by Sam Juliano
The vital importance of water in everyday life is given center stage in a sublime new picture book authored by Olive Senior and illustrated by Brooklynite Laura James. Senior, born and raised on the Caribbean island of Jamaica, moved to Europe and then to Canada after the capital city of Kingston was ravaged by a hurricane in the late 80’s. Senior is renowned for her poetry and adult novels and short stories, but was supremely flattered when publishers chose Anna Carries Water and the 2012 Birthday Suit as worthy of the picture book treatment. Senior credits Laura James and Eugenie Fernandez -the illustrator of the earlier book- for transforming her material into such exquisite works, but the veteran writer is certainly to be credited for half the acclaim for her wholly exhilarating ideas.
Anna Carries Water focuses on the young girl of the title, who wants to follow in the footsteps of her older siblings in sharing the task of carrying water on her head from a well at a spring located across “Mr. Johnson’s” field. Ms. Senior’s narrative stresses the central role of water for cooking and drinking, washing faces, dishes and dirty feet. Senior states that the family members did not carry water for bathing or washing clothes as those activities were performed in the river. This particular variation on the coming-of-age theme is the acquired aptitude for learning how to balance a container of water on one’s head, which translates to a sure sign of responsibility and the skills associated with adulthood. Early in the fable Anna carries around a coffee can while her five older siblings used large metal cans, plastic buckets and an empty cheese tin to gather the water. Unwilling to concede defeat she must endure the trials of tribulations associated with such a simple yet profound act that will ultimately define her transformation from child to young adult. In one such attempt she tears off a piece of a dasheen leaf, and floats it on the top of the can of water she puts on her head, but it falls off, necessitating that she carry it in front of her. (more…)