Sunday, October 02, 2011

Review: White Water

by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein, illustrated by Shadra Strickland. Candlewick, 2011. (review copy). Set in 1962 in the Jim Crow South just before the Civil Rights era, this picture book is based on a real life experience of author Michael Bandy. The lushly illustrated book tells of a boy named Michael who confronts the segregation laws in his community. On a bus ride to town he experiences riding in the back of the bus and then drinking from the "Colored" drinking fountain. When he observes a white boy and his mama riding in the front of the bus and drinking from the "Whites Only" fountain he develops a deep desire to taste the "white water" and find out if it is truely "pure and icy cool, like mountain water" in contrast to the disapointing "warm, rusty water" of the Colored fountain. His obsession grows through daydreams and nightmares. His grandmother tells him he may not taste it but he hatches a plan to circumvent her supervision. He plays sick and stays home from school so he can go down town alone and sneak a taste from the white water fountain.

Braving a scornful bus driver, he manages to take a sip of the white fountain. Then a scolding white woman causes him to fall in fear to the ground below the fountains. He is shocked to find out that in fact both fountains deliver water from the same pipe, and taste exactly alike. His courageous act of defying adult-enforced racist law and convention gives him a revolutionary insight. His epiphany into truth vs. lies reveals his own unlimited potential:

"The signs over the fountains had put a bad idea in my head. But they were a lie. If they weren't real, what else should I question? Maybe there wer lots of things - like that nasty old white water - that weren't true. That had nothing to do with nothing. Maybe everything I thought I couldn't do was just in my imagination, too. That's when I realized - I could do anything."

Strickland's realistic watercolor paintings bring the experience to life and pull us into the brutal reality of living under injustice. Michael has the strength and determination to challenge the institutional racism supported by all the adults in his world. It is his driving curiosity and passionate determination that make him a hero and inspiration. Here is a story of American history that every child needs to hear and see.

I am nominating this book for a Cybils award in the picture book division. Go on over to the Cybils site before October 15 and drop the titles of some of your favorite children's books published in the past year!

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