Picture Book Review: The Water Lady

My Top Ten Reasons to read The Water Lady: How Darlene Arviso Helps a Thirsty Navajo Nation

Text by Alice McGinty; Illustrations by Shonto Begay

Schwartz & Wade Books; 2021

Grandmother Darlene Arviso delivers water via tanker truck to hundreds of people in the Navajo Nation on a daily basis. As author Alice McGinty shares, “Darlene is a friend, psychologist, and social worker as well as the Water Lady.” In this modern day tale the tremendous sense of community shines despite the people on the reservation lacking so much most of us take for granted. This Age Positive picture book shines a light on a compassionate and hardworking older woman.

  1. True stories about unsung heroes are an absolute favorite of mine. “Almost forty percent of the people living on the Navajo reservation do not have running water in their homes. Darlene delivers 3,500 gallons of water to 10-12 homes a day, taking a month to visit each of the 220 homes on her route.”

  1. Parallel tales highlight Darlene’s day and that of Cody, a thirsty young boy living on the reservation and dependent on her water deliveries.


  1. This competent, caring grandmother holds down two jobs. She drives a school bus twice a day and in between she drives a “big yellow tanker truck;” first filling it with more than 3000 gallons of water.

  1. Young readers will gain eye opening insights into life without easy access to water rushing from a faucet. They’ll learn of the animals and people and their water needs.


  1. Water conservation efforts are explained simply and colorfully.

Darlene “knows that the families will make careful use of their gift:

They’ll fill the chickens’ feeders with just enough fresh water.

They’ll catch each drop from a shower to water the flowers.

They’ll reuse dishwater to mop floors and bathwater to do laundry.

They’ll use laundry water again to wash the car.”

  1. Illustrator Shonto Begay shows us the hot, dry and dusty terrain and the hardy people beautifully. He was born to a Navajo medicine man and attended the Institute of American Indian Arts in Sante Fe, New Mexico.



  1. Author Alice McGinty uses masterful text to also highlight the sensory satisfaction of “cool water sliding down his throat” and the landscape so different from what many of us know:

“Thick, dry heat muffles the land as Darlene guides the big yellow truck, heavy with water, up and down steep hills. She winds between mesas and rolls across valleys dotted with sun-baked shrubs.”


  1. There are two grandmothers in The Water Lady and they’re quite different from each other. This is reality and it’s important to remind children that older adults are actually more different from each other than kids are. Years of lived experience will do that to people. No one’s experience is exactly the same.

  1. The back matter is brief, but highly informative—including an author’s note, sources and a photograph of Darlene Arviso, the devoted Water Lady. A glossary at the book’s beginning tells us “The Navajo refer to themselves as Dine`, a word that means “the people.” Navajo was a name given to them by Europeans.


  1. Last but not least, this lovely book ends with a note from Darlene herself. She states her wish that the younger generation gets more in touch with the older generation “and listens to their stories and tales of the old days so that our history and tradition will not be lost.”


Water conservation activities for kids:

  • After asking kids for guesses regarding which household activities use the most water, you can consult this LA Times article for some surprising information on personal water usage.


  • Consult the Water Footprint Calculator to learn the shocking statistics related to water quantities needed to produce much of the food we eat.


I reviewed a library copy of The Water Lady: How Darlene Arviso Helps a Thirsty Navajo Nation.


For more fabulous picture book reviews go to the blog of Susanna Leonard Hill for Perfect Picture Book Friday.


Find my reviews of more true stories about amazing older adults.

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8 Responses to Picture Book Review: The Water Lady

  1. Ann Harrell says:

    This sounds wonderful, Lindsey – meaningful on several levels!

  2. Thanks for sharing this thought-provoking book and introducing us to a remarkable hero. I hope this will focus attention of the lack of water. It is shocking that this problem exists in so many homes.

    • lindseymcd says:

      Thanks for your comment Claire! It is definitely thought provoking for those of us not used to thinking constantly about our use of water!

  3. Jilanne F Hoffmann says:

    I lived in Tucson many years ago while I was finishing up my undergrad, and became so attuned to water issues—that have only gotten worse, due in no small part to the number of golf courses that have spread around the city. This book will be a terrific education in water conservation, in addition to opening kids’ eyes to the fact that millions of people, including many Native Americans in the United States don’t have access to safe drinking water unless it’s brought to them in containers or tank vehicle. Great pick, Lindsey!

    • lindseymcd says:

      So you’ve seen the issue up close Jilanne–its very sobering isn’t it? So much to consider, just what is essential in these changing times. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  4. Such a fascinating book. Thank you for this great review, Lindsey. I’ve got it on hold at my library. I appreciate your comment about the diversity of grandparents (older people) and their unique experiences. I hope this encourages people to connect, before those stories are lost forever.

  5. This sounds like a wonderful book – not many people are aware of just how limited water resources are in the southwest. What a generous woman… I look forward to reading this one.

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