We Are Water Protectors

I simply cannot get enough of We Are Water Protectors. It stands out among the books published this year for its importance in our shared culture and for its elegant beauty. Before I ever saw the book, I saw an illustration from one of its pages — the image of a determined young girl, used for one of Kweli's conferences. I instantly fell in love with the artist’s striking work, but seeing this one image was only the tip of the iceberg for me. 

Water is life. We are all connected. If there are two main takeaways from this book’s powerful text, those might be the ones. And what important messages our society needs to hear right now.

Often a book’s illustrations add to, play with, or stretch the meaning of the book’s text. In the case of We Are Water Protectors, Goade’s illustrations immerse readers in the reality — physical and emotional — of our interconnectedness and our dependence on water.

On the first spread, Nokomis teaches the girl that “water is the first medicine.” Together, they stand waist-deep in water, Nokomis’s caring hand gently placed on the girl’s back, as the layers of water of different hues of blue bleed up into tree and leaf shapes, the way only watercolor can do. Goade masterfully controls this medium, creating fine, delicate patterns; clean lines; and swaths of varying saturations that create a feast for the eyes.

Most spreads picture nature scenes connecting humans in community with one another and with animals, water, and the universe. Patterns of stars and flowers adorn the deep blue, turquoise, indigo, and purple tones. On the three spreads where the girl is pictured alone, she is never truly alone: her long hair flows into waves of water inhabited by fish and plant life, or she kneels at the water as her ancestors look back at her from its surface. One could read the pictures without the words and take away the same main messages: water is life; we are all connected.

[Read the Horn Book Magazine review of We Are Water Protectors here]

Aside from the beauty, the technical skill with which Goade wields the paintbrush is almost unbelievable. From the edges between shapes, to the blend between colors, to the gleam in each eye, the precision is truly impressive. Anyone who has used watercolor can attest to the skill required for the precise and varied images on these pages. 

The book ends with a pledge for readers to sign to protect Mother Earth and all her creatures and resources. After seeing such gorgeous visions of what the world could be, who could resist a vow to strive for such a reality? Between the text, like a chanted poem, and the pictures, like a vision of what we could be, here indeed is a book that can influence minds and cultures, and shift how we see and treat our world.

Autumn Allen
Autumn Allen

Autumn Allen is an educator, writer, critic and independent scholar of children's and young adult literature. She holds an MA-MFA in children's literature and writing for children from Simmons University, and a master's degree in education from Harvard University. She is the 2020-2021 Writer in Residence at the Boston Public Library.

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