Last night I asked my daughter to bring me home a few books from the bookstore where she works to add to my collection. One of the books she brought me was The Water Hole by Graeme Base, who also happens to have written one of my all time favourites, Animalia. Although The Water Hole isn’t new (published in 2001 by Puffin), like all of his other books, it is pure genius.
The story is a simple one, about various animals which come to water hole to drink. As the book progresses, the hole, which is a cut out in the page and looks like a progressively smaller series of ripples in the water, gradually shrinks until it finally disappears. Of course the wasteland that is left is no place for animals, and they too disappear. But, Base knows the importance of leaving young readers with a positive message. A shadow that falls across the sun is caused by a cloud. From that cloud, a single drop of rain falls eventually replenishing the water hole and signaling the return of the animals.
There are many wonderful parts to this book. The illustrations are rich and lush, and evocative and filled with detail. The author/illustrator has chosen to use each illustration to depict a different ecosystem with the common thread being the water hole. Thus, young readers see the animals and plants dependent upon water holes in Africa, India, China, and Australia to name a few. By doing widening the breadth of his subject, he has created a world rather than regional focus, and drawn our attention to the importance of a balanced ecosystem.
The Water Hole not just a beautiful art book, or an ecology book for the young, although it is each of those. Base’s real talent lay in his ability to fuse the afore-mentioned elements with a counting book and puzzle book to create something uniquely wonderful. Children will return again and again to the lush illustrations to search for hidden animals, as well as to the sepia and black panels that line the top and bottom of each page.. Kids will never tire of it, nor will adults.
Each time I open one of Graeme Base’s books, I wonder why more authors and illustrators of children’s books aren’t following his creative lead.