Rat telling Mole what’s in the picnic basket, but Otter and his lost baby son Portly come a close second. Otter waiting at the ford, fretting about his missing cub, is heartbreaking. I wanted to write about a river with some of that same intense love for the water, and I wanted there to be otters.
I can’t remember when I read Tarka the Otter – I must have been older. When I went back to it while I was researching The Story of Greenriver, I realised that Tarka is not a children’s book at all – and it was never meant to be. It’s gripping, and terrifying, and very hard to read. The hunting of Tarka and the other otters is so detailed and accurate because Henry Williamson was a regular member of an otter hunt, and Tarka is actually dedicated to the Master of the Hunt, who helped with Williamson’s research. Despite this, Tarka is full of that same love of the river that made The Wind in the Willows so special for me, and the otters are the ultimate river dwellers, completely at home in the water.
This is actually what jump-started The Story of Greenriver for me. I’d admired otters swimming – laughed at them sliding down river banks and snow drifts, obviously for fun – loved all the beautiful Twitter photos of sea otters holding paws and clutching their favourite stones – even discovered that there were fabulous giant otters nearly two metres long, living in South America. In all of that I’d completely forgotten that otter cubs can’t swim, until I came across it in a news story. Otters are such amazing swimmers that it seems strange that they could ever struggle in the water – but otters have to teach their cubs to swim, just as humans do, and a flooded river can be terribly dangerous for otter cubs who haven’t learned yet.
This is how the story began for me – with two otter cubs reaching for each other as the angry river tore them out of their holt…
I wonder how many of this book’s readers will be inspired to write an adventure of their own? Or by their own animal encounters? Lots, I’m sure!
*Many thanks to Hachette Children’s Books for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour*