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Book Review: We Are Water Protectors

Title: We Are Water Protectors

Written by Carole Lindstrom and illustrated by Michaela Goade

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press

Copyright date: 2020

Age range: The publisher says ages 3-6, but the book brought tears to my eyes. This book is truly for anyone. 

A young Sioux girl recalls the story her grandmother told, featuring the dire warning that a black snake would come, contaminating the water source, thus causing harm to all the animals and land. The young girl decides to take a stand in order to protect the water sources and provide safety for all living things. 

The “black snake” a.k.a. the pipeline.

While this is a simple story, there is more to it than meets the summary. The black snake? It’s really an oil pipeline. 

The illustrations are truly stunning. If We Are Water Protectors  doesn’t make it to the award podium, I’ll be shocked. The New York Times writes: “Powerful….Goade’s illustrations combine a mystical mood with the lovely fierceness of a child seeking justice.” It has earned starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and Bookpage. Currently, it ranks #1 in Children’s American Folk Tales and Myths, #2 in Children’s Native American Books, and #5 in Nature Conservation, and with 338 reviews, it has a 4.9/5 rating. It has a 4.61/5 rating on Goodreads with 787 reviews. 

You see, this book isn’t just a folk tale, the main character is a social justice poster child. Booklist writes Goade’s watercolor illustrations fill the spreads with streaming ribbons of water, cosmic backdrops, and lush natural landscapes…. Lindstrom’s spare, poetic text flows with the “river’s rhythm.” Written in response to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, famously protested by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe―and others―these pages carry grief, but it is overshadowed by hope in what is an unapologetic call to action.”

The movement and flow of water, and it’s importance, it’s very clear in Goade’s artwork. Not only does it progress the story, she shows the reader that without clean water, nothing will live. 

This sentence appears throughout the book as an important reminder.

The repetition helps to drive home a feeling of tribal chanting or a coming together. The repetitive text, seen below, secures the reader to the issue and that interconnected bond between the tribe, the water, and the animals. 

If you think your children are too young to learn about environmental issues, think again. The two page spread, clearly a scene taken from Standing Rock, will feel empowering to people in every generation. 

“The black snake is in for the fight of its life.”

Additional information, including a glossary, and words from the author and illustrator are critical in continuing the conversation.

The backmatter includes additional information and perspective from the author and illustrator, both current members of tribal organizations. 

During this month of November, classrooms across the country will no doubt continue making traditional crafts. In many preschool classes, children will dress as pilgrims and native people, in headdresses and brown paper vests. Educators (and parents) need to be more aware of the modern stories affecting native people, from pipelines to poverty, but also highlight all of the ways they celebrate, from the traditional to the modern. Consider adding these books to collections, from classroom to library to home. 

Fry Bread, by Kevin Noble Malliard, a winner of the 2020 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal, and a 2020 American Indian Youth Literature Picture Book Honor Winner, is told through repetition and allows for the reader to see that eating fry bread, wherever they may live, is a tradition that stands the test of times. 

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, by Traci Sorrell, shares a year in the life of the Cherokee, through the seasons. Traditions, from those specific to the Cherokee, to those most are familiar with, allow the reader to realize we’re all a bit more alike than different. Need more convincing? Check out these stats: 2019 Sibert Honor Book, 2019 Orbis Pictus Honor Book, NPR’s Guide To 2018’s Great Reads, 2018 Book Launch Award (SCBWI), Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2018, School Library Journal Best Books of 2018.

Comparing these books would be a wonderful way to seek out themes. Preparing a meal of fry bread, with a clean glass of water, with our families and friends, would combine aspects of all of these books and serve as a reminder that for generations, the simple act of being together and sharing a meal is truly something to be thankful for. 

In addition to taking the pledge on the last page of the book, consider sharing these short video clips with your children. They will provide images that might dispel stereotypes and also further educate on why children have a strong opinion against the pipeline. You can sign the petition!

As always, let us know what YOU and YOUR children think of the books we’ve included!

Want to know what we’re reading, what we’ve loved, and what’s sitting in our Amazon cart? Check out our GoodReads bookshelves! Got a children’s book in mind that you’d like to see us review? Leave a comment or email us at 

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31 thoughts to “Book Review: We Are Water Protectors”

  1. I just cataloged this book into our system recently and I want to read it so bad! First of all, the art is so captivating. I love the illustrator’s use of color and texture. Water has always been my favorite element – I’ve always felt a sacred connection to it and it’s beautiful to see a book that really embodies that feeling.

    I had understood that their was a focus on protecting water but I hadn’t realized there was imagery used in the story to connect the polution to pipelines. I was just thinking that this story was reminding me of the Dakota pipeline protests – what a powerful story to give in response to that. This book is an amazing choice for all children because it reminds us of the sacred value water has and why conservation efforts matter, no matter who you are, we all depend on water.

    I’m so glad to see you recommended Fry Bread! I loved that book so, so much. I’ll have to add We Are Grateful to my list. Other books I would reocommend include:

    Save the Bees by Bethany Stahl (Good for those wanting to read more about conservation efforts)

    Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Mendez (Great book about exploring what identity and home is)

    -Austyn Bolander

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  11. I am wondering if you have suggestions to offer to replace the creation of paper bag vests and pilgrim hats. We need to reframe the history of Thanksgiving to something more accurate. Adding this book helps, but we need to add other traditions as well. I, too, think this book is applicable for more than the 3-6 year old crowd. The message can dig deeply into the pipeline and protestors, or it can stay at a little kid level. As a musician, I always lean towards sharing music. There are many songs that came out of the Standing Rock protests. One can be found here.

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