Imaginative nonfiction telling the story of water

Who's it for?

Sharing at storytime or reading independently   4-7 years

Sharing and exploring through creative cross-curricular activities   4-11 years

Adapt our activities to suit your children’s interests and abilities

About this book

Written by a poet who knows how to make words sing, this is nonfiction with a difference – an imaginatively immersive “experience with facts” that’s every bit as refreshing as the clear blue water bubbling across each page. 

Pleasing aesthetics are a key feature of this lovely book. Every word, every blank space, every drop of ink has been carefully considered for maximum effect, and Nomoco’s stylishly understated illustrations are a particular delight.

Simply yet perfectly pitched for young readers, there’s a depth and quality to this book that extends its appeal. Shared as an introduction to watery topics and creative activities it will engage and inspire children right through primary school.

“As Robert Frost said, a poem is ‘a fresh look and a fresh listen’ and that’s what I always try to achieve in my work – to put a new spin on something, to show that subject in a new light” James Carter talking to CoT - see blog hereJames Carter is an award-winning poet as well as a nonfiction writer, and in the last seventeen years has performed and delivered workshops in more than a thousand schools. You can find him at  

Nomoco also works under her full name, Kazuko Nomoto. She is a graphic and communications designer as well as a picturebook illustrator and artist. You can find her at and at

Why have we chosen it?

There are plenty of websites that explain the water cycle but who wants to wade through impenetrable text and clip art when they could be reading a really good picturebook like this? 
Creating great non-fiction for younger readers is harder than it appears - there are beautiful books out there on all sorts of topics, but many are more successful visually than textually. But the titles in James Carter’s non-fiction series don’t just look good, they sound good, too - as a seasoned performance poet and storyteller, he is well-placed to write factual books that read well aloud and are sensitive to the needs of their audience. 

“I go over the text many thousands of times to check that it flows, that the scansion is just perfect,” Carter says. “Being a poet I’m obsessed with words and the musicality of language… so it’s my job to find the right words and the right combinations of words to explore and express any topic I write about….Many pages (in traditional non-fiction) are really fact-heavy and can be written in quite an adult discourse. I love facts,” he adds, “but I don’t want them on every page. I want a young reader to see how something came about, and where and when and why it evolved.”

In Once Upon a Raindrop Carter is highly selective about the information he includes, and presents it within a relevant, accessible and entertaining narrative. “These books are NOT the be-all-and-end-all on each topic…” he observes, “just an overview, a gentle insight or introduction…. Most non-fiction books for children are not the kind… you would necessarily want to read from cover to cover (but) I want to tell stories about real things, from music to science, evolution to language. I like the idea with this series that I am giving the reader an immersive, enjoyable but informative linear journey through a topic.”      

Carter’s approach to narrative nonfiction – one in which he spends as much time omitting facts as including them, and hones his words with the care of an absolute enthusiast – is refreshingly welcome and, paired with Nomoco’s sophisticated minimalism, will have a wide appeal. 

“Many contemporary children’s non-fiction books look great – with sumptuous graphics and illustrations, but so many pages are really fact-heavy and can sometimes be written in quite an adult discourse. I like facts, I love facts, but I don’t want them on every page in my books, particularly in this series. I want to a young reader / class to to see how something came about, and where and when and why it evolved.” Poet James Carter talking to CoT about writing non-fiction books for children: read the full interview here

Sharing and talking about this book

This is a text that reads well aloud - a little bit of practice before sharing will help you catch the rhymes and rhythms and let those words sing!

When you’ve finished reading, talk about the book. What did you like best? Did anything surprise you? How do the illustrations make you feel? Are they good illustrations for a watery book? Why?

How do your kids enjoy themselves in the water, and how do they stay safe when they’re playing or swimming? How and why is water important for good health?

Involving children as you read The text accompanying the image of the earth orbiting the sun would make a great chant - cloud, rain river, sea, water cycles endlessly – or you could ask children to respond with water cycles endlessly (making a rotating action with both hands) when they hear the words cloud, rain river, sea. And how about inviting them to dip their fingers in a bowl of water to touch the world-wide wet...?

What next? Activities...

Dripping, dropping, gushing, pouring… observe water on the move - as rain, in streams, or disappearing down the plughole - and collect words and phrases to describe it. Use your wordhoard to help you compose your own poems (kennings? haikus? water-droplet shape poems?) then illustrate.

“Sun heats sea which turns to clouds that trail the sky and drift around... and over land those clouds will cool and spill their rain in puddles, pools… lakes and streams and rivers too, then on to feed the sea anew ”

Explore the movements made by ‘cloud, rain, river, sea’, then add sound effects and music to help you act out the water cycle. Add watery costumes and props to create your own performance!

Make raindrop mobiles by cutting raindrop-shaped pieces of card (look at the spread starting That wet stuff we call H2O…) and decorate on one side with watery designs. On the other side of each drop write a watery adjective or descriptive phrase, than hang in a rainy cloud from your ceiling.


Let Nomoco's swimming-pool endpapers inspire artwork of your own

Look at the endpapers and spot the swimmers in the waves! How many can you find?

Where do your children play and swim in the water? What’s it like to swim or jump through waves?

Cut rolls of inky-blue paper into wave-shaped strips and tape into position on a wall, using Nomoco’s endpapers to guide your design. Ask children to draw or paint themselves swimming or playing in the waves and add their cut-outs to your frieze.

Invite children to introduce their figures verbally – how do their picture-selves feel as they’re playing in the water? What are they thinking? Add thought-bubbles for each character.

Re-read this book, thinking and talking about the words James Carter chose and the way he wrote the text. Which words do you like best, and why? 

Can you find any rhymes? What about repetition? Are there passages that ‘almost rhyme’? Find them!

Would you call the text of this book a poem? 

Ask children to choose a factual subject and research it, then tell people about it using poetic language

Encourage your kids to 

  • be selective about what they include
  • choose the best words
  • find vivid ways to explain facts or make them relevant 
  • keep reading their work aloud - to see how it sounds, whether it makes sense and is interesting, whether it repeats itself…
  • edit their work as a result

Depending on their age and experience, children could include poetic devices such as rhyme, alliteration, assonance and onomatopoeia - but encourage them to use these with care (and sparingly!)

Once children have written and edited their texts, why not create a homemade non-fiction library of illustrated books? You’ll find tutorials online showing how to cut and stitch a hardback book or make an origami softback.

Find out about the life story of a river and make a list of features you find at different stages along its course (source or spring, valley, rapids, waterfall, meander, floodplain, estuary…)

Look at the spread that starts “That ICE turned liquid, boiled to gas…’ How would you describe Nomoco’s illustration and how do you think she created it? 

Is this a realistic depiction of a river? Why do you think Nomoco painted the trees blue, and why did she leave so much blank space?

Using different shades of ink, paint and other media, create a snaky blue river across a sheet of friezepaper or wallpaper - from source to estuary. Decide how to represent the river’s features and surrounding landscape (as collaged symbols? painted directly onto your background?) and add them, using Nomoco’s illustration to help you consider your own design and layout. How will you label your infographic? Do you need to add further information? 

Copyright Nomoco for Caterpillar Books

Go for a ‘wet walk’ wearing your raincoat and wellies, visit your local swimming baths or take a trip to the river, lake or beach. Observe and record what you can see, hear, smell, feel and taste. Take photographs, sketch and make audio recordings. Talk about your experiences and use to inspire different kinds of writing and artwork - or use as a hands-on experience to introduce one of the watery activities suggested here.

Copyright Nomoco for Caterpillar Books

Explore watery science from floating and freezing to colour-mixing, dyeing and chromatography – search online for  activities to suit your kids.

Have a go at making frozen water-based lollies, then steam some vegetables or dimsum. Invent recipes for your own water-based fruity drinks, then taste-test your results. 

How do we collect water and make it safe for use? And how can we conserve water and reduce our consumption? 

Look at the facts at the end of this book. How much is a gallon? A litre? What do really big numbers like a thousand (or 326 million trillion…) gallons mean? Can you come up with an idea or diagram that helps make sense of it?

“(Nomoco’s) illustrations are so liquid, so fluid that they almost seem wet on the page…” James Carter talking to CoT Look at the spread that reads “always restless, water’s falling, dripping, dropping, gushing pouring…” and talk about it. Try dripping and dropping ink and watercolour onto paper to see what kind of marks you make, then use dip pens to turn your drops into finished artwork. 

Nomoco’s illustration for the wave spread was inspired by Japanese artist Hokkusai. Look at Hokkusai’s The Great Wave and compare with Nomoco’s design. Can you illustrate a giant wave?

Copyright Nomoco for Caterpillar Books

If you liked this, try...

Once Upon a Star by James Carter and Mar Hernandez, Caterpillar Books 2018

The Big Beyond by James Carter and Aaron Cushley, Caterpillar Books 2019

A River by Marc Martin, Templar 2016

Float by Daniel Miyares, Simon and Schuster 2016

Hey Water! by Antoinette Portis, Neal Porter Books 2019

Wave by Suzy Lee, Chronicle Books 2008

The Rhythm of the Rain by Grahame Baker Smith, Templar 2018

Zim Zam Zoom, poetry by James Carter illustrated by Nicola Colton, Otter Barry Books 2018

River Story by Meredith Hooper and Bee Willey,   

The River: An Epic Journey to the Sea by Patricia Hegarty and Hanako Clulow, Caterpillar

The Dam by David Almond and Levi Pinfold, Walker Studio 2018

Rain by Sam Usher, Templar 2016

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You'll find Once Upon a Raindrop and lots more on our Extra-special nonfiction: WATER booklist, to view it click HERE

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