A trip to the park is an excursion many young children know and know well. It is the subject of Emily Jenkins’ newest picture book, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin, called Water in the Park: A Book About Water & the Times of the Day. As you can tell from the title, the story is specifically about the role that water plays during a single day, sun-up to sun-down, for creatures—human and furry-all-over, likewise—in a public park.
I think that when Emily Jenkins is at her very best—and I find her picture books consistently good—she has a lot in common with author/illustrator Amy Schwartz. Both are in touch with the sensibilities of young children and capable of so expertly capturing the details to which they attend. Two excellent examples of what I mean are Amy’s What James Likes Best, released in 2003, and Emily’s What Happens on Wednesdays (2007), illustrated by Lauren Castillo.
This new book from Jenkins is also filled with—via both text and illustrations—the type of details that consume a child’s day, and it’s all laid out in an immediate, present-tense voice, often (but not always) with simple, direct sentences. (“And now the dogs come. Rouw! Rouw! Rouw! Time for an evening swim.”) In A Family of Readers, Martha V. Parravano discusses how pictures books are intended to be experiences for a child. They need to be “on the side of the child,” she writes. Water in the Park is most definitely this. It’s a terrifically child-centered story, sure to engage very young children.
It’s a hot day as the book opens, and “an orange glow shines in the water of the pond” at the park. The day heats up, as families, people with their pets, children with their babysitters, and various furry creatures (squirrels, cats, etc.) arrive. Nearly everyone turns in one form or fashion to the water in the park to cool off. At the end of the day, a much-welcomed storm comes.
That’s it, plot-wise, but it’s all the details in between that will absorb young children. Let it be said that Emily Jenkins is an astute observer. (She even states in an opening author’s note that the story came from spending time in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park one very hot summer. “I watched the people and thought about the way the park’s water is used differently by all the inhabitants of the neighborhood, human and animal.” Incidentally, she also notes here that the book is an homage to the 1947 Caldectott Medal-winning White Snow, Bright Snow by Roger Duvoisin, as well as 1944’s The Park Book, written by Charlotte Zolotow and illustrated by H. A. Rey.)
There’s Little Nonny, the dog who has only three legs and is learning to swim again after her accident. Her owner encourages her to step into the pond: “You are the dog of all dogs.” Mr. Fluffynut goes into the water as far as his “doggy ankles.” And Jenkins gives us the details of the humans visiting the park; we get a glimpse of several families and how they interact with the water—not just the pond, but also the fountains, sprinklers, and hoses. There are sandboxes, balloons, slides, and bottles—dall either drenched by or filled with water. Don’t forget the tears of several children; some are frightened by the gushing fountains, and some slip and fall. (The water from the fountain can clean such scrapes, though!)
Jenkins puts to use pleasing rhythms in her writing here, and she structures the text with the kind of predictability young children find so comforting. She’s also sure to follow up on every family or pet we meet up close: The toddler we meet in the opening of the story, who cries when the sprinklers are turned on, “laughs when the water disappears” at the end, while the child’s friend, who thrills in the sprinklers, starts to cry when it’s time to leave. Children will want to pore over this one, following along slowly and taking in the world Jenkins and Graegin have created.
Graegin’s illustrations, filled with park visitors of all stripes, are the perfect complement to what Jenkins has penned. She places readers right there at the park, privy to all the action, and her cheery illustrations, mostly on an earth-toned palette, are warm and delightfully detailed, all the more striking when she closes with a simple and elegant night-time spread, shadowy and serene. “Good night, park.”
A book that holds water (sorry—can’t help it), this is a lovely new offering for young children. Don’t miss it.
WATER IN THE PARK: A BOOK ABOUT WATER & THE TIMES OF THE DAY. Copyright © 2013 by Emily Jenkins. Illustrations © 2013 by Stephanie Graegin. Published by Schwartz & Wade Books, New York. Image reproduced with permission of the publisher.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.