Review of The Water Princess, by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

The Water Princess

Based on the childhood experience of Georgie Badiel

by Susan Verde

illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016. 40 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #9 Picture Books

Here is a picture book with a message – but the creators wisely made telling a good story a higher priority than just getting the message across.

As the book opens, we are introduced to Princess Gie Gie. I’ve long been a fan of Peter H. Reynolds, and here his work is more detailed – and more beautiful – than ever before. We see Princess Gie Gie first looking up into a sky full of stars.

As we turn the page, we learn her location:

My kingdom . . .
the African sky, so wide and so close.
I can almost touch the sharp edges of the stars.

First, Gie Gie talks about the things she can do – taming the wild dogs, making the tall grass sway, and making the wind play hide-and-seek. But Gie Gie cannot make the water come closer or run clearer.

Each morning, when it is still dark, Gie Gie and her mother set off to collect the water. Most of the book is about that journey. I love the way Gie Gie is still dramatic and joyful, even though she doesn’t want to get up early and go for the long walk. Even though she wishes she could bring the water by magic.

I also love the way Gie Gie’s parents consistently address her as “princess.” I like the way, when she brings the water back, she celebrates the achievement.

At the water hole, Gie Gie plays with her friends while her mother holds their place in line. The water there is dusty and earth colored, but it is flowing, and they make the journey back with full pots on their heads.

I also love the page at the end of the day, after they have used the water:

Clothes and body clean,
I sing to the dogs.
I dance with the tall grass.
I hide from the wind.

At bedtime, Gie Gie asks her mother “Why is the water so far? Why is the water not clear? Where is our water?”

The final spread answers:

“Sleep,” she says.
“Dream,” she says.
“Someday you will find a way, my princess.
Someday.”

I am Princess Gie Gie.
My kingdom?
The African sky. The dusty earth.

And, someday,
the flowing cool, crystal-clear water.
Someday …

After that final page of the story, there is a spread with a note from the creators and photographs of children in Africa getting water. They explain that nearly one billion people around the world don’t have access to clean water.

This crisis is what motivated African model Georgie Badiel to work to make a difference and get clean water to those in need. As a young girl in Burkina Faso, Georgie spent her summers living with her grandmother. Every morning, Georgie and the other girls and women of the village walked for miles to fill pots with water and return it home to be used for the basics – drinking, bathing, cooking – only to wake up the next morning and make the journey again.

Georgie Badiel is now working with Ryan’s Well to bring clean water to people of Burkina Faso and beyond.

This book has a wonderful message – but they communicate that message by means of a lovely story. They manage to show a joyful, playful child who happens to face a difficult task every morning.

ryanswell.ca
georgiebadielfoundation.org
susanverde.com
peterhreynolds.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

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