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Monday, December 12, 2011

White Water, written by Michael S Bandy and Eric Stein, with illustrations by Shadra Strickland. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2011. $19.00 ages 5 and up

"Michael," my grandmother scolded, "don't you even think about doing anything like that." I stopped in my tracks. But it was too late. They ideas were already flowing."

This is memoir, at its most personal and poignant. It comes from Michael Bandy's childhood and provides a look at a young boy making a discovery about the world around him, and its injustices.

He must drink at the 'colored' fountain and he finds that water disgusting. It smells bad, has grit in it, and is all-in-all an unpleasant experience, doing nothing to quench his thirst. When he sees a boy drinking at the 'whites-only' fountain, he becomes obsessed with knowing how much more refreshing that water must be:

"After that, I couldn't concentrate anywhere, not even at school. One moment I would be in class, then suddenly, I'd be crawling on my hands and knees in the hot desert. Out of nowhere, there was a palm tree with a water fountain under it. Above the fountain was a whites only sign. I got up, opened my mouth, and was about to take a drink, when "Michael. Michael," the teacher said, "would you care to join us today?" I snapped out of it. All the kids were laughing at me."

He knows that the fountain is forbidden territory but his imagination and dreams give him much to ponder. He cannot let go of the idea that he needs to 'try the water' there. When he eventually is able to make the trip back to the fountain alone and sneak a drink from it, he is totally surprised to find that the water tastes exactly the same! While this is a story of the segregated South, it is also humorous to watch Micheal imagine the situations he might find himself in that demand a quenching of his thirst.

Shadra Strickland uses muted earthy tones and ink, gouache and watercolor illustrations to bring vivid life to Michael and his imagination. She pays such attention to detail that readers can almost feel the heat of a summer's day, enjoy the soothing splash of bathtub droplets, ache over fearful dreams, and empathize with his disappointment over discovering the water pipes below the fountains.

Michael learns a life lesson that he will remember for his lifetime...luckily, he wanted to share it with  us!  

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