Doing some last minute shopping for the young’uns on your list? Want to inspire a love and respect for the natural world? Then take the kid outside for a hike up a mountain or splash in a stream and let them experience first-hand how amazing Earth’s landscapes can be.
But if you want to give something a bit more material, then here are a couple of water-themed books I recommend for kids. Most of these have been tested on my almost 3-year-old, so my age recommendations have only one true calibration point.
“I pass through a gateway
of high stone palisades,
leaving the land behind.
Cool silver moonlight
sparkles and dances
on my waves.
I am the sea.“
Thomas Locker’s Water Dance follows the water cycle with lyrical prose and beautiful paintings to accompany each store of water. Locker’s lovely paintings could also be used without the text, just as a way to point out waterfalls, storms, oceans, etc. and to spark a conversation with a young child about their experiences with rain or other hydrological phenomena.
Many preschoolers prefer listen to stories with a clear plot, and might have a hard time identifying with the sea, stream, and storm of “Water Dance.” If you think that’s the case for the preschooler on your list, I recommend another Thomas Locker book, “Where the River Begins.” In this book, two boys and their grandfather set out on a hike to find the source of the gentle, meandering river that flows past their house. They trace the river to a rapidly cascading mountain stream that begins in a quiet pond. On the way home, they get caught in a rain storm which floods their path. There’s some hydrology embedded in there, but msotly a clear narrative for the plot-driven preschooler. My daughter approves of this book.
For early elementary age readers
A Drop Around the World by Barbara McKinney is an amazing book that follows a single water molecule from raindrop on the Maine coast to glacier melt in Switzerland to a monsoon flood in India and back to the eastern U.S, with many more stops along the way This vividly colorful book uses the water molecule as narrator and has nifty little symbols for the phases and their changes. It also emphasizes the trans-cultural importance of water. Young readers can hunt for the water droplet with the smiley face hiding on each page. The last two pages provide a legend for the little symbols giving more hydrological info for adults or interested kids. There’s also an educators’ guide to go with the book. My nearly 3-year old liked looking at the pictures, but the story hasn’t drawn her in quite yet, so I’d put this book in the 4+ age range. Perhaps it’s that plot and character identification problem again…
Jane Yolen’s Letting Swift River Go tells the tale of the damming of the Swift River in western Massachusetts to form the Quabbin Reservoir in the 1920s and 1930s. The story is told from the point-of-view of a young girl who watches her hometown and the surrounding farmlands and forests disappear under the rising waters. I really like this book because it integrates issues of water and society within a compelling narrator with whom children can identify. I put this book in the early elementary category, but my daughter has enjoyed listening to the story, though it verges on the long side for her attention span. I look forward to many more years of reading this story with her and the discussions I am sure it will engender as we walk in the reservoir-side parks along our local Catawba River.
For older kids
One book I haven’t read yet, but which I am anxious to get my hands on is John Fleck’s “The Tree Rings’ Tale: Understanding Our Changing Climate.” Fleck is an outstanding science journalist at the Albuquerque Journal and water blogger. The early reviews of his new book have been highly complimentary, and I love the idea of how he interweaves a history of the Colorado River with the science of dendrochronology and climate change.
Though not exactly a fly-fishing or white-water rafting trip, or even a walk along your local creekside greenway, the books above still make fine gifts and may even spark inspiration in a future hydrologist.