To everybody else, the sky is blue. But you see it in different shades: a lighter tone next to fluffy gray clouds. Pink and purple, like when the sun goes down. Sometimes, you can even see a dark, angry blue like a bruise, just before a good rainstorm.
All around you are colors and if you’re good at pretending, you can imagine what they’d feel like. Green might feel prickly, like grass. Brown might be soft like a puppy. Silver feels cool, like Dad’s car or Mama’s earrings.
But what would white taste like if it was water? In the new book “White Water” by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein, illustrated by Shadra Strickland, a young boy longs to find out.
Michael loves to go to town with his Grandma. It’s one of his favorite things, so he walked with her to the bus stop. It must’ve been a thousand degrees outside when they finally got there, but Michael and his Grandma had to let a White boy and his Mama have the bench. That’s the way it was where they lived.
The other boy and his Mama got on the bus. So did Michael and his Grandma, then they got off and went around to a different door to sit in the back. That’s how they did things where they lived.
By the time they got to town, Michael’s throat was bone-dry. He couldn’t think about anything but a good, long drink of water so he ran to the fountains. So did the other boy. Michael’s first few sips from the Colored fountain were fine, then the water tasted just nasty.
But the boy from the bus kept on drinking from the Whites Only fountain. Michael was confused. Was it possible that White water tasted different, better, pure and cold, like a mountain spring?
Suddenly, he “had to know.”
He’d be in trouble if he just marched up to that White fountain, so that was out of the question. All week long, he couldn’t concentrate on anything but that fountain, so he made a plan. Somehow, one way or another, he’d get a taste of that White water. Grandma would be mad, but he needed to do it…
You can tell a kid all the stories he wants about something monumental that happened before he was born, but nothing will sink in unless the tales have some relevance to his life. “White Water” lends that link.
Authors Bandy and Stein give their young character a little sassiness along with his need to know, and kids will surely identify with Michael and his curiosity. I loved how illustrator Strickland depicts Michael’s rich imagination: with a heavenly fountain, a giant water bath, sinister police, somber toy soldiers, and—finally—heroes who give him and all children a little encouragement.
Inspired by a true story, I think this book is an excellent way to show 4-to-8-year-olds a dose of history in a way they’ll understand. With “White Water,” story time will tickle them pink.
(“White Water” by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein, illustrated by Shadra Strickland, Candlewick Press, $16.99, 40 pages.)