Anna Carries Water by Olive Senior and Laura James

It’s really easy to get used to life with all the modern comforts and conveniences that we enjoy, and take them for granted. (And god forbid if our lives are interrupted by #firstworldproblems such as faulty air-conditioning, a power outage, no internet connection or even low water pressure.) Thus, Anna Carries Water is a refreshing read in more ways than one.

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Set in a rural part of Jamaica, where water — gasp! — does not come from a tap, this charming book tells the story of a little girl, Anna, who longs to be like her big brothers and sisters, who can skilfully balance various containers filled with water — hence, ‘carry water’ — on their heads as they make their daily trips to and from the spring to get water for drinking, cooking and “washing dirty feet before bed”. As the book informs us, they don’t take water for bathing or doing laundry because “Everyone bathed and washed clothes in the river.” Tsk, but of course — it makes perfect sense. Imagine the number of water-procuring trips one would have to make otherwise!

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While the story highlights somewhat primitive practices with regard to activities and needs that require water, the sumptuous illustrations richly bring to life Anna’s exotic yet distinctly un-stereotypical world — the lush countryside with lazily grazing cows is coupled with the close-knit family’s surprisingly modern clothing and cozy, well-furnished (with two cakes baking in the oven!) home that are not too different from those of typical ‘city folks’. In addition, anyone from any culture can readily identify with Anna’s relationship with her older siblings and her desire to emulate them.

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On a side note, perhaps the best way to bridge cultural differences and encourage children to embrace diversity is to highlight the commonalities amid the apparent surface differences — just like this book has done — so that more people can see that they really are more alike than they think.

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