Finding Water in Death Valley

The making of Hey, Water!

By author and illustrator Antoinette Portis

My daughter and I were in Death Valley, the hottest and driest place in North America. We were staying near a natural hot spring, and there was a startling contrast between the arid landscape and the pool of water sitting in the middle of this barren landscape. So, water was on my mind and I woke up one morning with the simple thought that water shapes echo each other. A pond is like a pool is like a puddle.

I played a game with myself, thinking of the ways water forms visually linked up to each other. A hose is sinuous like a stream, like a river. A tear is like a raindrop sliding down your face. Steam from a kettle is like a little cloud floating in your kitchen.

How could I link these images, not just visually, but with words and story? I needed a narrative through line so it could be a book and not just some random thoughts. That’s the part where you sit down and write.

I imagined a girl playing hide and seek with water, finding it in all its forms and states, and appreciating it.

The germ of an idea spurred an investigation into the basic science of water but also a mining of personal memories about the centrality of water to childhood fun. To be able to run a hot bath and dump toys into it. To run through the sprinklers on a hot summer day. To have a public swimming pool nearby.

I have memories of my daughter playing in a paddling pool on our apartment patio, her and her friends yelling and splashing and driving the neighbors crazy with their loud, loud fun. Kids + pool = screaming.

In developed countries, we are so lucky to have the association of water with childhood fun. Squirt guns and hoses and puddles and pools. Those of us who have it that way have been given a gift that we tend to take for granted. Water is just always there.

What a privilege to grow up being able to turn on the faucet and get fresh water to drink. Unfortunately, this isn’t true for everyone in the world. Some women and children spend most of their day walking to and from a water source to carry home the water they need to drink, to cook and wash with, and to water crops. And water is heavy! You can’t carry all you need in one trip. Back and forth, back and forth, with a heavy load on your head.

Hey, Water! is my new picture book from Holiday House.

Hey, Water cover

Antoinette Portis is a decorated picture book author/illustrator. Her picture books have garnered wide acclaim including being named as a New York Times Best Illustrated Book. A former creative director at Disney, she lives in Southern California.

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