cover image A Taste of Colored Water

A Taste of Colored Water

Matt Faulkner, . . Simon & Schuster, $16.99 (38pp) ISBN 978-1-4169-1629-1

Set in the early 1960s, Faulkner's (The Pirate Meets the Queen ) thought-provoking tale presents a study in contrasts and uncomfortable realities. Initial spreads open buoyantly, with cheery scenes of two barefoot cousins playing marbles and enjoying soda pop. An acquaintance tells Jelly and LuLu, the narrator, about her trip to the big city, where she saw “a sign, clear as day, hanging over a water bubbler that read colored .” Jelly and Lulu are entranced: “Cherry, lemon, orange and apple—all those flavors in one gulp!” Lulu imagines. Only older readers might have registered unease at the cover art, featuring rainbow-hued water gushing from a fountain, a gallows-like frame supporting the “colored” sign above it. The cousins' eventual visit to the city coincides with a civil rights demonstration, where police with batons and firemen with hoses face off against protesters. Pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations introduce irony and symbolism that may be lost on younger audiences, e.g., a billboard advertises Snowy White soap, “100% pure”; wrought-iron ornamentation announces the city's name as Eden. The climactic scene of a policeman, replete with snarling dog, screaming at the (white) cousins just as they are about to taste the magical water, cracks any veneer of innocence. As it does for the characters, this disturbing lesson leaves readers with lots to ponder. An eloquent afterword bridges the gap between the readers' experience and their knowledge of the civil rights era. Ages 6-8. (Jan.)