Book Review: White Water

I like to try and actually commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. in some way during MLK Jr. weekend. Last year, I tried reading the boys a picture book about his life. That went over like a lead balloon. When we got to the part where he got shot, the boys started crying and saying, “This book is too scary!” Trying to explain that he made a sacrifice for a larger movement was no help. When I told Cash that with out MLK Jr, his best friend wouldn’t go to the same school as him, he basically told me to be quiet – that was too horrible to contemplate and he didn’t want to hear any more. So when I brought this book out this year and said we were reading it because it’s MLK Jr. weekend, they freaked out. I have scarred them for life. I assured them that no one died and that Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t even actually in it and they let me read it to them. Sheesh.

White WaterWhite Water by Michael S. Bandy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

On a very hot day in 1962, Michael and his grandmother take the bus into down. Once they get there, Michael runs to the water fountains to take a drink. But the water tastes nasty and dirty. He looks over at a little boy drinking out of the whites-only water fountain and notices that little boy seems to be enjoying his drink. Could the white water be better? Michael decides to find out and takes the bus to town the next day by himself. When no one is looking, he takes a drink from the whites-only water fountain. It tastes dirty and nasty too. He happens to look down and see that both fountains are fed by the same pipe. It’s the same water! The white water isn’t any better. Michael wonders if the fact that white water is a lie, what other things that he’s been told should he question?

I think most of this book went over West’s (the five year old) head but Cash (my seven year old)  and I were able to have a great discussion about segregation and Martin Luther King Jr.’s role in bringing that to an end. He didn’t freak out and was flabbergasted to learn that even Kansas City had segregated schools back then. West’s only contribution was to tell me that he doesn’t have any friends with black skin – they have BROWN skin. I think this was a great book to use as a stepping off point for a conversation about race and history that was on their level.

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  • rhapsodyinbooks

    I love hearing about your kids’ reactions to this book. I remember wondering about the “black” label when I was young also, since no one was actually “black”! There’s another similar book called White Socks in which a little girl (in the segregated south) thinks that she can drink from a fountain marked “Whites Only” because she is wearing her white socks. When you get a kid’s viewpoint on all this from that time, you wonder who the “adults” really were and who were the kids!