Freshwater Pearls

Earth is often referred to as the Blue Plan­et, with water com­pris­ing 71% of its sur­face. How­ev­er, just 0.5% of the earth­’s water is avail­able fresh water. (1) While many chil­dren have expe­ri­enced the won­der of rivers, lakes, and wet­lands, they might not rec­og­nize the val­ue of these wild waters. This col­umn dives into four Calde­cott pic­ture books that fea­ture fresh­wa­ter resources, pre­cious and lim­it­ed assets that sus­tain ter­res­tri­al life.

We Are Water Protectors

Author Car­ole Lind­strom (Anishinaabe/Métis) wrote We Are Water Pro­tec­tors in response to the 2016 protest by the Stand­ing Rock Sioux Tribe against the con­struc­tion of the Dako­ta Access Pipeline. Also inspired by the sol­i­dar­i­ty of these pro­test­ers, illus­tra­tor Michaela Goade (Tlin­git) immersed her­self in the book project. Grow­ing up in South­east Alas­ka, where “Water is a way of life[,] … [the] core theme [of the book] real­ly res­onat­ed.” (2) The artist ren­ders her expres­sive paint­ings in water­col­or, with some col­ored pen­cil and gouache detail­ing and dig­i­tal edits. (3) Upon receiv­ing the 2021 Calde­cott Medal for her dis­tin­guished pic­ture book, Goade became the first BIPOC woman and first Indige­nous illus­tra­tor to be so hon­ored. (4)

Goade con­tends that her favorite col­or is “Ocean,” (5) and the ini­tial full-bleed dou­ble-page spread reflects this. Here we see our unnamed young pro­tag­o­nist and nar­ra­tor, stand­ing in the water with her Nokomis, or grand­moth­er, and three oth­er women, all water pro­tec­tors. Meld­ing real­is­tic and sur­re­al­is­tic styles, the artist breathes life into the flow­ing water in a wide range of blue and aqua hues, bal­anced by golds, oranges, and rich reds on this page and through­out the book. In the back­ground, one can see mut­ed white trees and leaves, almost ghost-like. On the ver­so fore­ground, Goade has includ­ed wood­land flo­ral designs, inspired by Anishi­naabe motifs often seen in bead­work. She repeats these tech­niques and designs on oth­er spreads.

illustration from We Are Water Protectors
illus­tra­tion copy­right © Michaela Goade, from We Are Water Pro­tec­tors, writ­ten by Car­ole Lind­strom, pub­lished by Roar­ing Brook Press, 2020

Fol­low­ing scenes of water, land, ani­mals, and sto­ry­telling, with warn­ings of the arrival of a black snake, read­ers face a men­ac­ing full-page spread. Harsh rec­tan­gles rep­re­sent the human-made oil pipeline, in sharp con­trast to the curved lines and shapes of the nat­ur­al world. The red and black col­ors are threat­en­ing. Indeed, in the low­er ver­so, the snake is chok­ing a plant. This is our narrator’s call, not just to observe and lis­ten, but to act.

We Are Water Protectors
illus­tra­tion copy­right © Michaela Goade, from We Are Water Pro­tec­tors, writ­ten by Car­ole Lind­strom, pub­lished by Roar­ing Brook Press, 2020

Two spreads lat­er, the girl has trans­formed, wear­ing a tra­di­tion­al rib­bon skirt, don­ning med­i­cine wheel ear­rings, and hold­ing a feath­er. Threats to the water have brought the girl and oth­ers to the land. The illus­tra­tor draws atten­tion to the girl by posi­tion­ing her in the fore­front of the rec­to, arms out­stretched and hair flow­ing in dynam­ic diag­o­nal lines and a deter­mined gaze off the page to the right. She is poised to lead.

We Are Water Protectors
illus­tra­tion copy­right © Michaela Goade, from We Are Water Pro­tec­tors, writ­ten by Car­ole Lind­strom, pub­lished by Roar­ing Brook Press, 2020

The book offers exclu­sive­ly dou­ble-page spreads, except for three sin­gle page illus­tra­tions where the ver­so asserts the refrain “We stand | With our songs | And our drums. | We are still here.” As the sto­ry pro­gress­es, the num­ber of peo­ple in that cir­cle expands from five to eight. This cir­cle calls atten­tion to the cycle of life and mir­rors oth­er images in the book of the moon, sun, and earth. On the rec­to rests a tur­tle, a pow­er­ful fig­ure in many indige­nous cre­ation sto­ries, includ­ing the Anishinaabe’s Tur­tle Island. Cra­dled by our nar­ra­tor, the tur­tle also serves as a bridge between water and land, rein­forc­ing the spir­it and strength of Stand­ing Rock protestors.

We Are Water Protectors
illus­tra­tion copy­right © Michaela Goade, from We Are Water Pro­tec­tors, writ­ten by Car­ole Lind­strom, pub­lished by Roar­ing Brook Press, 2020

In the Small, Small Pond

The inter­con­nect­ed­ness of water and the life it sus­tains is also explored in Denise Fleming’s In the Small, Small Pond. In this 1994 Calde­cott Hon­or book, the author-illus­tra­tor directs her atten­tion to one small but diverse ecosys­tem. Read­ers are intro­duced to ani­mals that reside in and around the pond, from tur­tles and geese to whirligigs and muskrats. Dynam­ic verbs describe their activ­i­ties, as they wad­dle and doze, twirl and stack. The bold, sans-serif type­face is an impor­tant design ele­ment, with words in motion in every spread. 

In the Small Small Pond
illus­tra­tion copy­right © Denise Flem­ing, from In the Small, Small Pond, Hen­ry Holt, 1993

Wit­ness­ing the action and uni­fy­ing the illus­tra­tions is a frog seen leap­ing, sit­ting, or swim­ming as it moves about from shore to water, some­times evad­ing danger.

In a Small Small Pond
illus­tra­tion copy­right © Denise Flem­ing, from In the Small, Small Pond, Hen­ry Holt, 1993

To height­en the dra­ma, Flem­ing con­tin­u­al­ly changes per­spec­tive. At times, read­ers are direct­ly on shore, at water lev­el, like the child on the cov­er and the first spread. In oth­er images, read­ers are tak­en under­wa­ter or launched direct­ly above the water to look down upon the scene.

In a Small Small Pond
illus­tra­tion copy­right © Denise Flem­ing, from In the Small, Small Pond, Hen­ry Holt, 1993

The sto­ry fol­lows the pond through a year, begin­ning with tad­poles wrig­gling in the spring, and end­ing with the frog nes­tled in mud for the win­ter. Flem­ing effec­tive­ly shows the changes in the sea­sons through her use of col­or from vibrant greens, yel­lows, and blues in the spring and sum­mer, to mut­ed hues in the fall and winter.

In the Small Small Pond
illus­tra­tion copy­right © Denise Flem­ing, from In the Small, Small Pond, Hen­ry Holt, 1993

The artist cre­ates her tex­tured, abstract images through pulp paint­ing, in which “Cot­ton rag fiber sus­pend­ed in water (a wet, messy, col­or­ful slur­ry) is poured through hand-cut sten­cils (made from foam meat trays) onto a screen (a win­dow screen will do). The result — an image in hand­made paper. The paper is the pic­ture. The pic­ture is the paper.” (6) This unusu­al water-inten­sive medi­um is appro­pri­ate to a sto­ry that spot­lights pond life.

A Different Pond

Among tur­tles and frogs, many ponds, lakes, and rivers pro­vide habi­tat for fish. For some anglers, fish­ing is a recre­ation­al sport. How­ev­er, for the Viet­namese Amer­i­can immi­grant fam­i­ly por­trayed in A Dif­fer­ent Pond, fish­ing is a neces­si­ty. Writ­ten by Bao Phi and illus­trat­ed by Thi Bui, this 2018 Calde­cott Hon­or book recounts an ear­ly morn­ing fish­ing excur­sion of a father and son. “Hours before the sun comes up,” the two qui­et­ly leave the house, pur­chase bait at a local shop, and find their way to the banks of an urban riv­er. (7)

The illus­tra­tor sets the mood with her palette of blue, grey, and brown hues, reflect­ing “the work­ing class real­i­ties, the qui­et sad­ness, and the under­stat­ed resilience that real­ly formed my val­ues as a child grow­ing up in immi­grant Amer­i­ca.” (8) While the father and child exchange few words on this chilly morn­ing, a glow always sur­rounds them. Bui used water­col­or brush­es and sumi ink for the real­is­tic draw­ings, then col­ored the images dig­i­tal­ly. “[I]t was my first time attempt­ing full col­or [pic­ture book illus­tra­tion], and I want­ed more free­dom to mess up and try dif­fer­ent things than I would have had if I’d water­col­ored by hand. I still want­ed the feel­ing of water­col­or though, so I had sev­er­al scans of ink wash­es I did that I added as an over­lay tex­ture.” (9) The range of val­ues adds sur­pris­ing detail and depth, impart­ing a sense of mystery.

A Different Pond
illus­tra­tion copy­right © Thi Bui, from In the Small, Small Pond, writ­ten by Bao Phi, Cap­stone Young Read­ers, 2017

When the pair arrives home as day­light breaks, the palette of the inte­ri­or images shifts to yel­lows and golds.

A Different Pond
illus­tra­tion copy­right © Thi Bui, from In the Small, Small Pond, writ­ten by Bao Phi, Cap­stone Young Read­ers, 2017

The page designs con­vey Bui’s comics back­ground, such as her use of pan­els for the inte­ri­or scenes. In con­trast, exte­ri­or scenes are full-bleed sin­gle- or dou­ble-page spreads, many with inset pan­els, where one pan­el sits with­in a larg­er pan­el. In order to “allow the read­er to both hear the inner voice of the main char­ac­ter and see the main char­ac­ter as he was,” (10) the illus­tra­tor shifts the point of view and some­times incor­po­rates more than one angle in a sin­gle spread, such as when the boy is set­ting up a fire or when the father catch­es a fish.

A Different Pond
illus­tra­tion copy­right © Thi Bui, from In the Small, Small Pond, writ­ten by Bao Phi, Cap­stone Young Read­ers, 2017

Through­out the book, how­ev­er, Bui ensures that the boy is “the focal point of the art.” (11)

A Different Pond
illus­tra­tion copy­right © Thi Bui, from In the Small, Small Pond, writ­ten by Bao Phi, Cap­stone Young Read­ers, 2017

Both the author and illus­tra­tor were born in Viet­nam and raised in the Unit­ed States in the 1980s, when this sto­ry is set. The end­pa­pers are filled with loose line draw­ings of child­hood memen­tos and house­hold items from that era, includ­ing an action fig­ure, sneak­ers, mul­ti­ple locks on a door, and fish sauce in a repur­posed may­on­naise jar. Among the objects are a fish­ing reel and bob­ber, rekin­dling mem­o­ries of a father and son fish­ing in the Mid­west and of a dif­fer­ent pond in Vietnam.

Bear Came Along

Diverg­ing from a ten­der fam­i­ly moment into a humor­ous ani­mal caper is the 2020 Calde­cott Hon­or book Bear Came Along. Author Richard T. Mor­ris and illus­tra­tor LeUyen Pham explore how encoun­ters with the unex­pect­ed can ulti­mate­ly lead to delight. A riv­er “that didn’t know it was a riv­er” is the cat­a­lyst for a bear’s expe­di­tion down­stream on a log, pick­ing up a frog, two tur­tles, a beaver, two rac­coons, and a duck before calami­ty strikes.

Pham choos­es a car­toon style to visu­al­ly inter­pret the nar­ra­tive. She explains that the book “was one of those rare sto­ries that, the moment I read it, I knew exact­ly how it would look.” (12)

Her water­col­or, ink, and gouache illus­tra­tions infuse the sto­ry with charm and humor. She uses a com­bi­na­tion of full-bleed dou­ble- and sin­gle-page spreads, inter­spersed with pan­els, which help guide the pac­ing of the sto­ry. The artist also drops a visu­al clue before each new ani­mal hops aboard. As the jour­ney pro­gress­es, the back­grounds grad­u­al­ly change from mut­ed greens and neu­tral tones to col­or­ful shrubs and flow­ers amidst the green­ery. Line work adds tex­ture to fur, feath­ers, and plants, while cir­cles and spi­rals dec­o­rate rocks and stir up the water.

The illustrator’s var­ied per­spec­tives cre­ate excite­ment as the point of view moves between the sur­face of the riv­er to aer­i­al views. When the rac­coons and duck join the group, the log is charg­ing clos­er and clos­er to readers. 

Bear Came A,ong
illus­tra­tion © LeUyen Pham, from Bear Came Along, writ­ten by Richard T. Mor­ris, Lit­tle, Brown / Hachette, 2019

When they reach the edge of a water­fall, read­ers are on board the log to behold this alarm­ing site; upon turn­ing the page, read­ers are look­ing direct­ly at the ter­ri­fied crew. 

Bear Came Along
Mor­ris, Richard T. Bear Came Along. Illus­trat­ed by LeUyen Pham. New York: Lit­tle, Brown/Hachette, 2019.

For the great spill down the water­fall, Pham switch­es the ori­en­ta­tion of the book for an espe­cial­ly long ver­ti­cal shot of the mayhem.

Bear Came Along
Mor­ris, Richard T. Bear Came Along. Illus­trat­ed by LeUyen Pham. New York: Lit­tle, Brown/Hachette, 2019.

The final spread shows the adven­tur­ers rest­ing and play­ing in the waters while a vari­ety of mam­mals and birds watch from the shore, the land­scape now in full color.

Bear Came Along
Mor­ris, Richard T. Bear Came Along. Illus­trat­ed by LeUyen Pham. New York: Lit­tle, Brown/Hachette, 2019.

The tale is decep­tive­ly pro­found. In her Artist’s Note, Pham explains, “While paint­ing this book, I spent a lot of time think­ing about why peo­ple become divid­ed from one anoth­er and for­get that they all live on the same earth. It takes a small thing, like ani­mals in a for­est falling into a riv­er, to real­ize this. We sink or swim togeth­er. And some­times we take a tum­ble and things turn out all right.” (13)

In each of these Calde­cott Award books, fresh water forges con­nec­tions among the peo­ple or ani­mals that depend on it. The pic­ture books invite read­ers to become Water Pro­tec­tors, observe wildlife, find nour­ish­ment, or dis­cov­er adven­ture. As The Nature Con­ser­van­cy upholds and these pic­ture books con­vey, “rivers, lakes and wet­lands are the hard-work­ing sys­tems that….feed com­mu­ni­ties, shape cul­tures and sus­tain the diver­si­ty of life on Earth.” (14) By engag­ing young read­ers through sto­ries, adults have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to remind the next gen­er­a­tion that “no resource on Earth is as valu­able as fresh water.” (15)

Another Noteworthy Caldecott Freshwater Picture Book

Song of the Water BoatmanSid­man, Joyce. Song of the Water Boat­man & Oth­er Pond Poems. Illus­trat­ed by Beck­ie Prange. Boston: Houghton Mif­flin Com­pa­ny, 2005. (2006 Calde­cott Honor)

Picture Books Cited

Flem­ing, Denise. In the Small, Small Pond. New York: Hen­ry Holt, 1993.

Lind­strom, Car­ole. We Are Water Pro­tec­tors. Illus­trat­ed by Michaela Goade. New York: Roar­ing Brook, 2020.

Mor­ris, Richard T. Bear Came Along. Illus­trat­ed by LeUyen Pham. New York: Lit­tle, Brown/Hachette, 2019.

Phi, Bao. A Dif­fer­ent Pond. Illus­trat­ed by Thi Bui. North Manka­to, MN: Cap­stone, 2017.

Notes
  1. Water Facts — World­wide Water Sup­ply,” Bureau of Recla­ma­tion, Bureau of Recla­ma­tion, 4 Novem­ber 2020.
  2. Erin McK­instry, “Find­ing Activism through Art: A Q&A with Tlin­git Illus­tra­tor Michaela Goade,” KTOO, KTOO Pub­lic Media, 17 Feb­ru­ary 2021.
  3. Bet­sy Bird, “A Book That Demands Respect: Inter­view­ing the Cre­ators of We Are Water Pro­tec­tors,” A Fuse #8 Pro­duc­tion, School Library Jour­nal, 28 April 2020.
  4. Kara Yorio, “A Grate­ful Michaela Goade Makes Calde­cott His­to­ry,” News & Fea­tures, School Library Jour­nal, 25 Jan­u­ary 2021.
  5. About,” Michaela Goade, Michaela Goade, 4 Feb­ru­ary 2021.
  6. Denise Flem­ing, “Pulp Paint­ing,” Paper­mak­ing, Denise Flem­ing, Feb­ru­ary 2018.
  7. Cathy Wurz­er and Britt Aamodt, “Bao Phi on his Watch­ing his Award Win­ning Chil­dren’s Book Come to the Stage in Hop­kins,” Min­neso­ta Now, Min­neso­ta Pub­lic Radio, 18 Octo­ber 2022.
  8. CAAM, “‘A Dif­fer­ent Pond’’s Bao Phi and Thi Bui in Con­ver­sa­tion,” CAAM, Cen­ter for Asian Amer­i­can Media, 20 Feb­ru­ary 2018.
  9. Mel Schuit, “Let’s Talk Illus­tra­tors #33: Thi Bui,” Let’s Talk Pic­ture Books: Children’s Book Design & Illus­tra­tion, Let’s Talk Pic­ture Books, 25 July 2017.
  10. Mel Schuit.
  11. Mel Schuit.
  12. Chris­tine Van Zandt, “Inter­view with Author-Illus­tra­tor LeUyen Pham,” Kite Tales, Soci­ety of Children’s Book Writ­ers and Illus­tra­tors, 10 Novem­ber 2021.
  13. Richard T. Mor­ris, Bear Came Along, illus­trat­ed by LeUyen Pham (New York: Lit­tle, Brown, 2019).
  14. Con­serv­ing Fresh Water for Life on Earth,” The Nature Con­ser­van­cy, The Nature Con­ser­van­cy, 2024.
  15. Giulio Boc­calet­ti, “Water for Life,” The Nature Con­ser­van­cy, The Nature Con­ser­van­cy, 25 May 2017.
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Norma Gaffron
Norma Gaffron
17 days ago

WOW!