by Sam Juliano
A child’s concept and appreciation of life’s most vital component are basically encapsulated in the title of Water Is Water, a non-fiction picture book by Miranda Paul, with illustrations by Jason Chin. There is practically a concession by the creators that the life giving transparent fluid known by way of the chemical tables as H20 is taken for granted. Few could be fascinated with its origin or manifestations, since it all around us, and in a continuing aspect of our daily routine. Water constitutes 71% of the Earth’s surface, and all living things are composed largely of this necessary combination of hydrogen and oxygen. During the course of a day we drink several glasses of water, we use it to wash, to toilet, to shave, to brush our teeth, and often to bath or swim. We shield ourselves from water during a rainstorm, we eagerly avail ourselves of it from a hose during the summer heat, we use it to irrigate our gardens, and urgently to put out fires. Water poses no special mystery, nor any kind of intricate understanding of its worth, but for elementary school students it still provides the fodder for a rudimentary understanding of its many properties and the reasons why it wears different clothes that are contingent on temperatures in the planet’s atmosphere and on its surface, as well as height and density.
What Ms. Paul make clear early on for the readers is that water will remain water unless the aforementioned meteorological proclivities alter the way it is usually seen and thought of. Paul’s catchy stanzas pull kids in by the timely use of the word unless, which denotes the variables that mask the liquid’s most regular image. An early example: Steam is steam unless it cools high is preceded by the rhyming catch phrase Whirl. Swirl. Watch it curl by. Then, A dragon in a wagon? A cow kneading dough? Clouds are clouds unless they form low. Also, Misty. Twisty. Where is the town?/Fog is fog unless it falls down, and Patter. Splatter. What is that sound? Rain is rain unless on the ground. The bouncy verse keeps readers in anticipation as it follows younger family members through the a full understanding of the water cycle. The spare words, superbly realizing their purpose also provide a terrific springboard for some of the year’s most extraordinary art by Chin, who last year played the same game with the outstanding Gravity, exquisitely negotiating watercolor and gauche. to arresting effect. Water is Water achieves an outstanding balance between teaching the water cycle and celebrating the seasonal beauty of suburbia. The opening panels follow a young boy and girl as they use a net to capture a turtle in a pond. They return home in the rain, immediately pointing to the most conventional source of the world’s most plentiful substance. The first full double page spread calms our unease with the turtle hijacking, as the new pet is fed some -you guessed it- water by the girl, as the boy fills his own glass by the sink. The relevance of steam is visualized in a handsome porch tapestry, but two turns of the page later Chin offers up a sumptuous autumnal scene dressed in leafy reds and watercolor smudging that perfectly evokes the blurred vision in low lying fog.
Then we see the result of what happens when fog falls down is a lovely rain scene of kids dashing off the bus as others take up delightful refuge under umbrellas. Another splendid fall painting adorned in yellow and browns is a veritable burst of activity as kids splash, jump, play hide and seek, observe and slide down playground rides, while one tried to capture a wet ground crawler. Three successive snow tapestries collar all the associated benign mayhem by kids having a ball on skates, with hockey sticks, building snowman, hiding with snowballs ready to pounce and letting it all out in winter wonderland mode. Paul and Chin employ a charming transitional device between winter and spring, which is basically the contention that snow often hangs around until the warm early Spring temperatures set it. And what a stunning double page spread of the emergence of the flower season, featuring a sublime butterfly kite and white blossomed fruit trees in a specious yard running from the house to the woods and pond. The kite is seen caught in the blossoms on the next page in a muddy picture lovingly framed by two orange chested robins, a cat ready for action, and a boy trying to capture a frog.
The predominant composition of water in fruit is played up in a wonderful apple-picking tapestry which reminds readers that apples with remain apples only until they are pressed, at which point they become cider, which is enjoyed by the kids on the small dock by the pond under the watchful eye of adults and that ever-faithful black cat. One boy is airborne diving in -you guessed it- water!
The “More About Water” section that follows the last page is fantastic. Presenting facts about water that will especially appeal to children -what kid wouldn’t want to know how much of a baby, a cat or turtle’s body is composed of water?- and those was a particular hankering for science. The section about the continuing changes in water (brought to smart comparison with children) summarizes the points made in the narrative, and are splendidly illustrated in miniature by Chin. Finally, and most appropriately there is plea on the final page for water conservation. Two years ago Brian Floca’s non-fiction work Locomotive won the Caldecott Medal after a long drought on that front. Wouldn’t it be nice if voters again gave that two-often-neglected genre another major accolade? Water Is Water is about as deserving a picture book as any in 2015.
Note: This is the twelfth review in the 2015 Caldecott Contender series that will be published at this site over the coming months, up until the January 11th scheduled awards date. The books that will be examined are not necessarily ones that are bonafide contenders in the eyes of the voting committee, but rather the ones this writer feels should be. The order they will be presented is arbitrary as some of my absolute favorites will be presented near the end.