As soon as I began, I knew this was one I would not have wanted to miss. The story begins on a sweltering hot day. The plants are wilting with the dry heat, and Tessie and her mamma are wilting too. A rainstorm would be just the thing to revive the land. Tessie keeps her eye on the sky and sees a mass of gray clouds on the horizon. She leaps to action, making her mamma comfortable, putting on her bathing suit, and finding her friends, and her efforts are rewarded as the first big drops begin to fall. Tessie and her friends laugh and play, and soon even their mammas can't resist the call of the fresh rain.
As you might guess, it is often the illustrations that first grab my attention and make me want to read a picture book. Not so in this case (although, I must hurry to admit, not because they're not captivating in and of themselves). The words are wonderfully rich and descriptive, with a certain depth and insight I don't usually expect from picture books.
I hadn't thought to look at who the author was before I started reading, but you can bet it was the first thing I did after I read the last page. Karen Hesse. I should have known! There had been something familiar about the writing, something that immediately drew me in and made me feel the extreme contrast between the dry heat and the cool rain. I could immediately see the similarities between this story and my beloved Out of the Dust. In a way, I'm glad I didn't know it was Karen Hesse to begin with because it was wonderful to fall in love with her writing all over again without any pretense.
One of the best things about this story is the dialogue: simple and direct, it cuts through to the heart of the matter. I love this exchange:
"Is there thunder?" Mamma asks.
"No thunder," I say.
"Is there lightning?" Mamma asks.
"No lightning," Jackie-Joyce says.
"You stay where I can find you," Mamma says.
"We will," I say.
"Go on then," Mamma says, lifting the glass to her lips to take a sip.Tessie is a wonderful character. You'd think a picture book wouldn't offer a long enough glimpse to really make you love someone, but there were two details especially that made Tessie feel very real: first, she tells her friend Jackie-Joyce to get on her swimming suit, knowing that if Jackie-Joyce shows up in a suit, her Mamma is more likely to let Tessie get hers on, too. Then, she makes her mamma some iced tea and drops a spoonful of sugar in her mouth before she adds one to the cup. These two little tidbits told me that Tessie is inventive, creative, kind, a little bit devious, and has a sweet tooth. How can you not love someone like that?
I brushed past the illustrations at the beginning of this review because I was so mesmerized by the words, but the pictures (by Jon J. Muth) are really nothing to trifle with. They're done in watercolors, and the blurred quality lends itself perfectly to a story about rain. The older I get, the more I love the subtle brilliance of watercolors.
If you've been looking for the perfect book to read in August, this is it. I haven't read anything that captures the oppressive heat and the magic of a much-needed rainstorm so perfectly and so well.
"The rain has made us new." That says it all.