Boats in books ... and dreaming about rivers

by Greg McReynolds

I’ve read “The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame to all of our kids. It’s a wordy book, full of the kind of slow, descriptive prose that is perfect for winding down a restless four-year-old just before bedtime.  

My favorite passage comes early in the book, after the mole leaves his underground home and first sees the river.

“The Mole was bewitched, entranced, fascinated. By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man who holds one spellbound by exciting stories; and when tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea.”  

To be honest, I’m not sure if the kids liked the book that much. We only ever made it a page or two before they were snoring. Consequently, it took months to read it to them. 

“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” 

Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows 

I read the book when I was about 10, dreaming of punts and rivers and the wild wood that Grahame brings to life in the pages. At the time, I was learning to paddle and exploring flatwater in a well-aged Mohawk 14-foot canoe. The idea of moving water pulled me in and I read those passages again and again. Within a couple of years, I and friend were running southwest rivers during springtime flooding that allowed us to float over barbed-wire fences and quickly past annoyed landowners. 

It wasn’t Grahame’s idlyic, clear water streams, but it was as close as I could get and it started a lifelong love of rivers and boats. 

I read “Wind in the Willows” to my own kids, hoping it would build subconscious love of water, as it did for me. Grahame shows that a boat, floating on the surface of a river, is real magic brought to life. 

That the beautiful prose will quickly lull a kiddo to sleep is only a bonus.  

Purchase the book here or at your local bookstore.