Big River’s Daughter – Book Recommendation

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bigTitle: Big River’s Daughter

Author: Bobbi Miller

Published by Holiday House, April 2013

Ages: 8+

Themes: Mississippi, historical fiction, tall tales, buccaneers, strong women, Annie Christmas, Mike Finke, river boats, adventure

Opening lines:

“This here story is all true, as near as I can recollect. It ain’t a prettified story. Life as a river rat is stomping hard, and don’t I know it. It’s life wild and woolly, a real rough and tumble. But like Da said, life on the river is full of possible imaginations. And we river rats, we aim to see it through in our own way. That’s the honest truth of it.”


This is a historical (and mythical) novel set in the early1800’s. It’s a wild tumble down the  untamed Mississippi and Bayou swamps with a splendiferous heroine, River Fillian. Her father is known as the River King, but after the huge earthquake of 1811, he goes missing and Little River must rely on her friends/’kin’, her courage and her knowledge of the river to get her out of a boodle of trouble. Infamous mythical figures like Mike Finke and Annie Christmas mix with historical rogues like the buccaneer, Jean Lafitte, along with a cast of larger than life characters. The story is narrated in the first person by little River, in true Mississip slang!  This is adventure x 100! – earthquakes, buried treasure, hidden maps, pirates, swamps, fights, shecoonery, arm-wrestling, gators, a TIGER and much more galore!

Why I like this book:

This was one of those breathless books that took me just two days to read and when I came up for air my first words were, “More!”

I should start by saying I came across American Tall Tales as a school librarian around a dozen years ago and fell in love with this folk tale niche. Every year I did a tall tale project with my international grade threes, who loved it and after every story would ask me if it were true! I guess that is part of the guile and appeal of this form. On finishing this story, like my grade three students, I wanted to ask Bobbi, “so is it true? even the tiger?” It feels extravagant and wild and dangerous and just about plausible! Of course, this is due not only to great penmanship, but also to the fact that one can tell from the author’s notes and bibliography that a tremendous amount of research has gone into this book.

While I believe all books, not just picture books, should be a good read-aloud, some books almost plead with you to be vocalized. BIG RIVER’S DAUGHTER is one of those.  The authenticity and richness of  River’s and her companions’ language has to be uttered aloud (though I tried to retain myself when reading on the New York subway). One sign of a book really getting under my skin is me falling in love with the language and rhythm, and Bobbi Miller has a mighty strong and unique voice, which I, for one, love. I found myself making notes of expressions I fancy incorporating into my own jargon. I guess I should let you taste some more for yourselves:

Most pirates be half a bubble off plumb. A few almighty talk like a book, but they think like a slug.

Get your wiggle on, Tiger, we need to move out.

I bring out that fancified fiddle. I stir up a soaring melody, near as spicy as Gurdy’s stew.

I think any older reader (and this book appeals to young and old!) cannot fail to compare River most favorably to those other river rascals Huck and Tom. River is a truly raw and memorable protagonist, as are the colorful and infamous pirates and buccaneers on the early 19th century Mississippi and in the Bayou. This story truly has a classic adventure tome appeal and you feel like you should shelve it maybe between Treasure Island and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. My favorite book growing up was SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS, where my heroine was a middle grade girl, Nancy, who saw herself as the chief pirate of the Amazon dinghy(ship) she sailed. I wonder if I had read this at aged nine, maybe I would have invented stories of myself as River Fillian for many years (especially as theres a big cat in this story!)

This is a yarn that will curdle your cockles and which makes the impossible appear possible. I can’t wait for more novels by Bobbi Miller. Who-op!


Holiday House has created an excellent Educator’s Guide (Grades 4 – 7) for BIG RIVER’S DAUGHTER, including classroom activities and their relationship to the Core Standards!

Please visit Bobbi Miller’s website:

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11 Responses to Big River’s Daughter – Book Recommendation

  1. Bobbi Miller says:

    How grand are you! Thank you for this lovely, lovely review. I am so grateful that you enjoyed the reading!

  2. Wow, your wonderful review makes me want to go out and buy the book right now. This is my kind of novel too. I love historical fiction and that the period of time appeals to me. I love the language of the story, which portrayed very well!

  3. What a wonderful-sounding book! And what a fantastically-written review. Joanna, you made the book come to life for me. Thank you! (Our province-wide library system doesn’t have even one copy, however! I feel a request coming on…)

  4. Love the sound of this, Joanna. The imaginative story and fun writing are a winner.

  5. Rhythm says:

    Those opening lines hooked me! What a great story! I’ll have to check this one out! Thanks for the review!

  6. Joanna says:

    Rhythm, I agree that the hook is superb here!

  7. Pingback: Middle Grade Recommendation – The Girls of Gettysburg | Miss Marple's Musings

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