Privat bild

Monika Vaicenaviciene

On What is a River?

Rivers have many powers: they carry sediments and sentiments, revive lands and minds, connect places and times. They are sources of life and of conflict; paths of stories traveling the Earth. Their flow constantly reminds us – we all live downstream, or upstream, from someone, we are all neighbours. 

My picture book is about rivers and the plentiful connections they have with us humans. It follows a child and her grandma as they look for answers to a question – what is a river? In their imaginary expedition, they discover rivers flowing in the sky and in living organisms; meet pilgrims and conquistadores, magical shape-shifting river dolphins and older-than-dinosaurs species of sturgeons; fish and bathe; gathering all the stories they participate in into their own story about the river. 

The book combines factual information, various stories from riverine environments as well as more loose associations and metaphors. The themes I touch upon include folklore, myths, daily needs of people rivers cater to, cultural metaphors, environmental problems, peculiarities of plants and animals, history, language etc. 

Every spread of the book is like a different chapter about different meanings rivers might have in different contexts. The book tells about a river as a journey, home, a refreshment, a name, a meeting place, a riddle, memory, depth, energy, a reflection, a path, the ocean; and as a thread that connects stories of different times and places. 

To make my book, I used a variety of materials, including pencils, watercolours, gouache, digital drawing; and a collection of geographical, historical, mythological references I have gathered as well as my own memories of growing up close to a river. 

I have tried to balance both factually accurate and poetic storytelling to create a story of interconnectedness and wonder. I want to bring up beautiful and harmful connections between nature and us. In this world of today where people often behave carelessly, altering ecosystems with ever greater power, I think it is important to sense the connection to our surroundings, to understand that our physical and natural environment does not exists on its own, but influences our lives in many direct and indirect ways – and that we influence it as well. By presenting a broad spectrum of stories I hope to inspire people to become more attentive to the riches the nature gives us: food not just for body but for thought as well, energy not only for power plants but for dreams too. 

I want to encourage the sense of neighbourhood. My aim is to hint people at the dependency on nature and on each other. This notion of co-living, of sharing the world with one another, of understanding that our actions influence not only our immediate surroundings, but may affect people living in other places, I think is really important. 

I felt that with the help of rivers and water in general, in this world divided by nationalities, religions, race, class I could show and celebrate connections between places and cultures, between all of us.