National Drinking Water Clearinghouse
West Virginia University
PO Box 6893
Morgantown, WV

Teaching Children about the Hydrologic Cycle

by Harriet Emerson
On Tap Senior Editor

Water is essential for all life on this blue planet, and the way water moves between Earth, sky, and sea is a natural, yet fascinating cycle. Rain falls from clouds onto roofs and roads. Snow covers trees and mountains. Ice and snow melt, and like rain, flow into streams, ponds, and rivers. Water replenishes aquifers deep underground, filtering down, filling spaces in earth. Streams and rivers flow to the sea. The sun’s warmth turns water to vapor, and draws it up into clouds. And it rains again, and water trickles down through the Earth and cracks in rocks.

How can we introduce children to this wonderful water cycle? How do kids learn best about the hydrologic cycle and how important drinking water is? Children are naturally curious and like to know how things work. Kids like stories, rhythm, rhyme, and bright color. They love information, particularly if it’s interesting, strange, or silly.
Today there are dozens of wonderful, colorful books about water. This is a review of first learning books, primarily picture and story books for children aged four to eight.

Telling Water’s Story

Picture books or poetry are wonderful introductions for children of any age, including babies and kids too young to read by themselves. Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses has been a favorite children’s book for more than 100 years. He writes about natural things, such as rain and rivers. Decades before I researched drinking water, one of my favorite books was about the hydrologic cycle. Over and over I read how rain falls, and troops of raindrops, leaning forward trudged up a rainbow to become clouds again.

Once past story books, there was geography class, little Golden Nature Guides, and the World Book Encyclopedia. The cost of these books reviewed ranges from $3.50 to $20.00. Text varies from nonfiction to easy-to-read poetry. And illustrations range from cartoon character drawings to stunning art, such as Thomas Locker’s oil paintings and Walter Wick’s photography. Because most children still learn about the hydrologic cycle in geography class, I didn’t review school books or water curriculums.

Often in books about the hydrologic cycle, content or pictures spills over into weather or the way rivers run, thus several books concentrate on rain, clouds, or rivers. Several books discuss the hydrologic cycle but include additional information about the color spectrum, rainbows.

Where do we begin?
Among the best beginning books are The Water’s Journey, written and illustrated by Eleonore Schmid; Peter Spier’s Rain; and Lola Schaefer’s This Is the Rain. Schmid’s book, is a beautiful, quiet book named to the John Burroughs List of Nature Books for Young Readers in 1990. The Association of Booksellers for Children named The Water’s Journey a Living in a Peaceful World Book. Schmid is Swiss and the paintings have a distinctively European feel.

Peter Spier’s Rain is a Reading Rainbow book, which contains 84 delightful paintings and no words. Children who like Richard Scarry books with no text and lots of action will love Rain. The pictures give kids a chance to tell the story themselves. Schaffer’s This Is the Rain, combines poetry with bright, wild graphics. This book has a wonderful rhythm and the type of text a young child will ask parents to read over and over. It begins:
“This is the ocean,
blue and vast,
that holds the rain water
from the past …”

Artist Jane Wattenberg, who illustrated the book, combined photographs into computer collages to give this a totally modern and very unusual look. Among the nicest books about water for those of all ages are Thomas Locker’s Water Dance, named an Outstanding Science Trade Book for Children, and Cloud Dance. Locker, whose distinctive Hudson River style oil paintings grace at least 30 children’s books, combines science and art with poetic prose and beautiful landscapes. Water Dance is his primary book about the hydrologic cycle, although Cloud Dance touches upon it also. Locker’s later books include a section in the back with several pages of scientific information researched and written by Candace Christiansen, a science teacher and writer. Miniature Locker pictures accompany this additional information. Locker’s books have been honored with numerous awards, including the Christopher Award, the John Burroughs Ward, and the New York Times Award for best illustration.

Children, as well as many adults, find pop-up books irresistible. Water, written by Francois Michel and illustrated by Yves Larvor, is such a book. Michel is a well-known French children’s book author, geologist, mountain climber, and educational filmmaker. Larvor is widely known in France for his magazine and advertisement illustrations.

Water, first published in France, is referred to as a “lift-the-flap guide to our most valuable resource.” Additional information about water is included under flaps in the picture. There’s a spectacular double page where you can pull a tab and watch all the water drain from a tub, toilet, and washer down into a sewer beneath the street. Keith Brandt’s What Makes It Rain? The Story of a Raindrop, is also a nice little book about the hydrologic cycle with water color illustrations by Yoshi Miyake. It is very easy to read.

What about dancing raindrops?
The scientific purist may object to raindrops that talk, hug each other, and say “excuse me” when they bump each other, but kids love them. The Raindrops’ Adventure: From Raindrops to Rainbows, written and illustrated by Kimberly Kerr, is a colorful book populated by cute raindrops that wear galoshes and sometimes carry an umbrella. Kerr’s book is written in rhymes.

Kerr’s book goes beyond the hydrologic cycle into rainbows and color spectrums. It includes many fun extras, such as activity pages and a bookmark. Scholastic, which produces books for teachers to enhance in-class studies, offers two animated hydrologic cycle books: Elsie Ward’s Follow a Raindrop: The Water Cycle, a Super-Science Readers book, and The Magic School Bus: Wet All Over: A Book About the Water Cycle by Joanna Cole and illustrated by Bruce Degen.

In the latter book, the children in Ms. Frizzle’s class take a trip down the river encapsulated in water drops. The Magic School Bus is also a Public Broadcasting System television project funded primarily by the National Science Foundation and Microsoft. Ward’s Follow a Raindrop includes a teacher’s guide and six little books for students. Both books are cute and a little silly.

Water and More Water
Scholastic Press offers a most amazing water book Drop of Water: A Book of Science and Wonder by Walter Wick. This nonfiction book is written for a slightly older reading level. Wick took experiments illustrated in early science books, replicated the experiments and photographed things like a pin floating on the water surface, an egg splashing water out of a glass, and drops caught in mid-air. This is a fascinating book for water lovers of any age.

Locker’s Where the River Begins is a story book about just that: how the river meanders through the countryside. This is one of Locker’s earlier books and doesn’t include additional scientific information; however, the paintings of rural scenery are beautiful. Meredith Hooper’s River Story, illustrated with iridescent water colors is another lovely river story book. Both Hooper’s and Locker’s books are nicely written and easy-to- read.

This article provides a brief review of some of the wonderful water information available for children. And when looking for answers, don’t forget about atlases. Susanna van Rose and Anita Ganeri’s The Big Atlas of the Earth and Sea: The Forces that Make and Shake Our Planet is a particularly nice atlas. Although the reading level is more difficult than in the story books, it is beautifully written and has stunning cutaway illustrations.

What’s on the Web?
The Internet offers some great Web sites for kids—with animated hydrologic cycles and happy little guides, such as Lehigh Valley Water Suppliers’ three-dimensional Dewey at and The Groundwater Foundation’s G.W. Gecko, official mascot of the Awesome Aquifer Club, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a very cool kids site at All three sites provide animated hydrologic cycles.

Did you know that the Dead Sea is the saltiest sea in the world or that the first water pipes in the U.S. were made of logs? Dewey at the Lehigh Valley Web site has lots of information like that and offers many ways for kids to learn and play, including “Water Filtration: Follow a Water Drop.”

This animated hydrologic cycle tour gives kids choices, such as “go to the ocean” or “go to the treatment plant.” The text includes lines like: “Waiting for Action: Here in the home’s plumbing system you may sit for awhile with your molecule friends . . . ”

Did you know that a gecko can’t move his eyelids, which means its eyes are open all the time? Geckos lick their eyelids with their tongues to keep them clean and moist. The Groundwater Foundation Web site includes many fascinating tidbits like this.

The Groundwater Foundation is perhaps best known for its water festivals, now held in schools and communities around the country. Water festivals are a fun way for kids to learn about water. Past festival activities include, Gooey Garbage, where kids constructed a leaky landfill and learned how properly constructed landfills protect groundwater; Aquifer on the Go—kids learn about aquifers by building their own mini-aquifer to take home.

The organization offers books, such as Making Ripples: How to Organize a School Water Festival, that take a teacher or parent through the steps needed to create a successful festival. Kids can e-mail G.W. Gecko at and he’ll answer questions. You may also buy other items, such as a tape of water songs created by nationally known folk singer and writer Ann Bailey-Rowland and very cute G.W. Gecko stickers.

The EPA Web site provides great information for kids in addition to their animated water cycle, including water bloopers, water trivia, word scramble and word searches, and a good list of links. EPA offers a great list of books, activities, and posters, including “Ground Water and Land Use in the Water Cycle” and “Water: Every Living Thing Depends On It!” EPA provides separate Web pages for students and teachers.

Please Note
The books discussed in this article may be ordered through your local book store or online. I’ve included the retail price of the books primarily for comparison. It is possible to buy many at lower prices than those listed, and I found several of them on clearance tables. This is by no means an exhaustive list of books or Web sites. Parents, teachers, water professionals, or children are invited to e-mail and suggest books and Web sites.

Children’s Water Books:
Bailey-Rowland, Ann. Excuse Me Sir, That’s My Aquifer. The Groundwater Foundation. Cassette tape with songs, booklet of sing-along-lyrics, background notes, and student activities. $14.50.

* Brandt, Keith. 1982. What Makes It Rain? The Story of a Raindrop. USA: Troll Associates. Watercolor. Illustrator: Yoshi Miyake. $3.50.

* Hooper, Meredith. 1998. The Drop in My Drink: The Story of Water on Our Planet. New York: Viking Press, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc. $16.99.

* Hooper, Meredith. 2000. River Story. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press. Oil, pastel, acrylic and pencil. Illustrator: Bee Willey. $15.99.

* Kerr, Kimberly. 1999. The Raindrops’ Adventure: From Raindrops to Rainbows. Sewickley, PA: Kimberly Kerr Press. Illustrator: Kimberly Kerr.

* Locker, Thomas. 1997. Water Dance. New York: Harcourt Brace and Company. $16.

* Locker, Thomas. 1984. Where the River Begins. New York: Puffin Books. $6.99.

* Locker, Thomas. 2000. Cloud Dance. New York: Silver Whistle/Harcourt Inc. $16.

Michel, Francois. 1993. Water. New York: Lothrup, Lee, and Shepard Books.Illustrator: Yves Larvor. $19.95.
Rauzon, Mark J. and Cynthia Overbeck. Water, Water Everywhere. San Francisco: Sierra Club. $6.95.

* Relf, Patricia. 1996.The Magic School Bus Wet All over: A Book About the Water Cycle. New York: Scholastic Inc. $3.50.

* Schaefer, Lola M. This Is the Rain. 2001. New York: Green Willow Books. Illustrator: Jane Wattenberg. $15.95

* Schmid, Eleonore. 1989. The Water’s Journey. New York: North-South Books. $5.95.

* Spier, Peter. Peter Spier's Rain (Reading Rainbow Book). New York: Picture Yearling Books. $6.99.

* Stevenson, Robert Louis. A Child's Garden of Verses.

van Rose, Susanna, and Anita Ganeri. 1999. The Big Atlas of the Earth and Sea: The Forces that Make and Shake Our Planet. New York: DK Publishing, Inc. Covent Garden Books. Illustrators: Richard Bonson and Luciano Corbella. pp. 38–52.

* Ward, Elsie. Follow a Raindrop: The Water Cycle. New York: Scholastic, Inc. Super Science Reader Books. Includes six copies of student booklets. $10.95.
Wick, Walter. 1997. Drop of Water: A Book of Science and Wonder. New York: Scholastic Press. Illustrator: Walter Wick. $16.95.

* Denotes an easy-to-read book.

More on the Web
• Blue Thumb Project -

• Educating young people about water offers 143 drinking water curriculums for children -

• Enchanted Learning -

• Franklin Institute Online -

• Geography for Kids -

• Mojave Water -

• Teach the Children Well is a collection of links on more than 50 topics for use by students in grades K-4 as well as their parents and teachers. -

• Water Education for Teachers -

• Water Science for Schools -

• Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources -

About the Author
Harriet Emerson, MSJ, National Environmental Services Center publications supervisor, edited On Tap for five years. She has received awards for writing and art including an award for a children’s book and a 1998 West Virginia Division of Culture and History Fellowship in Literature.

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