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Water Is Water: A Book about the Water Cycle

water is waterIn this exploration of the water cycle, Jason Chin uses watercolor and gouache to paint lovely scenes of a family’s pond-side, rural homestead. Each season is shown in vibrant colors and thoughtful details, and water is shown in a different form on each page. I particularly liked the choice to present the house and its surrounding field and pond from varying angles.

Miranda Paul’s text pulls the reader on to the next page with an unless…, and then reveals the newest transformations. Rhyming words like swirl / curl, misty / twisty, and pack / smack lend a poetic air to the story. Picture books about scientific concepts can sometimes veer into the didactic, but Water Is Water feels like an engaging story about children who love being out in nature.

The two main children in the story are busy in their pursuit of turtles, snakes, and frogs, while their black cat watches their antics from the sidelines. The movement and the motion of the children on each page is a good analogy for the changing water cycle. I also liked the depiction of the children in various forms of play. At home and at school, they are running, chasing, skating, throwing snowballs, and pressing cider.

Of interest to the Sibert committee, if not the Caldecott committee, will be the back matter that includes a deeper exploration of the water cycle, suggestions for further reading, and a select bibliography. It seems as if nonfiction sometimes gets short shrift with award committees. It is difficult to compare the literary qualities of fiction with nonfiction. Is Water Is Water strong enough to overcome a possible bias toward fiction?




  1. Martha V. Parravano Martha V. Parravano says:

    Thanks, Angela! I also appreciate that the kids are biracial and that they and their friends are seen playing and interacting with nature on their own — the parents are often either absent, organically (ie in the house or at the store, etc), or in the background. The whole book exudes a sense of freedom and exuberance.

  2. Jonathan Hunt says:

    Is it too early to report Mock Caldecott results?

    WATER IS WATER and IN A VILLAGE BY THE SEA were virtually tied for the Medal. The latter had an additional third place vote. BOATS FOR PAPA was a point behind WATER IS WATER–no 1st place votes, but on 11/12 ballots–with THE SKUNK and IT’S ONLY STANLEY trailing way behind.

  3. Martha V. Parravano Martha V. Parravano says:

    Thanks for the report, Jonathan. We will be sure to put up a post asking for Mock Caldecott results sometime in the upcoming weeks, and you can let us know more details then. (Curious to know if these were the only five books on the ballot? and if the group was children or adults? But I will wait…)

  4. Excellent review of what is unquestionably one of the very best picture books of the year!! I am not at all surprised it is tied for the Mock Caldecott lead with VILLAGE, another fantastic book!! The art is just sublime throughout, the water cycle had never be so appealingly examined.

  5. Thank you for the thoughtful description of the book and the following comments. I haven’t seen this book yet and was hoping for thoughts and review on what looks from the cover picture to be beautiful illustrations. Would Ms. Frederick or anyone else care to elaborate?

  6. This one is currently leading the pack of my students’ not-so-secret Mock Caldecott, and I’m with them all the way. I appreciate how Chin extends the narrative by depicting other cycles tied into the setting (such as plant cycles/the seasons). Size and color also draw attention to different stages of the cycle (as seen when dragon-shaped cloud formations loom large and high in the late summer sky, or when gray foggy air hangs in balance between the school bus and tree with similarly-colored fall foliage). The inclusion of relevant, child-centered examples (puddle splashing, snowball throwing, etc.) adds meaning for young readers and captures the theme of how scientific wonder can be found in even the most routine experiences. And how COOL is it that the watercolor medium itself reinforces the concept!?

  7. Martha V. Parravano Martha V. Parravano says:

    Fans of Water Is Water: how does it hold up as nonfiction? Ie, how accurate is the presentation of the water cycle?

  8. Martha V. Parravano Martha V. Parravano says:

    I am asking because I always thought the water cycle was more this:

    This book demonstrates, splendidly, the various forms water can take. Is that the same thing?

    Questioning, not challenging, here.

  9. In my opinion, the combination of a strong linguistic AND analytic repetitive structure (“___ is ___ unless…”), lyrical language, accurate information about the states and cycles of water through the seasons (providing yet another layer of structure to the book), and evocative illustrations featuring a nature-loving, diverse family make this book an absolute winner.

  10. Martha – You bring up an interesting question. On this handy site ( the USGS states: “The water cycle describes how Earth’s water is not only always changing forms, between liquid (rain), solid (ice), and gas (vapor), but also moving on, above, and in the Earth. This process is always happening everywhere.”
    I remember learning the stages simply as evaporation, condensation, precipitation, & collection. I think this book shows these four stages effectively, through the visible steam (evaporation), clouds and fog (condensation), falling rain (precipitation), & plants absorbing the water in the muddy garden (collection). The guides from USGS are definitely more detailed, but I don’t think that makes the simplified version inaccurate. Science people, am I wrong on this? What’s your take?!

  11. My students have been loving the book trailer that we saw on Mr. Schu’s blog; we’ve been singing the song all week…
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this lovely story everyone
    Barefoot Librarian

  12. Eric Carpenter says:

    Finally got a hold of this one yesterday and fell in love instantly. I read it with my mock caldecott group of first graders today and they were really digging into it. They had me pull out FLOAT and IF YOU PLANT A SEED to compare rain illustration techniques and seemed to all agree that Chin’s water colors are most the most effective of the three. They had a lot of trouble coming up with anything that they didn’t appreciate in this one. One student did mention that he wished the spread about mud had been a bit squishier.
    I think this is my new favorite.
    My only wonder (and maybe a parent could answer this for me) does it seem likely that both the brother and sister would have grown so little in a year (or at least 9 months) time that their bathing suits still fit them. Do kids grow enough in a year that they would need new suits by the following summer?

  13. Reminding me my amazing childhood, when we ask questions about rainfall to our grandmother she told us same cycle in different words about water conversion from one form to other. this book repeats the the grand mom’s story with more efficient presentation

  14. If there is a “bias toward fiction” to overcome, Water Is Water has all that is required to overcome it.
    The requirement that good nonfiction must be factual tends to make us suspicious that any lyrical approach, any soft brushstroke, or any creative effort to serve up the facts waters down their reliability. In reality, literary and artistic presentations of facts deepen their meaning and relevance.
    Who cares about the facts unless they mean something?
    What’s a fact without beauty, relevance, or worth?
    There should be no short-shifting here. Water Is Water has everything it needs to make a child learn, love, and appreciate the nature–and nurture–of water in their world.

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