cover image Water Voices

Water Voices

Toby Speed. Putnam Publishing Group, $12.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-399-22631-1

Downing's (Mozart Tonight) delicately misted, shimmery watercolors are the chief attraction of this small-format picture book. The text poses a series of seven riddles about water--a descriptive stanza followed by the question ""Who am I?""--and at the turn of the page, a two-line answer. ""When the slide's so hot it burns your legs/ and dogs pant/ and Popsicles drip.../ I whirl like a string of pearls in the yard./ Who am I?"" is followed by ""I am Sprinklerspray./ Want to play?"" Speed (Too Cool Cows) is sure-handed in her choice of verbs: during a thunderstorm the ""trees groan and leaves bristle and snap,"" and at the seashore ""shells gleam and striped umbrellas squat."" Unfortunately, the riddles also include jerky rhythms and sporadic rhymes. Some lines seem tacked on to make the form of each riddle consistent, and Speed's metaphors are often only vaguely appropriate: ""eyelids [are] buttered with sleep""; bathwater ""hold[s] you close in my lap."" The complex riddles, however, do provide added incentive for poring over the art. Downing's subtly gorgeous palette and diffused watercolors capture the changing moods, from the ethereal tranquility of the morning mist to the energetic insistence of rainfall in a garden. Her soft-focus approach envelops the book in quiet loveliness, encouraging a tender appreciation for the pleasures of the commonplace. Ages 4-8. (Mar.)