A Children's Book Takes Wing as a Potent Tool for Water Education

A new book from two WEF staffers takes kids on a journey to discover the importance of water and the professionals who take care of it.

A Children's Book Takes Wing as a Potent Tool for Water Education

It’s an axiom in the water industry that protecting and conserving water is everyone’s job. The authors of a new book from the Water Environment Federation are taking that message to the very young.

This year, Lori Harrison (author) and husband Jon Harrison (illustrator) created Why Water’s Worth It, a 36-page children’s book that tells the story of water in engaging, rhyming language. Lori is director of creative projects, and Jon is an art director with WEF.

The story takes readers on a trip through the world of water — its uses, how it’s treated and delivered, the people who do the work, what it takes to protect and preserve it for the future, and more. It’s a simple story, just one or two colorful, watercolor-style pictures (more than 40 in all) and a few lines of text per page:

We need it to clean, to eat and to drink
It helps us to play, to work and to think …

Passionate people who love what they do
Work hard to clean water for me and for you …

We’re all in this cycle, we all live downstream
We’re in this together, we’re part of this team …

The book is available through www.wefmarketplace.org and major online channels. The Harrisons talked about their project, the motives behind it and their plans for it, in an interview with Treatment Plant Operator.

TPO: What is the history of the Water’s Worth It campaign?

Lori: Water’s Worth It is a campaign Jon and I created that was launched in 2012 and was very successful. Last year we decided to pick it back up and revitalize the messaging. In the course of that, we branched out to incorporate topics we hadn’t addressed, like resource recovery and stormwater. We also tried to make it more public-facing, whereas the initial audience consisted of WEF members and water professionals. In addition, we’ve had a lot requests for K-12 resources, so we decided to incorporate children, as the next generation of water leaders, into the messaging and the visuals.

TPO: How did the relaunch of Water’s Worth It lead to the creation of the book?

Lori: For the relaunch of Water’s Worth It at WEFTEC last year, we decided to focus on kids. Working with 522 Productions, a video company, we created a video built around a little girl reading a story about water. I wrote the script, and the production company created cover art for the book, which at that point was simply a prop; the book the girl was holding had nothing in it. Then once the video was released at WEFTEC, people started coming to our bookstore asking to buy the book. 

TPO: So you actually created the book in response to a demand?

Lori: That’s right. I worked with Jon to create a new storyboard for print rather than a video. He had to do about 40 original illustrations.

TPO: How were the illustrations created?

Jon: I started drawing by hand and did some mock-ups of what the artwork would look like, but then I took it over and drew everything on the computer. It’s all done in Adobe Illustrator, but still somewhat freehand. We wanted to make sure we maintained a watercolor feel and a hand-drawn aspect.

TPO: How long did it take to write the story?

Lori: The story took about an hour. I did start with a basic structure from working on the initial storyboard. I knew what the beginning, middle and end would be, and I knew what my call to action would be. Rhyming is slightly more challenging than straight prose, but because I had the structure already established, the words came together rather quickly.

TPO: The illustrations must have taken quite a bit more time.

Jon: I averaged about one two-page spread per day. I had to make sure we got the right action to capture the message of the lines on the page, and on top of that, I had to learn new techniques in how to create effective illustrations.

TPO: Children’s books need to target a specific age group. What’s your age target?

Lori: It’s aimed at early readers, ages 4-8, but we think it has appeal to readers of all ages. We’ve had adults come to us and say, “I didn’t know that.” Everybody can learn something. The appeal is that we cover the gamut of water, wastewater and stormwater management, and even a bit of the water cycle, in simple rhyme and verse. There a lot of books about the water cycle, conservation, plastics and taking care of the environment, and that’s all valuable. But our book covers how water is treated at all different levels. That sets it apart from other books.

TPO: At the back of the book are a couple of pages that seem more geared toward adults. What’s the function of that?

Lori: It’s intended to make the book a teaching tool. Parents and teachers can use that information as a jumping-off point for discussion. We give tips not just telling people to be engaged, but also ways in which they can actually do it. That has been a very popular part of the book and is one way to reach a broader range of ages.

TPO: Was it part of your intent to give credit to water professionals?

Jon: Yes. We consider water professionals as first responders, in the same manner as firefighters, police officers and EMTs. We thought it was valuable to show how important they are.

Lori: We also tried to deliver the message that everyone has a role to play. While we want to recognize water professionals and the valuable work they do, we all share responsibility to protect water. We want to empower children to feel like they are water protectors, too.

TPO: How have you gone about marketing this book?

Lori: We displayed it at the American Library Association annual conference in Washington, D.C. We were among publishers and thousands of books, and people actually came and sought us out. We’re also marketing the book as a foundational STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) resource. When we launched it, we visited schools, and the response from teachers and librarians was overwhelmingly positive. Kids in grades K-3 are learning about science concepts, and the book helps teachers jump off and say, “This is how we use some of the science, technology, engineering and math in real life.”

TPO: What comes next for your book?

Jon: The book is now translated in Spanish and French. Somebody asked for a Korean version, which we are looking into.

Lori: We are working on a hardcover, library-bound edition, and we’re looking into doing an e-book version. People at the library conference asked if we plan to do additional books, and we are exploring that idea. One thought is to cover different water topics. Another it to have an age progression: maybe bump it up to 9- to 12-year-olds and then to older kids until we dovetail with the technical focus that WEF is traditionally known for.

TPO: Do you see any spinoffs down the road?

Lori: We’re developing merchandise items as supplements to the book. On the WEF Marketplace, we have some Water’s Worth It T-shirts, and we have since added things more related to the book, like reusable stainless steel straws, magnets and a window cling that can be put on a toilet; it shows the Toilet Rules sign that’s in the book. We’ve developed a tote bag with illustrations from the book that kids can color. We also have free teacher resources that can be downloaded from www.watersworthit.org. We’re trying to create products that reinforce the messages in the book.

TPO: This must be quite an enjoyable experience for the two of you.

Jon: When I was asked as a kid what I wanted to be when I grew up, it was to be an illustrator.

Lori: And I always wanted to write a children’s book. So we stumbled into it, but we’ve had a dream come true. It’s nice to branch out into a new way to use creativity and reach a new audience. In the front of the book, there is a dedication page with a picture of a little water hero drawn by our daughter, Penelope. So it’s an entire Harrison family project.


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