You know how a lot of English teachers say they got into the profession to “get kids to love books” or “create lifelong readers?” Well, I was one of them. It sounds trite now, but I DREAMED of my kids talking excitedly over the books they are reading. And it happened! And although it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what teachers REALLY do, it was awesome.

But do you know what’s really awesome? When your OWN kid…the one you’re feeding, clothing, reading bedtime stories to…the kid you’re raising…tells you about how she loved a book so much that she shared it with a friend. And then with her sister. And then with her dad and me.

And that is where The Water Princess by Susan Verdeand Georgie Badiel comes in. It’s based on the life of Georgie Badiel, a model who grew up in Burkina Faso. She tells the story of how each morning, a girl named Gie Gie travels long distances with her mother to collect water for her family. Tess told me how Gie Gie longed for cool, crystal-clear water. She was saddened by the way Gie Gie’s mother had to boil the water before they could drink it. She was inspired by Gie Gie’s strength and perseverance.

I asked Tess if she still had this book, and she said “No way, Mom! I returned it to the library so my friend could check it out next. I told her about it and she was excited to read it.” My heart melted. One: because my kid shared a book with her friend! Two: because it was a book that was written to make the world a better place.

Well, we got ourselves to the library and checked it out. Elsa fell in love with it, “reading” it to herself using the pictures for an hour after Joe read it to her the first time. I also loved it: the way it paints the loving relationship between Gie Gie and her family, how real and relatable Gie Gie is with her frustrations and elations, and the way it creates awareness around the lack of access to water while celebrating the beauty of the people and the land of Gie Gie’s kingdom.

Reading really is about community: both in the ways that we share books with the people closest to us (the way Tess did) and in the way it connects us to people we don’t even know (the way The Water Princess does.) Both are important tools for building dialogue and understanding between people as close as sisters and as remote as strangers.

If you want to inspire empathy in your kids and help them understand the challenges of a corner of the world far from here, read The Water Princess. It ends with pictures of people living in Georgie’s childhood home, gathering water (first from a river, then from a well) and a note from the authors about Badiel’s foundation and the work she is doing to raise awareness and money to build wells in Burkina Faso and beyond.

At the very least, check out the following websites:

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