Cover image for White water : inspired by a true story
White water : inspired by a true story
1st U.S. ed.
Publication Information:
Somerville, Mass. : Candlewick Press, 2011.
Physical Description:
1 v. (unpaged) : col. ill. ; 29 cm.
Reading Level:
580 L Lexile
After tasting the warm, rusty water from the fountain designated for African Americans, a young boy questions why he cannot drink the cool, refreshing water from the "Whites Only" fountain. Based on a true experience co-author Michael S. Bandy had as a boy.


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For a young boy growing up in the segregated south, a town drinking fountain becomes the source of an epiphany.It's a scorching hot day, and going into town with Grandma is one of Michael's favorite things. When the bus pulls up, they climb in and pay their fare, get out, walk to the back door, and climb in again. By the time they arrive in town, Michael's throat is as dry as a bone, so he runs to the water fountain. But after a few sips, the warm, rusty water tastes bad. Why is the kid at the "Whites Only" fountain still drinking? Is his water clear and refreshingly cool? No matter how much trouble Michael might get into, he's determined to find out for himself. Based on a transformative experience co-author Michael Bandy had as a boy, this compelling story sheds light on the reality of segregation through a child's eyes, while showing the powerful awareness that comes from daring to question the way things are.

Author Notes

Michael S. Bandy caught the writing bug when his third-grade teacher surprised him with a set of Dr. Seuss books. He's been writing plays, screenplays, and books ever since. He lives in Los Angeles and is involved in a number of children's charities.

Eric Stein has written for the children's TV series Star Street and was a supervising producer on the animated special Defender of Dynatron City. He is also on the dive team at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California, where he swims with the sharks almost every weekend.

Shadra Strickland is the illustrator of Bird, for which she won the Ezra Keats Award and the John Steptoe award, and Our Children Can Soar, for which she won the NAACP Image Award. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

Reviews 4

School Library Journal Review

K-Gr 3-A contemplative story set in the South in 1962. Michael loves going to town with his grandmother. Waiting for the bus, he gives up his seat on a bench when a white family arrives. Once he boards, he goes to the back without complaint. "Where we lived, that's how we did things," he explains simply. When they get to town, Michael heads straight for the water fountain marked "Colored." A boy from the bus goes to the "White" fountain. Michael is disappointed that his water tastes "nasty, muddy, gritty yuck," and he imagines how good the other water must taste. The watercolor, ink, and gouache illustrations take a masterful turn to fantasy as Michael thinks of the white fountain as an amazing oasis in the desert. In a nightmare, however, giant policemen fill the walls of his room, ready to take him to jail for using it. Convinced that he must find out about the water for himself, he uses his plastic army men to map out a plan of attack. The tense tone of this section is leavened by the artwork. Michael puts his plan into motion while life-size plastic figures guard his path. He finally gets his drink and finds out that the same pipe feeds both fountains. "The signs. had put a bad idea in my head. But they were a lie. If they weren't real, what else should I question?" The child's experience makes him decide not to let anyone or anything stand in the way of his own determination. The story may strike some as simplistic, but it conveys a feeling of authenticity.-Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, St. Christopher's School, Richmond, VA (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publisher's Weekly Review

First-time authors Bandy and Stein draw on one of Bandy's childhood memories in this resonant story about a boy awakening to the injustices around him. In town with his grandmother, Michael drinks from the "colored" fountain, whose water "taste[s] like nasty, muddy, gritty yuck." Yet next to him, a boy at the whites-only fountain eagerly drinks, igniting Michael's curiosity ("Suddenly I just had to know what that white water tasted like"). Even ordinary things, when forbidden, can grip a child's imagination, and so it is with Michael, his obsession with "white water" producing several fantasy scenarios and eventually compelling him to sneak back to town, where he discovers that the water in both fountains tastes the same. Michael's determination and imaginativeness are evident in Strickland's (A Place Where Hurricanes Happen) pale mixed-media paintings, which make excellent use of outlines to portray the boy's imaginings, such as a snow-capped mountain range seen under the arc of water in the "white" fountain. If the all-consuming nature of Michael's fascination occasionally feels excessive, the strength of the book's imagery, as well as Michael's epiphany, amply compensate. Ages 5-8. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Review

Young Michael's desire for refreshment at the whites-only water fountain teaches him about truth and the power of imagination.Narrator Michael normally accepts the familiar trappings of the Jim Crow Southgiving up a seat at the bus stop and on the bus and drinking from separate water fountains. When Michael drinks from his assigned fountain, he finds the water warm and nasty. Next to him, a white boy drinks for a long time, convincing Michael that the white water is superior to his. Michael cannot stop thinking about that delicious white water and comes up with a way to taste it for himself. When reality hitsthe same pipe feeds water to both fountainsMichael begins to wonder what other lies he has believed. Strickland's watercolor-and-ink illustrations extend the story, visually demonstrating the similarities between these two boys. Michael's grandmother and the white boy's mother both hold their hand to their foreheads in the heat; the boys sit at the bench with their legs extended the same way; they leave the bus through different doors but their bodies move with the same motion; their drinking stances are identical. Inspirational in tone, this is a strong introduction for young listeners and readers to the American Civil Rights movement.Michael's examination of the myths that rule his world should inspire modern readers to do the same.(Picture book. 4-10)]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

Based on Bandy's childhood experiences, this picture book tells of a boy in a segregated community. On his way to town with his grandmother, he must stand at the back of the bus, even though there are empty seats in front. Hot and thirsty when they get to town, he rushes to get a drink, but the water from the Colored drinking fountain tastes like nasty, muddy, gritty yuck. Sure that the water the white boy is drinking from the Whites fountain is pure and icy cold, the black boy is determined to drink there. His grandmother warns him not to even think of trying the whites-only fountain, but he obsesses about it and even has nightmares about being arrested by two giant police officers. Finally, he sneaks into town alone to drink from the restricted fountain--only to discover it is from the same pipe and just as yucky. The illustrations in watercolor, ink, and gouache show the oppressive racism in daily life and reveal how crazy it is.--Rochman, Hazel Copyright 2010 Booklist