By Elizabeth Wroten
Picture Book Review: The Water Walker by Joanne Robertston
On 21, Nov 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From Goodreads: The determined story of an Ojibwe grandmother (nokomis), Josephine Mandamin, and her great love for nibi (water). Nokomis walks to raise awareness of our need to protect nibi for future generations and for all life on the planet. She, along with other women, men and youth, has walked around all the Great Lakes from the four salt waters, or oceans, to Lake Superior. The walks are full of challenges, and by her example she challenges us all to take up our responsibility to protect our water, the giver of life, and to protect our planet for all generations.
Based on a true story, The Water Walker, shares the story of Josephine Mandamin, a woman who was inspired by a prophecy to protect water. The book tracks her activism around water protection and the group of Water Walkers that she formed who join her on her many walks across North America.
I appreciate that the book shows simple activism. There are not organized marches here, no fundraisers, no political campaigns. Just a woman with a passion and a pair of shoes. Activism comes in many forms, but this is an accessible form for children. Just get out and do something to make a point and draw attention to an issue you’re passionate about. Don’t feel like you have to raise tons of money or get celebrities to endorse your cause.
It has the most adorable illustrations. They are bright and inviting and have a child-like feel to them that will really appeal to kids. To be clear, I don’t think a child could have drawn these, just the stylized form and watercolor/marker (?) medium make it feel like children’s drawings. Kids love to see books that mirror their art and are often inspired by them to make their own books and tell their own stories.
I love that Ojibwe words are just dropped into the text and not translated. This centers an Ojibwe-speaking audience instead of a non-Native audience. There are a lot of children’s books out there that are faux-Native, but this is an #ownvoices story that doesn’t pander to a white audience. There is a little glossary at the back of the book so if you couldn’t figure out what the word is from the context, there’s help. Also, it’s contemporary, not historical. It is vitally important that we show our students and children that Indigenous people are still here despite the best efforts of the U.S government (and previous colonial powers) to eradicate them.
While you could certainly use this book during Native American Heritage Month, it should be out all year long. Indigenous people are still here and they deserve representation in our classrooms and on our shelves all year long. Water is also a perennial issue with climate change, drought, Flint, Michigan, pollution, and myriad other issues that bring it to the forefront. You should be talking about these things with your children and your students. If you want to work it into a classroom study, use it with the water cycle. Put it out near the water table or with your water play station. Use it near Earth Day or when you study recycle/reduce/reuse. Pull it out when your kids are letting the faucet run too long while they wash their hands or brush their teeth. Or just use it to start a conversation about environmental justice. It’s a great way to get representation into science lessons and a great way to work environmental justice and social justice into lessons where we haven’t traditionally seen those topics. However you use it, put it on your shelf and get it into kids hands.
Pair this one with Young Water Protectors by Aslan Tudor.
Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.