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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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….
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.