The Avid Reader: Water is life

For the Ledger-Transcript
Published: 3/26/2021 12:15:29 PM

A couple of weeks ago I awoke from a contented sleep with what I thought was the beginning of a heart attack: chest pressure, wildly beating heart, etc. After experiencing this for about half an hour, I drove to the emergency ward at our local hospital and was admitted. (Yes, in hindsight I probably should have called the ambulance). What happened next was an EKG, monitor, an IV with water solution, and medication to stop that wild drumming going on in my chest. I was having what turned out to be a six-hour episode of atrial fibrillation (A-FIB for short – apparently it is common enough to warrant its own nickname). My medical treatment was wonderful, and I cannot say enough praise-filled words to express my thanks for such exceptional care. But, back to the treatment. The first thing going into my IV line was saline-treated water. Interesting.

Many people, from a Nokomis (an Ojibwe grandmother) telling you that the First Medicine is water, to my ER doctor telling me he “always tops off the tanks” with water because it seems to help; water has become a very important focus. Currently, many science journals have noted that melting glaciers and dwindling polar ice caps will cause sea water to cover many coastal cities in the near future. Environmentalists have stated that clean water is becoming a premium in countless places around the world. Farmers are worried about enough water for crops. Essentially, the world’s apprehension about rising sea levels caused by climate change, as well as sufficient clean water for our use, has made this a topic of paramount interest.

Now, about those Ojibwe grandmothers, who have been trying to get our attention about this for several generations. Many Nokomis who lend their wise voices of concern about water are members of the Anishinaabe. These are the three tribes of the Council of Fires: Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and Odawa People. The voices of these women are now rising even stronger, along with Indigenous People from 500 other First Nation cultures, about water purity. Many are still gathered in protest against an oil pipeline being constructed across sacred lands at Standing Rock, North Dakota. Sadly, the pipeline building began, and despite assurances to the contrary, it started to leak and poison the land and water shortly after construction began.

While many felt powerless and unable to physically stand with their people when facing this destruction, Carole Lindstrom, an author, and Michaela Goade, an illustrator, decided to do what they could. They took it to another level of awareness for all of us with their magical children’s book “We Are Water Protectors.” I am not the only one enamored with this book – it won the 2020 Caldicott.

Inspired by the Indigenous-led movements to safeguard the waters of our Mother Earth, Lindstrom has created an antagonist who is a black snake. Goade illustrated the snake to look like an oil pipeline. The protagonists in the book are all those who fight for ones who cannot fight for themselves: the winged ones, the crawling ones, the four-legged ones, the trees, rivers, and lakes. Yes, this is a children’s book, but the powerful message crosses all ages lines and resonates with those who see themselves as stewards of the Earth. It is a righteous fight, and one that we should all be proud to engage in.

To bring solid reasons for protecting this precious liquid, children need to be taught about water from an early age, and with many books. A good start is “Water Can Be” by author Laura Purdie Salas, and illustrator Violeta Dabija. This delightful hardcover, written poem form, remind us not only of the typical things water is noted for but how water does things we might not appreciate. Water can act like a mirror, soak gardens, help hatch tadpoles, cloak valleys in fog, cool drinks and make magic in a rainbow. All the things that water can be dance across the fabulous images and capture the imaginations of all ages. At the end, pages for adults explain more about water, provide a glossary, and a nice bibliography. I love it when children’s books do this because it gives adult readers references to expand the topic and really instruct a child in fun and interesting ways. The itemized vocabulary can be used in conversation, the other books can be added to the water collection, and more reading can happen.

One of the science explorations, after the initial introduction to water, is the water cycle. “Water Is Water” by Miranda Paul and illustrated by Jason Chin, is a charming children’s book that teaches the concept of the water cycle with joy and energy. This book has a well selected bibliography and some excellent facts to share with young readers. This lovely book, also in poem form, takes us on the water journey: starting with trickles from the tap on a warm summer day, through steam in a cup and vapor as fall fog, on to rain and snow and ice and – yes – back to a brook in spring. The cycle of seasons in a year, seen in the changes water can undergo, expressed in happy words and amazing drawings, makes this a lovely addition to my library.

As an adult, I learned quite a bit from the written content of these books. Adults are about 65% water, a turtle is about 70% water, a baby is about 78% water, and water covers about 71% of the Earth’s surface. I also found that the brilliant artwork kept even my youngest readers focused on the topic. Furthermore, the glossaries and bibliographies are tremendous for adults who are guiding the reading and exposure to the topic. The pictures are exquisite and make visual magic on the page. The words are lyrical and make acoustic magic in the ear.

Yes, water is everywhere, mini wiconi (water is life: Lakota). But, while water is everywhere, it is also very precious, and pure, safe water must be cherished so that everyone can share. If we start the water conservation education process early, as the Nokomis do, our children will join as Niiji (from Ojibwe) and help to save our planet. Gunalcheesh (from Tlingit) for reading my Niiji – we will do well.


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