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Turning the tide: Salmon story teaches lesson on river ecology

  • Now seventh-graders, Aliyah Sanders at left and Dominique Gamache, would meet with their art teacher before and after school to discuss what would work in their book about a fish in a polka dot dress.

GREENFIELD — There have been stories about round fish and clown fish, red fish and blue fish, star fish and wee fish, and even a story about the search for a fish that is abducted.

Now, there’s a story about a fish that wears a polka dot dress and swims in the Connecticut River.

“The Fish in the Polka Dot Dress” was written by art teacher Nancy Meagher, illustrated by art students at Gill and Montague elementary schools, and published by the Connecticut River Watershed Council Inc.

Meagher said it is the story of a young salmon that finds a polka dot dress floating in the river, puts the dress on, and becomes excited about all of the trash she finds in the river.

The salmon, named “Connie,” finds a large sofa in the river, jumps on, and floats down the river while dreaming of becoming human.

Of course, Connie eventually learns lessons about what trash does to the ecosystem and about what the local watershed council is doing to clean up the river and its tributaries.

At the end of the book, Meagher and the watershed council list a number of items found during the Source to the Sea cleanup in 2009. Those include bottles and cans, cups and fast food containers, cigarette butts, camping and fishing gear, automobile tires, scrap metal, furniture, building and construction materials, electronics, barbecue grills, carpets and mattresses and appliances.

Meagher said she worked closely with two fifth-graders in 2010. Now seventh-graders, Dominique Gamache and Aliyah Sanders would meet with Meagher before and after school to discuss what would work and what wouldn’t.

“I didn’t even know there was a problem with trash in the river until we started writing the book and doing the research,” said Meagher. “When we began tallying the items found there, we realized what was happening to the environment.”

Meagher said then she learned of what the local watershed council does every year by participating in the Source to the Sea cleanup.

“I knew we would be good partners,” said Meagher.

So, Meagher said she wrote a “Cinderella story” about a fish swimming in our local river.

“It’s also a story about a fish that becomes so fascinated by all the trash, that she wants it all,” she said. “But, she learns some good lessons.”

The original book, a large foldout, and a large papier-mache fish can be found at the watershed council office on Bank Row.

Meagher said “The Fish in the Polka Dot Dress” has led to her writing three other books, including “Salmon Man and the Polka Dot Tie.” She said Connie’s story is the only one that has been published so far.

Meagher, who has been teaching in Montague and its villages for 19 years, said her book has been used in different classes.

“It has prompted discussions about science and the environment and has led to students writing some pretty good poetry, even in preschool.

“It’s another way to teach kids about the footprint we all leave behind,” she said.

The book was edited by Carol Berner, program coordinator of River of Words, a program of the watershed council.

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