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Water in the Park

Water, water everywhere. We learn early on (on the copyright page) that this is an homage to Tresselt and Duvoisin’s White Snow, Bright Snow and to Zolotow and Rey’s The Park Book. The fact that most of you have heard of the first while the latter has faded into the past points out something important: that Caldecott sticker on a book matters. It matters because, well, White Snow, Bright Snow is still in print. The other book is available for $.01 online.

So, does this homage to those two books have the hope of being in print for a long long time?

I have promised myself that I will not go on and on when talking about books, so let’s see if I can keep this lean. Pencil and ink are digitally assembled and colored in this delightful story about how water is used in a large city park. It’s filled with kids and parents, caregivers and workers, dogs and nature. Water sustains, comforts, sprinkles, feeds, cleans. The people are from lots of different ethnic and religious and age groups. Everyone loves the park.

The art is highly detailed — nearly every blade of grass is shown! Muted, nearly translucent greens and blues are the order of the day with ink lines giving shape and adding detail to the images. The landscape is served well by the size of the book: it’s short and wide so that the full page spreads show off the scenes. The brownstones and storefronts act as a frame to the park. The children and their humans are round, the toddlers with healthy chubby legs and wide-set eyes, giving them an open, what-can-I-do-today look.

What caught my eye about this book? What makes it stand out?

First, it’s the arc of the visual story. Like real parks everywhere, the “regulars” come at all different times of day, often more than once. Careful readers (and who is more careful at reading the pictures than a lap listener?) will love seeing Nonny, the three-legged dog, and Mr. Fluffynut and his hands-on-hips human. They will notice that the red-shoed toddler has a red-shoed mama. When the words say, “Shawnee B. dumps pail after pail of water into the sandbox,” they will search that busy, crowded park to find Shawnee. (And so will you.)

The folks who like design will like the variety of layouts — from busy full-page bleeds to the quieter scenes with lots of white space and resting park visitors. One especially engaging page is the five o’clock scene where little circles of people slowly make their way home. (Claudia K, once again, refuses to leave!) And when the raindrops fall, every reader will identify with all those folks racing home. The final spread, all blacks and browns, with only electric lights to show the way, is a stunner, so different from all the other pages. It’s a deep breath of a page.

Oh, and for you who are keeping up with such things, the endpapers show the passage of time from morning light to almost complete darkness. That shiny paper is perfect for this art.

In spirit, this is a bit like All the World by Scanlon and Frazee. There are so many books to talk about this year, and this might not have enough pizzazz to rise to the top, but it has been on my top shelf since I first saw it.
What do you think?
Robin Smith About Robin Smith

Robin Smith is a second-grade teacher at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a reviewer for Kirkus and The Horn Book Magazine and has served on multiple award committees.



  1. I like how the illustrator places readers right there at the park, privy to all the action. And that mostly earth-toned palette is fitting, as well as warm, which serves well the overall tone of the book.

    I think Emily Jenkins is so good at noticing the kinds of details to which very young children attend, and Graegin’s illustrations are so detailed, too. Text and art serve each other well, but as you’ve noted, the illustrations also tell us much more. (Though I can’t seem to find my copy of the book, I remember this.)

    Such a good book.

  2. I haven’t looked at this yet. Perhaps because the cover is a bit underwhelming to me. (Can I admit that among friends?!) I want to see what’s under that white oval that holds the title! It feels a little stuck and in the way.

    But. The way you wrote about this book is so beautiful. Can’t wait to see it.

  3. I’m a huge fan of this book. Emily Jenkins picture books are always awesome. She develops characters so well in such a short amount of time. And the great thing about this book is the way Graegin’s illustrations extend this character development. I love the fact that the two babies at the beginning of the story flip roles at the end of the book, and the way they show up (with their moms/caregivers) throughout the story… don’t they show up periodically? It’s been a while, but I feel like they do. And Shawnee, like you mentioned – first the water on the sand, then on her mama’s feet. And of course the little girl who never wants to leave, and the dogs and their masters. I knew you were going to bring up the endpapers – some of the best endpapers of the year. Yeah, I love this one.

  4. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    I just reread it (again) and I have to say I like this one more each time I read it. I notice more too. Tonight it was the naked toddler running home near the end.

  5. Dean Schneider says:

    I love the quietness and the attention to detail of this book and, as Robin noted, the “arc of the visual story,” a key element in a successful picture book. I like the matter-of-fact multicultural nature of the illustrations, too. The one page I wonder about is the “stripey cat” depicted toward the end of the book. I know it’s in the foreground and all, but it seemed startling huge when I turned the page, a mega-cat. But maybe it is in scale, given that it is in the foreground…. What do others think? I’m happy to be proven wrong on this, as I like the book a lot otherwise.

  6. I love this book. The day I first read about it I sent it to my niece in Brooklyn NY who lives near Prospect Park. She is 4 1/2 and goes to the park reguarly. Somewhere I read that the park is based on Prospect Park and…forgot the other one. I so enjoyed studying the pictures for many reasons, but one was finding places I recognized from Prospect Park. My niece did too. The details and the softness of the illustrations are wonderful.

  7. AllisonGK,
    My kids felt that way about MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS. They couldn’t get enough of pointing out the places they had been in that park.
    I have been to Brooklyn and the detail I picked up was the little maple leaf on the park worker’s t-shirt. That’s the symbol of the parks there.
    I also love all the different types of folks and dogs at this busy park.

  8. We just got this one in at my library so I had to pick it up today after reading your review. I agree that it’s a quieter book and it might not rise to the top, but oh what a joy of a book it is!

    The first thing I noticed were the expressions on the faces of everyone at the park-I love how expressive each person and animal are showing us exactly what they are feeling. And the details on each page are things you want to pour over like a seek and find, especially when you read the text and want to pick out each character it mentions. The final page of nighttime is so different and unexpected that it really stands out and made the book come full circle with the orange light at the beginning for morning. It’s a lovely book and one I think I will have to come back to.

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