THE CALL OF THE SWAMP

Book Cover

An Italian import confronts
questions of identity, belonging, and family.

The story begins with a folkloric
sensibility as it introduces a white couple who “had given up hope that they
would ever have any” children. They find a “newborn” child in a swamp and
ignore his unusual appearance, including gills, large eyes, and, instead of
hair, the watercolor-and-ink illustrations add spiky appendages that look like
sea anemones atop his head. In an initially troubling turn for a fantasy
positioning itself as an adoption allegory, the couple decides it doesn’t
matter whether the baby’s parents abandoned him or died; they simply name him
Boris and take him home. Boris grows up happily enough, but the titular call of
the swamp beckons, and he leaves home to reconnect with the swamp. He communes
with creatures who, though realistic animals, look something like him, and he
delights in his swampy surroundings. His compassionate parents, in gestures
that belie their initial insensitivity, leave notes reading “If you’re happy where you are, then we’re
happy too.” But—“How much are we really like those who look like us?” Boris
wonders as he begins to feel there’s nowhere he belongs and notices differences
between himself and the swamp creatures. An affecting, emotional open ending concludes
the story, resisting a happily-ever-after tone as Boris departs to reunite with
his parents.

A melancholy contemporary folk tale.
(Picture book. 4-8)

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