May 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Water: Earth’s Most Precious Resource

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All living things need water. However, 97 percent of Earth’s supply consists of the salt water in our oceans, 2 percent is frozen in ice caps and glaciers, and only 1 percent is reachable and suitable for human consumption. Recently, factors such as drought, climate change, and increased demand have raised concerns about the availability of and access to safe drinking water across the globe. Classroom units about this subject can span the curriculum with studies that incorporate science (the water cycle, the importance of water to life, water’s role in the ecosystem), geography and history (water availability and usage worldwide), and environmental and social issues (conservation, fair access). Ranging from artful picture book poems to more straightforward nonfiction treatments, the books featured here use an intriguing variety of approaches to introduce these topics.

Tie your water studies to World Water Day (March 22, 2015), a date set aside by the United Nations to celebrate water, bring about positive change for global citizens who suffer from water-related issues, and prepare for future water management (this year’s theme is “Water and Sustainable Development”). Information and resources are available at the website.

Present the Facts with a Splash of Wonder

waterisswaterTwo siblings explore the outdoors throughout the seasons to discover that Water Is Water (Roaring Brook, May 2015; K-Gr 4)…unless it changes form. Miranda Paul’s rhyming text and Jason Chin’s lush-hued paintings depict the workings of the water cycle by portraying a series of transformations that seem almost magical but can be readily observed in our day-to-day world.

Beginning as a liquid, water is drawn from the tap by a thirsty boy, “Drip./Sip./Pour me a cup./Water is water/unless…/it heats up” to become the steam whirling and swirling above his sister’s mug of hot cocoa (evaporation). “Steam is steam unless…/it cools high” to form clouds in imagination-stirring shapes, while low-forming clouds result in a “Misty./Twisty” foggy fall morning (condensation). And so on, through “Patter/Splatter” rain (precipitation), puddle-splashing fun (runoff), a crisp day of ice skating (back to solid), “Pack./Stack./Shape it…” snow (ice crystals), and rubber-boot squishing spring (mud formed from snowmelt mixed with dirt). Filled with vibrant action and warmhearted humor, the illustrations hold the attention of readers while they soak up the science (facts and terms are appended).

allthewaterintheworldFlowing with cadenced rhymes and effervescent language, George Ella Lyon’s All the Water in the World (Atheneum, 2011; K-Gr 4) illustrates the water cycle and emphasizes water’s importance to all living things. “That rain/that cascaded from clouds/and meandered down mountains,/that wavered over waterfalls/then slipped into rivers/and opened into oceans,/that rain has been here before.” Katherine Tillotson’s digitally created artwork echoes the text to portray purple-tinted scene where a “Tap dance/avalanche/stampede/of drips and drops…” saturate a cityscape, or an arid landscape coated in creams and browns where “everything/waits/for an open gate/in a wall of clouds/for rain sweet and loud.”

Students can compare this book to Water Is Water to identify similarities and differences in how the authors and illustrators approach the topic and convey information. As you read both books aloud, they can determine which phase of matter is being exhibited on each spread and provide evidence for their answers from the texts and illustrations.

waterrollswaterrisesPresented in both English and Spanish, Pat Mora’s lyrical Water Rolls, Water Rises/El agua reuda, el agua sube (Lee & Low, 2014; K-Gr 4) explores the many forms that water takes, how it moves and flows, and what it means to human life. Each spread, spectacularly illustrated by Meilo So with fine-lined details and sparkling colors, depicts a different setting (locations are identified at book’s end), providing snapshots of particular landscapes and cultures while also underscoring the universal need for this vital resource. “Water rises/into soft fog,/weaves down the street, strokes an old cat” near Venice’s Grand Canal; “slithers and snakes/through silent canyons” along China’s Yangtze River; fills deep wells, “sloshes in buckets, quenches…thirst” in a rural Kenyan village; “rests,/drowsy in reservoirs” in a Sahara oasis, or loops and leaps into “glimmering sea waves” that “spangle and splash” coastal cliffs in Mexico.

Children can look closely at these scenarios to appreciate each area’s natural beauty, think about each example’s role in the water cycle (or phase of matter), and investigate how water is utilized by local inhabitants. Bring the discussion back home by having students describe how the water cycle plays a part in their own community and daily activities. They can each draw a scene and write a poem to provide an example, whether they focus on a classroom water fountain, a recent snow storm, or a local body of water.

Drop by Drop: Take a Closer Look

raindropsrollApril Pulley Sayre’s Raindrops Roll (S & S/Beach Lane, 2015; K-Gr 4) artfully zeroes in on a particular aspect of the water cycle. The rhyming text bubbles with ear-tickling onomatopoeia and pitter-patter rhythms to describe an oncoming storm, the effects of rain on flora and fauna, and the wonders secreted within a drop of water. The brief narrative is greatly enhanced and expanded by crystal-clear close-up photographs saturated with colors and textures.

One spread encourages children to think about the exact moment that precipitation hits the ground—“Rain waters…” (a photo shows beads rolling down a camouflaged leaf insect), “and washes…” (a dazzling orange pumpkin), “and weighs down” (gently curving blades of grass). Rain also “Makes mud” (enjoyed by a scampering salamander), “fills” upturned leaves like tiny cups, and “spills” into a gushing stream. And when it stops, “…raindrops remain./They gather./They glob together” to adhere to flower petals, magnify and reflect (like minute mirrors), and “linger in lines” of a spider web, before they “slowly dry” (evaporate). Sayre appends “A Splash of Science” section that provides additional information about the forms and properties of water. Each spread can be paused over and discussed to further explore scientific concepts as well as the breathtaking beauty of the language and the images.

waterwaterwaterNancy Elizabeth Wallace’s Water! Water! Water! (Amazon, 2014; K- Gr 3), illustrated with lively collage artwork, provides a solid overview that is accessible and fun to read aloud. Noticing that water is all around him, Walter the warthog decides to make it the subject of his new blue notebook. In a delightfully childlike sequence, simple observations (watching raindrops cling to window glass) lead to further exploration (a visit to the library) and experimentation (using a dropper and bottle cap to see how drops behave). Walter also investigates a shrinking puddle (evaporation), how plants absorb water (capillary action), and why ice cubes stick together (cohesion). When his friend Willa adds her own water facts, the discussion expands to cover global water supply, the lack of clean fresh water, and conservation tips. Augment the reading experience by replicating Walter’s experiments in the classroom, and/or creating a classroom book about water with teams of students researching, writing, and illustrating different chapters.

One World, One Well: Go Global

onewellRochelle Strauss employs an effective metaphor to make far-ranging concepts accessible and drive home important points about conservation. The premise is simple: children are asked to imagine that all of the water in the world—oceans, lakes, underground rivers, polar icecaps—comes from One Well (Kids Can Pr., 2007; Gr 2-5). Because it’s all connected, “how we treat the water in the well will affect every species on the planet, including us, now and for years to come.”

Working within this premise, spreads focus on the water cycle; water usage by plants, animals, and people; the amount of fresh water accessible for human use; global distribution of and access to water supplies; growing demands on a finite supply; pollution; and the importance of protecting both quantity and quality. Additional facts appear throughout, and Rosemary Woods’s aqua-hued paintings provide glimpses at people and landscapes around the world. The book ends with a section listing simple ways that readers can become “Well Aware.”

everylastdropWritten in an appealingly conversational style, Michelle Mulder’s Every Last Drop: Bringing Clean Water Home (Orca, 2014; Gr 3-6) provides an engaging and fact-filled overview of water usage, management, and conservation. A fascinating look at the many methods utilized to collect and direct water throughout history is followed by explanations of the water cycle, how water reaches the tap, treatment and purification, and new ways to amass and filter drinking water.

Realistic assessments of the growing global demand for fresh water, inequities, and the effects of climate change and pollution are clearly presented, but balanced by specific examples of clever innovations adopted to improve the situation—families in the Kalahari Desert who use small solar-powered desalination devices to treat ground water, people in India’s Laporiya Village who have restored the tiered water collection system utilized by their ancestors; a mountain village in Chile where nets are used to catch fog resulting in an average of 4,000 gallons of water per day. Mulder has a knack for keeping a child’s viewpoint front and center, whether pointing out that in many countries kids walk up to six hours a day to get water (leaving little time for schooling) or celebrating young change-makers (a girl in Aluva, India, who initiated a rainwater harvesting system, or students in Matamoros, Mexico, tasked with teaching the adults in their lives about water conservation). Well-chosen full-color photos span the globe and greatly expand the text’s meaning and impact. This informative and empowering book ends with simple things that readers can do to protect the world’s water supply.

ryanandjimmyRecounting an unforgettable true story, Herb Shoveller’s Ryan and Jimmy and the Well in Africa that Brought Them Together (Kids Can, 2006; Gr 3-6) shows readers that one individual can make a difference. In 1998, Canadian first-grader Ryan Hreljac learned that people in other parts of the world were growing sick and often dying due to polluted water. Resolving to earn the money to build a well that would supply a village in Africa with a safe water supply, Ryan began a years-long quest that included public speaking and fundraising; forging a pen-pal relationship with Akana Jimmy, an orphan in Agweo, Uganda; and a trip in the summer of 2000 to celebrate the completed well and seal the two boys’ friendship. When political events in Uganda placed Jimmy’s life in danger, the Hreljac family’s effort to bring him to safety in Canada resulted in the two being re-united.

Photos and text give readers a good understanding of each boy’s perspective and the challenges they faced, and recount an inspiring example of grass-roots activism, patient persistence, and wholehearted caring. Visit the Ryan’s Well Foundation website for updates on Ryan and Jimmy, information about water and sanitation issues worldwide, and a summary of completed and ongoing projects.

notadroptodrinkMichael Burgan’s Not a Drop to Drink (National Geographic, 2008; Gr 4-8) takes readers from the depths of the Pacific Ocean, where a robot maps and measures an underwater volcano, to the peak of a mountain in the Peruvian Andes, where researchers drill into the ice to extract samples that shed light on rising temperatures. Crisp, captioned photos and clearly written text discuss the effects of climate change, increased usage, and pollution on Earth’s water supply and the scientists who are working to understand and preserve this precious resource.

Burgan examines the work being done in many different fields and provides a look at intriguing new technologies, including the use of computer models to predict future temperature and rainfall trends, specific techniques being developed to provide safe and affordable drinking water and sanitation, and efficient methods for creating rooftop gardens in urban areas. Appropriate for more advanced readers and researchers, this book provides numerous avenues for further study while also emphasizing the importance of scientific discovery in our day-to-day world.

The Common Core State Standards below are a sampling of those referenced in the above books and classroom activities:

RL. 1.1. Ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
3.7. Explain how specific aspects of a text’s illustrations contribute to what is conveyed by the words in a story.
RI 1.9 Identify basic similarities and differences between two texts on the same topic (e.g., in illustrations, descriptions, or procedures).
RI. 2.9. Compare and contrast the most important points presented by two texts on the same topic.
RI. 3.7 Use information gained from illustrations…and the words in a text to demonstrate understanding of the text.
RI 3.9 Compare and contrast the most important points and key details presented in two texts on the same topic.
W. 2.7. Participate in shared research and writing projects.
W 3.7 Conduct short research projects that build knowledge about a topic.
SL. 1.2. Ask and answer questions about key details in a text read aloud….

For additional resources for secondary students, see “Water, Water Everywhere: Our Unsustainable Future.”


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Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who works at the Pikes Peak Library District in southern Colorado.