Monday, November 21, 2011

Water, Water, Anywhere?

Except for times of drought when we’re asked to water our lawns before and after 10 o’clock on set days of the week, we take water for granted.

In the mid-1800’s our ancestors didn’t have that luxury. They couldn’t pretend they were opera stars singing in daily hot showers or gulp a glass of cool water from the kitchen sink. If they wanted water to keep their cattle, crops, and themselves alive, they had to hire a dowser, a person with the gift of finding water.

Not everyone had this gift. It seems to me that a dowser must have been as necessary to his community as a doctor. A dowser would have his future planned and his security assured. Wouldn’t he? But what if the dowser was determined to escape the reach of his gift and do something else?

THE WATER SEEKER by Kimberly Willis Holt, Christy Ottaviano Books, 2010

Dowser and trapper Jake Kinkaid uses a forked branch to make his living. He’s saving his money so he can stop dowsing and do what he wants. The plan is simple. Jake’s life gets complicated.

A wild, red-headed woman named Delilah runs to Jake’s cabin to escape her abusive father. In very short order, they marry, produce a son, and Delilah dies, leaving Jake to raise his son, Amos, alone. Amos inherits his mother’s artistic talents and his father’s gift of dowsing, but, as the reader learns, Amos is not entirely alone. Other women who love and care for Delilah’s boy, sometimes see a wild, red-haired apparition who seems more approving than threatening.

Jake’s gift of dowsing doesn’t make him happy. He longs to spend all his time hunting and trapping. As a scout for a wagon train going west, he is injured trying to rescue another man on a treacherous river crossing and his leg must be amputated. By now Amos is 14. He knows that he, too, has the gift of dowsing, but he keeps it to himself because he knows how unhappy his father is about his own gift. Instead, he tries to help his disabled father dowse and struggles to keep him from falling into a deep depression.

Amos’s life parallels the expansion of our country during the middle part of the 18th century. This is historical fiction at its best. As the author follows Amos from his birth in 1833 to the birth of Amos’s son in 1859, the reader absorbs how the early pioneers learned to work together, take care of each other, share, grow, settle, and branch out with their own families.

Author Holt won the National Book Award for When Zachary Beaver Came To Town, and her book My Louisiana Sky was made into a movie. She was launched on her quest for information for The Water Seeker when her own husband mentioned that his father was a dowser. Mentioned? What a happy discovery! There is more on her website:

This book should travel well in the days ahead. Tuck it into your tween’s carry-on. A book can stay open after the captain orders all electronic devices shut down.


  1. The Water Seeker sounds like a book my 10 year old son would love. Me too!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Ali. What books does your son suggest for other guys? I love to hear about the titles young readers have discovered.


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