If you’ve ever stared down at the pool from a high board and wondered what you’re doing up there, you’ll love Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall. “Sometimes if I feel a little scared, I take a deep breath and tell myself I am ready,” Jabari’s father tells him. “Sometimes it stops feeling scary and feels a little like a surprise.”

It’s all Jabari needs to climb back up on that board.

The suspense-filled pages by author-illustrator and surface designer Cornwall are their own surprising revelation. She uses size and placement of picture elements to enliven every page. Gestural silhouettes of the figures and the negative space between them galvanize the storytelling. Here’s narrative design at its best!

Hey Water! by award-winning author-illustrator Antoinette Pottis pulls us (gently) into the protean powers and immense awesomeness of water. The graphics feel like silkscreen prints but actually were made with brush and Sumi ink, meshing expert dry brushing with digital color.

It’s a concept book tour de force that serves up as much poetry as it does science. Who knew such spare, playful, breezy pictures (and text) could convey major lessons in chemistry, biology, geography, and ecology?

The stark graphic novel style of A Different Pond by poet Bao Phi, and acclaimed illustrator Thi Bui, underscores the seriousness of the premise: Water means food means survival. You can see the strong influence of Maurice Sendak’s unsentimentally poignant art in Bui’s images. Her dark, hard-lined panels center on important family relationships and childhood associations. They’re also steeped in the melancholy of the outsider-immigrant experience.

“[Bui’s] illustrations caused seismic emotional waves to careen through me through this entire process,” the author writes. We feel them, too.

This family faces hard struggles but holds together as it makes its way in a busy land that barely sees them. The shadowy night palettes and harsh black outlines intensify the feeling of deprivation and an invisible, almost furtive way of life. We follow father and son’s pre-dawn trek to a bait shop, then a large pond under a highway bridge, where they encounter others, too, a convivial Hmong and a black man, fishing, like them, not for sport, but for meals.

Look for the objects of a poor American Vietnamese childhood remembered in the endpapers.

Wet by Cary Sookocheff celebrates being wet with all its many variations and nuances. It’s told from a kid’s point of view, in first person, with a game-like playfulness.

“My fish is always wet!” our chronicler observes at one page turn.

Minimalist rectangles, squares, stripes, and other geometric shapes punctuate the vast white horizontal expanse, like islands in an ocean of negative space.

My wife, Julie, who has years of elementary school library and classroom teaching and edits this blog, said, “The pictures read so well. You can see and understand them across the room, which makes them perfect for storytime.”

A pleasing pale blue guides us through pages, continually pointing our eye to instances of water. Wetness looms everywhere and sometimes causes dismay. But at day’s end, in a clean bedroom and dry pajamas, nothing is wet. Except a boy’s face from good night kisses.

Eric Yi Lin of Cafe Watercolor demonstrates a knockout shoreline scene with rippling reflections. Wonderful demo!

Nitin Singh makes painting water look easy in this recorded lesson.

Now let’s go below the surface in this marvelous ‘underseascape’ from the fishes’ point of view by Javid Tabatabaei

Free PDF: Three quick paths Into the Water

Interested in more tips from the pros? Check out my article in which three talented watercolorists (Earnest V. Ward, Jr., Mary Ann Pope, and Patrick Waldemar) shared their best secrets for ‘saying water’ in their scenes.
You can download it here (Art left by Earnest V. Ward)

Watercolor by Earnest Ward