Swashby and the Sea – Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

I don’t know about you all, but I’m desperately feeling the need for a little sweetness of spirit and connection. When this book arrived this week, it felt like it could help heal a tiny part of what’s broken in our world.

Swashby’s an old salt, a curmudgeon, a grumpy old man who has no need for anything but the sea….or so he thinks.

Text ©️Beth Ferry Illustration ©️Juana Martinez-Neal

CAPTAIN SWASHBY loved the sea.

The sea and he had been friends for a long, long time.

She knew him in and out,

         up and down,

                      and better than anyone.

I love the blue crab that matches Swashby’s fisherman’s sweater. It’s a humorous element that pops up, along with some cheeky sea gulls, throughout the story. And you have to love the name of the boat, El Recluso.

Text ©️Beth Ferry Illustration ©️Juana Martinez-Neal

So when Swashby retired, it was to a small house

on a small beach as close to the sea as he could be.

Whenever he needed something, the sea provided 

exactly the right thing at exactly the right time.

Life was just the way Swashby liked it.


          and sandy

                   and serene.


So lyrical, it feels tidal in nature, using alliteration, purposeful repetition, and internal rhyme. Masterful.

Swashby is at peace by the sea until a noisy little girl and her granny move in next door. They sprinkle their beach gear across the sand, and the little girl  has the nerve to “board Swashby’s deck without permission!”

Note the careful choice of words, written in a close third point of view. Only Swashby would say “board” instead of walk on the wooden planks that lead from his house to the beach.

Text ©️Beth Ferry Illustration ©️Juana Martinez-Neal


Swashby battened down the hatches,

hid when the doorbell rang, and fed their

oatmeal cookies to the gulls.

He didn’t need neighbors.

He didn’t want neighbors.

Neighbors were nosy,

          a nuisance,


Spot on word choices once again. It’s so much fun to read this text aloud: “nosy, a nuisance, annoying.” And notice how the reader isn’t fed all of the action showing the girl and her granny leaving the cookies. Instead we see the result of Swashby giving them to the sea gulls. In response to his new neighbor’s kindness, Swashby writes an antisocial note in the sand: “No Trespassing”

But the sea, we recall, knows Swashby better than anyone, and provides exactly what Swashby  needs, so she intervenes by washing away a few letters….

Page turn

The message now reads “sing.”

And the little girl does just that as she dances up and down on Swashby’s deck.

Each time Swashby leaves an antisocial message, the sea “fiddles” with it, turning his notes into invitations for the girl to do something other than his intention.

Slowly, with the sea’s help, Swashby gets involved in his neighbor’s lives until he ends up seeing them in a different way, where “neighbors could be fun, and friends, and…family.”  This is also a love story between a man and the sea. It’s not surprising how nature instinctively knows that connection is good for the soul. Fittingly, a brilliant last page shows the sea getting the last word.

Juana Martinez-Neal’s acrylic, colored pencil, and graphite illustrations in turquoise and earth tones on hand-textured paper create a warm and humorous extension to the text. The characterization of the sea gulls, blue crab, Swashby, girl, and granny are fabulous!


Take a trip to the beach and build sand castles and write messages in the sand.

Pair with The New Neighbors by Sarah McIntyre, a story about rumors, bias, and fear that makes its point in a humorous, non-didactic way.

Make a fleet of origami boats that float.

Title: Swashby and the Sea

Author: Beth Ferry

Illustrator: Juana Martinez-Neal

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020

Ages: Pre-K thru 3rd

Themes: friendship, connection, seashore

For more perfect picture book recommendations, please visit Susanna Hill’s website.

20 thoughts on “Swashby and the Sea – Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

  1. Sarah Tobias says:

    This book looks and sounds wonderful. The illustrations pulled me right in. Not surprising considering the illustrator. Delicious! I look forward to getting my hands on this treasure.

  2. Maria Marshall says:

    Jill, thanks for such a great review of this book! I had seen buzz about it, but this makes me really excited to get a hold of it. I love the interplay of the text and illustrations. And those illustrations are amazing and make me miss the ocean! My grandparents used to live blocks from the ocean and we’d spend summers there. Thanks for the great memories.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      I love the ocean, too, although I never saw it until I was in my late teens. But loved it so much, my husband and I ended up getting married at the Currituck Lighthouse on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Our wedding invitation used the lighthouse and hurricane dates as a metaphor, LOL, because we got married during hurricane season. And then Hurricane Fran barreled through Raleigh-Durham (resulting in a 2 week power outage) destroying the top of our wedding cake that we’d saved for our first anniversary. I love the Outer Banks, but I’m thinking they won’t be with us for much longer as sea levels rise and hurricane seasons get worse. But I digress. I’m thinking you’re going to want this book for your permanent collection, so you can use it whenever you need it as a mentor text.

  3. Patricia Tilton says:

    What a captivating story! The sea is almost a character in the book nudging Swashby’s connection with the girl and her family! I love everything about the sea, so I’m really drawn to the stunning illustrations! Will check look for this book!

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Well, it’s hard to tell from the review, I guess. The sea has taken care of Swashby all of his life, and the sea is the one who brings Swashby together with his neighbors, by rewriting his messages in the sand making them an invitation instead of a rebuff or refusal. But perhaps you’re talking about the sea, personally, and as someone who was born in a land-locked state, I have to say that I view the sea with caution. In this book, the sea does give the little girl a tumble, but I’d like to think it wasn’t done in a menacing fashion, more along the lines of “Swashby! get over here and help this little girl out!” kind of way. He rose to the challenge, and the rest, as they say, is a happy ending.

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