We Are Water Protectors
by Carole Lindstrom
Illustrations: Michaela Goade
Picture Book 3-6 years
Roaring Brook Press
Inspired by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s 2016 public rally against the Dakota Access Pipeline that was polluting their region’s water and sacred burial grounds, “We Are Water Protectors” is a heartfelt cry to safeguard the earth’s water from harm. In strong, clear-cut language the pride with which author Carole Lindstrom delivers her message is palpable. She is after all a Native American Ojibwe, in whose culture women are “protectors of the water.”
“Water is sacred,” says Nokomis, the Ojibwe girl’s grandmother and, readers may remember, Hiawatha’s grandmother in the famous poem of the same name by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. “We come from water,” she explains. “It nourished us inside our mother’s body. / As it nourishes us here on Mother Earth.
A drawing of a very pregnant woman with baby in utero, an easy to look at umbilical cord connecting them, and undulating waves suggesting the amniotic waters, enhance the text. Set within a floral moon against a blue starlit sky, the lovingly rendered image would serve any adult, if asked, as a jump-off to where babies come from.
Though this is a book for young children, the language is powerful, and prophetic it turns out: “My people talk a black snake that will destroy the land. / Spoil the water. / Poison plants and animals. / Wreck everything in its path.”
No undulating S-shape this viper. Black against a red background, rendered with jutting angles, welded joints and forked, thrusting tongue, the snake/pipeline is as ominous and threatening as any scaly-skinned, lidless-eyed viper might be. “Its venom burns the land. /Courses through the water, / Making it unfit to drink. /”
This is an important book for not only young ones but for parents as well. The poisoned water flows beyond tribal lands, its purview the world itself. It is for us, its stewards, to defend it from harm, for those who cannot defend it themselves. “The winged ones. / The crawling ones.” The four-legged. / The two-legged. / The plants, trees, rivers, lakes, / We are all related.” / A compelling and moving message, beautifully drawn in a lavish spread of a hummingbird dipping its long slender beak into a cascading vine of flora, a butterfly and a snail observing the moment in the foreground.
Michaela Goade supplies the outstanding artworks. Taught that “life is inextricably tied to water,” she was raised on the beaches of Southeast Alaska and is a member of the Tlingit and Haida tribes. Her broad sweeping strokes, rounded forms and lush blue/greens, reds and purples serve as companion, and at times, counterpoint to Lindstrom’s no-nonsense language.
Goade’s illustrations for “We Are Water Protectors” won the 2021 Caldecott Medal, given yearly by the Association for Library Service to Children to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. Goade is the first Native American to win the award.
So enthused was I about the book’s plea to honor water and conserve it, I almost signed the Earth Steward and Water Protector Pledge on the last page. Instead, I gifted the book to a youngster I know in the hope that she will read it, sign the pledge and in turn pass on its worthy message to a friend.
Thus, we can all become Water Protectors.
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