Quill and Quire

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A Good Trade

by Alma Fullerton; Karen Patkau, illus.

To most North American children, being able to turn on a tap and have clean water come out is a given. The latest book from Alma Fullerton, with illustrations by Toronto author and artist Karen Patkau, should open children’s eyes to the fact that not everyone is so lucky.

A Good Trade portrays a day in the life of Kato, a young Ugandan boy who rises with the sun and travels barefoot to the water pump just outside his village to collect a day’s worth of water for his family. On this particular day, an aid worker comes to the village square with a delightful gift, and Kato is inspired to reciprocate her kindness.

Fullerton uses simple prose to relay the story of Kato’s walk to the pump and back, but she notes details – the sloshing of water in the jerry cans, the rumbling of the aid worker’s truck, the armed soldiers standing sentry in a field – that paint a complete picture. Kato’s harsh reality is illustrated through tender moments as well, such as when he splashes cold water on his dusty feet before starting the long trek home.

Patkau’s digital illustrations are a pleasant complement to Fullerton’s text, capturing the terrain of the village. The greens and browns of the landscape provide a muted backdrop to the children’s brightly coloured clothing and jerry cans. The hard lines and distinct coloration make the pictures leap off the page, as in one splendid image of children pumping water that captures the vibrancy of a girl’s dress, the texture of the children’s hair, and the leafy foliage.

There is much more to this gentle story than its obvious message about the hardships faced by others. The juxtaposition of happy children in a war-torn village, and the beautiful exchange between Kato and the aid worker, portray the endurance of childhood innocence, suggesting small joys can be found in imperfect places.