Minn of the Mississippi: On the River

Long before my young attention span could handle reading the entire text of this book, I sat for hours pouring over the fascinating illustrations. Minn of the Mississippi, by Holling Clancy Holling, left a lasting impression on me. It wasn?t as easy to read as The Cat In the Hat, but the detailed panoramas of river life, tugboats, floods, peaceful dark swamps, all told the story like a good movie that I could watch over and over again with the turning of pages. Eventually I did finish the entire text — a landmark in my progress as a young reader. Recently, upon reading it again, was I impressed with the idea that this book is like the turtle version of On the Road.

The story begins way up in the North Woods of Minnesota. Minn is the name of one baby turtle which hatches from a group of turtle eggs. All the baby turtles scurry for safety as a crow swoops down, looking to make a meal of them. Just then, a hunter fires a rifle at the crow. The bullet nicks the crow?s tail feathers and cuts off Minn’s left rear leg. The crow flies away, scared by the rifle. The baby turtles, including the injured Minn, instinctively run from their sandy nest, plop into the water, and hide themselves by digging down into the silt of the river bottom.

Minn recovers from the wound and begins an amazing twenty-five year adventure which takes her down the entire length of the Mississippi river through several states, past river towns and cities, struggling over and under dams, captured on boats for a time, witnessing floods, encountering both humans and animals which are sometimes friendly and sometimes dangerous, laying eggs along the way, until at last she reaches the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf being too salty, Minn settles nearby in a New Orleans bayou with the help of some friendly fishermen.

The story ends with a message, or moral. Over the years, as humans were striving for wealth and possessions, the power of the river remained constant and just barely tamed by man?s technology. The riverbed where Minn now lives is covered with coins, gold treasures, rubies, diamonds, and emeralds, all from sunken ships of past pirates, businessmen, and riverboat gamblers. Did these riches mean anything to Minn the turtle? Holling writes:

Thus Minn lived on a glittering heap … of what? Rich jewels, once more, were merely stones; and one of the earth’s heaviest elements, melted neatly into golden wafers of equal weight … was returned again to the care of earth and water. For Minn, her doorstep of so-called treasure was only a hardness, like water-worn pebbles??

Holling Clancy Holling wrote and illustrated several children?s books which have been used often by teachers to help kids learn about geography, history, zoology, and and anthropology. These books include Paddle-to-the-Sea (1941), Tree in the Trail (1942), Seabird (1948), Minn of the Mississippi (1951), and Pagoo (1957). He did a lot of research to make sure his books were accurate. Sometimes his wife, Lucille, helped with the illustrations.

Holling was born in Michigan on August 2, 1900. He graduated from the School of the Art Institute in Chicago in 1923 and became a member of the zoology department at the Chicago Museum of Natural History from 1923 to 1926. He and Lucille Webster were married in 1925. Before becoming a full-time writer, Holling also worked as a teacher for New York University, a freelance designer, an advertising artist, and an illustrator for other people?s books. Mr. Holling died on September 7, 1973.

I would like to conclude with another quote from the book. This is the part where Minn the turtle passes through New Orleans, much of which is below sea level. I really like how Holling describes it:

?New Orleans is a cooking pan, a laughing face ? and a rhythm. A soft humming runs down its levees like rain-trickles of sound. It comes from houses, mansions, shops and skyscrapers; from dark alleys and day-bright boulevards; from people working and people at play; from feet hissing on dance floors, from hands beating, from singing mouths; and the rhythm is cradled in crooning strings, a moaning of the trumpets, drums sobbing … And some of the rhythm has jungle in it; it tells of other rivers, crocodiles, long cats and shadows of elephants?And as Minn went by, drums talked this New Orleans rhythm into the river night …?

Minn of the Mississippi was one of my favorite books as a child, and still is.

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