cover image Water Boy

Water Boy

David M. McPhail, . . Abrams, $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8109-1784-2

I n McPhail's (the Big Brown Bear series) resonant allegorical tale, a boy initially finds his teacher's statement, “You are water... mostly,” unsettling. He worries he might dissolve in the rain or turn to ice in the winter. In a wry take on a common childhood fear, “Ever since the bathwater wrapped around his big toe and tried to pull him down the drain, the boy had been a reluctant bather.” After his mother explains that water is a necessity for life, “water became more and more like a friend to the boy.” Magical things start to occur: water from the faucet curls into letters spelling his name, he holds back a waterfall to save a dog that has fallen in and, peering into a drop of water balanced on his fingertip, “he could see everything that lay at the bottom of the ocean.” His finest trick underscores the story's environmental core: he pours gallons of rainwater into a baby-food jar and leaves it to “absorb energy from the sun.” After hearing a polluted river's plea for help, the lad dumps the jar's contents into the brown river, turning it blue so “the river ran clear all the way to the ocean and beyond.” In a satisfying ending, as the boy walks along the shore a bottle washes up at his feet—it contains a note that reads, “Thank you.” Luminous, softly focused pictures capture this earnest, cherubic child's sense of awe, purpose and power—readers should readily experience the same emotions. Ages 4-8. (Apr.)