Take Me to the River: Novels and Projects for World Rivers Day

‘It’s brother and sister to me, and aunts, and company, and food and drink, and (naturally) washing. It’s my world, and I don’t want any other. What it hasn’t got is not worth having, and what it doesn’t know is not worth knowing.’

Rat in The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Illustration by Andrea Alemanno in The Wind in the Willows. © Helbling Languages

Illustration by Andrea Alemanno in The Wind in the Willows. © Helbling Languages

World Rivers Day is celebrated on 25 September. It ‘highlights the many values of rivers and strives to increase public awareness and encourages the improved stewardship of rivers around the world’ as we learn on the event’s dedicated website. Not only do rivers connect different cultures and nations, they also provide food and fun for the people living along them.

Celebrate by taking a trip down a river in your English class. Here are five novels you can use to begin your journey.


The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

The story is set in the Thames valley, and the four characters, Mole, Rat, Badger and Toad love ‘simply messing about in boats’.

Here are some resources to learn more about the novel:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

The adventures happen along the Mississippi River, where Mark Twain also spent most of his life. He was a riverboat pilot on the river.

Explore North America with this lesson plan:

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

The story is set in Yukon, during the time of the Klondike Gold Rush. There are many rivers, including the Yukon, in the story, which is often very dangerous as it is cold and frozen. In the Gold Rush era water was essential to separate gold from gravel.

Learn more about Jack London and his work with our lesson plan:

  • Jack London Special for Your IWB

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad served on a steamer on the Congo River. His travel journals inspired most of the novel.

Here are some teaching tips and projects to learn more about the novel.


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Choose a river from a novel you read with your students, or you can simply choose a river in your own country. Explore the river from various perspectives and ask your students to do a mini presentation based on their own research.


  • How long is the river?
  • Where is the source (head) of the river?
  • What feeders flow into the river?
  • Where does the river flow into (mouth)?
  • What countries does the river flow through?
  • What kind of ships can you find on this river?


  • What species live in this river?
  • What is the state of pollution in this river?
  • Is this river protected?
  • Can you fish in this river?

Culture & Literature

  • Are there any stories about this river?
  • Are there any traditions connected to this river?


  • Have there been famous historical events along this river?


Discuss the famous quote by Heraclitus with your young adult and adult learners.

‘No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.’

What does this thought mean to them? How do they feel about rivers? Have they ever thought about this sentence?

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