“We fight for those/ Who cannot fight for themselves.
The winged ones/ The crawling ones,
The four-legged/ The two-legged/The plants, trees, rivers, lakes,
The Earth. We are all related.”
We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade, is a powerful reading experience for children that highlights how water affects and connects all living things. The book explores the fight to protect water from pollution and invites all children to become stewards of the Earth and protectors of water.
This picture book won the 2021 Caldecott Medal, awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished picture book published for children in the United States. Artist Michaela Goade, a member of the Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska, is the first Indigenous artist to win the award. Carole Lindstrom, the author of the text, is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe.
Goade’s illustrations, vibrant, multi-hued watercolors are the highlight of the book. Swirling, flowing strokes of paint bring the natural world to life. The theme of water flows through every illustration and connects everything with blue and green cascading colors. Linstrom’s text makes effective use of a chorus, “We stand/ With our songs/ And our drums./ We are still here,” emphasizing the enduring connection that native peoples have with the land.
An ancestral prophecy from Ojibwe culture forms the basis of the book. While the people honor water as sacred, the text recounts the Seven Fires Prophecy, which foretells a black snake that “…will destroy the land… spoil the water… and wreck everything in its path.” A “snake” has now fulfilled the prophecy, in the form of oil pipelines that cross native lands, damaging the Earth and polluting the water.
The illustrations show the contrast of humankind choosing a natural path that leads to peace, unity, and a healthy Earth and the alternate path in which humans embrace technology with little regard for the Earth. One breathtaking illustration shows a sparkling mountain lake at sunset, bathed in russet light and surrounded by animals, revealing to the reader the beauty of our untouched world. In another double-page spread, the black snake fills the pages, the pipelines that form its body cover a barren blood-read field, its frighting head spewing fire and venom.
For the reader, the choice is clear. The book then calls people to action. The young Ojibwe narrator, with hair that spills like water across the pages, joins others in protest of the pipeline. She evokes the stories of her people and the spirits of her ancestors to give her strength to stand strong for the water and the land, against the black snake. She invites other children to join her as Earth stewards and water protectors.
We are Water Protectors reflects the “own voices” movement, allowing children who are underrepresented in books to see themselves and celebrate their culture. The book introduces all children to Native American heritage and the philosophy that underlies their worldview. It promotes an environmental imperative, showing the world is in danger and that everyone, including the children, must take a stand for a better tomorrow.
This book can be shared with children as young as preschoolers, its bright, (although sometimes scary) pictures drawing them into the wonders of nature and the beauty of Ojibwe culture. It can be used to show how individuals take action for issues they care about. They will understand the idea of standing up for what is right. For older students, it can serve as a springboard to understanding the underlying ideas that move people to action, as well as the power of groups of people standing together for a common goal. I believe the book will be a powerful teaching tool for the elementary classroom.
Carole Lindstrom and Michaela Goade’s picture book, We Are Water Protectors is a book that is well-deserving of the praise and honors it has been given.