In Nibi’s Water Song, first-time author Sunshine Tenasco joins forces with illustrator Chief Lady Bird to address the need for clean water in Indigenous communities.
Nibi is a “thirsty, thirsty girl.” But she can’t find clean water anywhere – not at her home, her neighbours’, or the river. So, she heads to the next town over, the one with the “big, shiny houses.” There, Nibi finally gets “a teeny-tiny plastic bottle of water” that she finishes in one gulp – and which doesn’t begin to quench her thirst. But when she returns to the same house and knocks again, no one opens the door. The entire community, made up of non-Indigenous residents, ignores Nibi’s plea for water.
Though deeply disheartened, the young protagonist refuses to be deterred. She dances down every street singing the phrase, “I am thirsty, thirsty Nibi and I need water!” In doing so, she becomes an activist for change as one by one the people of the community come out of their homes and genuinely listen to what Nibi is singing.
Tenasco writes openly and honestly about the unequal treatment of Indigenous communities in Canada. Nibi’s song conveys the powerful message that clean water is a basic human right that should be afforded to everyone regardless of their ethnicity. The book successfully functions as a catalyst for an important conversation between parents and children. Yet, despite the subject matter, the text remains age-appropriate. Fun drinking words and sounds – including “slurrrrp” and “blachhhh” – provide moments of levity.
Chief Lady Bird’s digital illustrations are colourful and expressive. But the most captivating ones involve Nibi’s hair, which is dotted with stars and has a wonderfully whimsical personality. When she’s frazzled it flies, when she’s hopeful it rises, and when she’s sad it falls – giving young readers unmistakable clues as to what Nibi is feeling during her quest.
Nibi’s Water Song argues that when we open our doors to each other and listen, we can start doing the necessary work – in this case digging a well – so that every Canadian can live a happy and healthy life.