As an educator, as a teacher librarian, the more you read about water, fiction and nonfiction, the more you want to encourage students to understand. It's a resource to be cherished. The Water Princess (G. P. Putnam's Sons, September 13, 2016) written by Susan Verde with illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds is based on the childhood experience of Georgie Badiel, a high fashion model. It's a moving story you will remember...always.
I am Princess Gie Gie.
This girl's realm is the expanse of land and sky in Africa. Although she is able to work her royal magic on a dog, the tall grass and wind, she has no power over water. It's very far away from her home and it does not run clear.
In the morning before the sun rises to light the day, Gie Gie, princess of her mother's heart, wakes up. She and her mother need to get water. Gie Gie tries again to command the water to come closer but it ignores her wishes.
As she prepares to begin the walk, Gie Gie dreams of water, cool and clear. Today, on all days, her crown will be a pot she carries on her head. Her maman carries a pot too. Under the relentless heat of the sun and along the dusty path, they fill the day with song as they walk resting once under the shade of a single ancient Karite tree.
When they finally reach the well, other women and children have gathered there, walking nearly all day to reach the water. After her maman waits in line for their turn, Gie Gie leaves the company of the children to fill her pot with the muddy water. On the return home their song is a whisper of its former self.
Great care is taken with the gathered water for drinking, washing and cooking. It's not until her father returns and they enjoy their meal that Gie Gie is finally able to drink water. As the sun sets this princess renews her rule over a dog, the tall grass and wind. As she settles for sleep lamenting her control over water, Maman encourages her to dream of a day when the water will be close, clear and cool.
Using the voice of Gie Gie, author Susan Verde presents to readers a profound portrait through a combination of narrative and conversation. This beloved child rejoices in her home and the land but is filled with great sadness at their lack of water by comparing what she can control with what she cannot. Throughout the journey to and from the well, Verde makes clear the thirst felt by Gie Gie.
The resilience of this child and her mother, of all the children and their mothers, is very moving. Verde conveys this through descriptions of singing and dancing to and from the well and how it changes on the return home. Even after the water is gathered and carried, it must be prepared before it can be used. The portions of the story when Gie Gie finally drinks a glass of water and later when she drinks another saved glass given to her by her mother are represented with great understanding and compassion. Here is a sample passage.
The thirst comes quick---dry lips, dry throat.
I squeeze my eyes shut.
I see it.
I dip my toes in it.
I scoop it up and bring it to my lips. (page turn)
Slowly, I open my eyes.
We are transported to a country and to the life of a child in that country with the matching dust jacket and book case created by Peter H. Reynolds. His choice of colors, the blues and browns muted under the heat of the sun, allows us to experience the dry dusty conditions. Having Gie Gie face readers carrying the large heavy water jug with her eyes closed accomplishes several things, I believe. First it asks us to consider the weight of the jug. Are her eyes closed because of the difficulty of her task? Is Gie Gie dreaming of how to make her wish come true as her maman believes she can? On the opening and closing endpapers is a hue I have seen many times in the cool, clear waters of large inland lakes in Michigan.
Rendered in watercolor, gouache and digital inks Reynolds' illustrations continue with the various shades of brown as a background color with the exception of his breathtaking night scenes of a seemingly endless deep blue sky peppered with stars. Image sizes shift to supply pacing; three triangular shapes depict Gie Gie playing with her dog, dancing in the grasses and swirling with the wind. Single page pictures alternate with double-page visuals. The details placed in the illustrations, the trees, homes and domestic animals, help us to further understand this girl's world.
A favorite of many illustrations is the first one. It spans two pages, edge to edge. Gie Gie is standing alone outside at night. We are brought close to her face, on the left, as she lifts it to the stars. On the right in white text is the first sentence. In this single moment, even though we cannot completely comprehend Gie Gie's life or circumstances, we briefly are connected to her emotions. Many of us have stood beneath a night sky and lifted our faces to the stars. There is something about this vast display which generates a range of feelings in all of us.
The Water Princess, based on the life of Georgie Badiel, written by Susan Verde with illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds is an important book, a story which will make a mark on your heart and inspire you to make things better. It needs to find a place on all professional and personal bookshelves. I will be sharing it as often as I can.
To learn more about Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names. You can view interior images from the book at the publisher's website. Publishers Weekly wrote an article about the making of this book. Peter H. Reynolds speaks with Rocco A. Staino during a StoryMakers video chat at KidLit TV.