Reviewed by Paige Pagan
Review Source: Teaching for Change
Book Author: Beth Ferry
This joyful picture book for early elementary children emphasizes the transformative influence of friendship. Old Swashby is a recluse who retires to a small house on the beach to be closer to his only long-time friend, the playful sea. Life is solitary and serene for Swashby and the sea until a girl and her granny move into the empty house next door. Now life is loud for Swashby. He hides out in his house and only comes out to write messages to his new neighbors in the sand, begging them to leave.
However, with every new message from Swashby, the sea decides to fiddle with it, creating a revised, friendly version of the message. Swashby is annoyed by the energetic girl, but when she’s swept up by the sea, he quickly dives in to rescue her before granny has even reached the shoreline. Afterwards, Swashby whispers aloud to the sea, “I see what ye did,” (p. 25 ) and it becomes clear that the spirit of this lively girl is just like that of the clever sea. Finally, Swashby embraces this new friendship with the girl and her granny and young readers recognize that not only can children be the lesson-learners in a story, but so can elders.
In these images from the book, readers can see all of the aforementioned figurative elements present. The sea is personified as the most playfully meddlesome character in the book as she changes every message from Swashby into something welcoming and fun. The girl’s extroverted personality is aligned with the sea’s in juxtaposition with Swashby’s introversion, the irony of this being that Swashby is best friends with the sea and yet deems the girl to be the ultimate nuisance. Little by little, readers see Swashby warming up to the girl by the sea’s influence and eventually he saves her in an act of selflessness. The girl and the sea are his two friends who help him positively evolve. By the book’s end, children witness the creation of a different type of family unit, one that proves biology isn’t always the prime indicator of family.
The wealth of literary devices in this book, such as personification, juxtaposition, symbolism, irony, and repetition paired with the play on language, makes it an ideal book for an in-class read-aloud. Educators can also choose to layer this text with others on a number of thematic topics, such as friendship, elders, family, outcasts, and more. I recommend this book for both school instruction and wholesome at-home reading.
Swashby and the Sea by Beth Ferry
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on 2020
Genres: Family, Grandparents and Elders
Reading Level: Grade K
Review Source: Teaching for Change
Publisher's Synopsis: From New York Times best-selling author Beth Ferry and Caldecott Honor winner Juana Martinez-Neal comes a sweet-and-salty friendship story perfect for pirate-lovers and fans of The Night Gardener.
Captain Swashby loves the sea, his oldest friend. And he loves his life by the sea just as it is: salty and sandy and serene.
One day, much to Swashby's chagrin, a young girl and her granny commandeer the empty house next door. All Swashby wants is for his new neighbors to GO AWAY and take their ruckus with them.
When Swashby begins to leave notes in the sand for his noisy neighbors, however, the beach interferes with the messages that are getting across. Could it be that the captain's oldest friend, the sea, knows what Swashby needs even better than he knows himself?