The Water Princess
Written by Susan Verde
Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016, 40 pp
The story of The Water Princess begins with Gie Gie telling the readers what she can do. Gie can tame the wild dogs, she can make the tall grass sway, and when she dances, she can make the wind play hide-and-seek. But there is one thing Gie Gie cannot do and that is make the water come closer. Every day early in the morning, Gie Gie and her mother place pots on their heads and walk very far to fetch water. While they walk, they entertain themselves by singing and dancing. Gie Gie and her mother are not the only ones who walk far; there are other women who spend almost the entire day fetching water from the well. The water they collect is not clean water. When they get back home, they boil the water in order to drink and cook with it. But they quickly run out of the water so, day after day, they repeat the journey. This story is based on the childhood of Miss Africa 2004, Georgie Badiel, in Burkina Faso. She is also the founder of the Georgie Badiel Foundation, dedicated to giving access to clean drinking water in Africa.
The story touches on multiple issues such as access to clean water and gender inequality. The book uses poetic words and colorful illustrations to bring awareness to the lack of clean drinking water in many countries. Gie Gie compares the wind and grass to the water. The wind and the grass are natural resources that come with no struggle, unlike access to water. The problem Gie Gie and her mother face is not just the location of the water well but also that the water they collect is not clean or safe. The double-spread illustration where Gie Gie’s mother is filling her pot with the dirty water shows the concern on her face.
Although the story never mentions it directly, the illustrations send the message of gender inequality. They show women and girls waiting in line, foreshadowing the future of girls. Nowhere in the illustrations are men or boys depicted as fetching water. Fetching water is assumed to be a women’s job.
The illustrations show the huts they live in and miles they walk to get water. Gie Gie sings and dances on her way to the water demonstrating some of the joy and playfulness of the routine, but her shoulders also ache and her feet cramp as she returns home from the long journey and the weight of her water pot. The author and the illustrator conclude the story on a positive and hopeful tone when Gie Gie says “I am Princess Gie Gie. My Kingdom? The African sky. The dusty earth. And, someday, the flowing, cool, crystal-clear water.” As easy as the wind reaches every corner of the world, one day everyone will have access to clean drinking water.
Authors like Verde realize the importance of teaching readers about the outside world, creating a “sliding glass door” (Bishop, 1990) that allows them to experience the lives of others through literature. The following books are doors that address social issues with strong female characters who take action to transform their lives and their communities. In Mama Panya’s Pancakes (Mary and Rich Chamberlin, Julia Cairns, 2005) Mama Panya tells the story of hunger and how sharing what little one has can make a difference. In Beatrice’s Goat (Page McBrier and Lori Lohstoeter, 2000) Beatrice cares, cooks, and cleans for her younger siblings while other children her age attend school. The story addresses the issue of access to education through Beatrice’s desire to attend school just like the other children in her village. Finally, several titles in the CitizenKid series address access to clean water. Mimi’s Village and How Basic Health Care Transformed It (Katie Smith Milway and Eugenie Fernandes, 2012) tells the story of how poverty affects multiple aspects of life. It’s about a little girl who drinks unclean water and ends up sick, teaching that clean water doesn’t come with ease and health care is not accessible to all, and how a young girl can lead big changes to benefit many. Ryan and Jimmy and the Well in Africa that Brought Them Together (Herb Shoveller, 2006) tells the story of the founding of Ryan’s Well, an organization that works with Georgie Badiel’s foundation to bring clean water to rural villages. One last book pair is the sequel, Water is Here (Georgie Badiel Liberty & Oksana Kupriienko, 2019), in which Gie Gie advocates for a well near her village.
Susan Verde has written numerous children’s books. Some of the well-known titles include I Am Courage: A Book of Resilience (2021), I Am One: A Book of Action (2020), I Am Love: A Book of Compassion (2019), I Am Human: A Book of Empathy (2018), I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness (2017), and I Am Yoga (2015). The common message that echoes in her I Am series is that of building oneself spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. She has also written on topics that pertain to humanitarian and environmental issues.
Peter Reynolds is a Canadian author, illustrator, and storyteller. He is known for titles like The Dot (2003), Ish (2004), and The Word Collector (2018). Reynolds and Susan Verde are used to writing books together. Their collaboration includes I Am Peace (2017), I Am Human (2018), and I Am Courage (2021), among others. His books advocate for the nurturing and protection of the creative spirit across all ages. Reynolds and his twin brother, Paul, launched the Reynolds Center for Teaching, Learning, and Creativity (RCTLC), a nonprofit organization that encourages creativity and innovation in teaching and learning. For more information about Peter Reynolds, visit his website.
Bishop, R. S. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives: Choosing and using books for the classroom, 6(3).
Nasra Lid, Texas Woman’s University
© 2021 by Nasra Lid
WOW Review, Volume XIV, Issue 2 by Worlds of Words is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Based on work by Nasra Lid at https://wowlit.org/on-line-publications/review/xiv-2/8/