I wrote at my blog the other day that it’s hard to write about new picture books at this time of year. It’s the end of a calendar year, that is, and most fall books are well past initial release. Instead of looking at newer titles, everyone’s talkin’ Caldecott—an exciting pastime, to be sure.
But lo and behold, a truly gorgeous book landed on my desk this week. It’s called Water Rolls, Water Rises, and it’s a bilingual book (Spanish and English), written by Pat Mora and illustrated by Meilo So. A friend and colleague had actually shown me an early copy of this book back in October, but I hadn’t gotten around to reading it closely. In a way, though, I’m glad it was the hardback copy I saw the first time I really spent time with the book, because it’s beautiful. It’s a celebration of water, a series of verses about its movement, its patterns on the Earth, and its wonders.
I read this informative blog post from Melissa Stewart this morning. It’s all about the challenges of classifying nonfiction. Mora’s book is not nonfiction; it’s a poetic celebration of water. But it brings nonfiction to my mind—in that I immediately think of books I’d pair it with if I were in a school library now. It’d be perfect for teachers and school librarians who are teaching students about the water cycle. My oh my, it’d simply be a lovely addition to that portion of the curriculum.
Mora manages to cover the following with her evocative poetry: The gravitational forces that pull on our oceans, the tide’s movements, the ways in which water moves across our land, evaporation, precipitation, collection, how humans use water, and more. Mind you, none of these water cycle concepts are given their scientific names; in other words, there’s no poem with, say, “condensation” in it. Instead, Mora’s spare poetry uses effective rhythms and alliteration (“Skidding and slipping, / swooping round bends, / spinning on tree roots, careening down cliffs”) to bring water to life for child readers with an infectious energy. The verbs shine here, as you can tell from the above example. Pair this one with informational texts on the water cycle, and watch some faces light up.
It just so happens, too, that Meilo So is one of my favorite illustrators, and I can’t think of a better fit for this text. Her mixed media illustrations capture locations all over the world—in fact, the book closes with “About the Images in the Book,” a list of the locations that inspired the images—and people of all skin colors. In 32 pages, she takes us to Iceland, India, Mexico, Chile, California, China, and many more places, making this much more than just a book about water. It’s a trip around the planet.
Her eye-catching lines swoop and swirl—needless to say, there are a lot of waves in this book—and her details are precise. She captures the movement and majesty of water on the planet in a way that is breathtaking in spots—with playful perspectives (such as, looking up from the bottom of a well) and vivid colors. (There’s a forest-in-autumn spread that is as bright and beautiful as can be.) Meilo is capable of so much texture and eloquence with her brushstrokes, and her artwork really shines here.
The text, so elegantly placed on each spread, places the Spanish and English side by side. The book’s backmatter notes—an Author’s Note and the aforementioned note about the images—are in Spanish as well. “Water fascinates me,” Mora writes in that closing note. She further explains that water is a research interest of her husband’s, who is an archaeology professor. “I have benefited from his knowledge,” she adds, “and also from his enthusiasm about the wonder of water and the importance of valuing this glorious natural resource.”
Indeed, water is life. And this is a book that teems with life in a celebratory and jubilant way. Don’t let it slip past you in this final month of the year. It’s not to be missed.
WATER ROLLS, WATER RISES. Copyright © 2014 by Pat Mora. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Meilo So. Illustration reproduced by permission of the publisher, Children's Book Press, an imprint of Lee & Low Books, New York.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.