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Book Reviews

Anna Carries Water

by Olive Senior; Laura James, illus.

Anna lives with her family in the beautiful Jamaican countryside. Every evening she and her siblings walk to the spring, where they fill their containers with water for cooking, drinking, and washing. They always walk in a straight line: “First Doris then Karen then Rohan then Trevor then Robbie and last of all far behind came Anna.”

Anna, the youngest, is the only one who has not yet learned to balance her water container on her head. She insists on trying, but is frustrated when the can falls off and she gets wet. One day, as she lags behind, she becomes terrified by the cows in Mr. Johnson’s field and races home, only to be welcomed by her smiling family who point out that she has run all the way with her water can on her head and hasn’t spilled a drop.

This is a gentle story about growing up. Anna’s goal is simple, but the text doesn’t trivialize her frustration at not being able to carry water the “grown-up” way. Senior’s use of repetition keeps the narrative bouncing along and, though the solution comes a bit suddenly, the ending will encourage young readers who are struggling with similar frustrations and fears.        

New York artist Laura James’s stunning illustrations, which include detailed backgrounds complete with vibrant birds, animals, and plants, capture the beauty and colour of the Jamaican landscape, as well as the warmth of Anna’s family. We see the climax of Anna’s arrival home just as she does, with her whole family smiling in amazement and joyfully welcoming her. Anna’s triumph will delight young readers.