Reviews /

The Swing

Authored by Britta Teckentrup
Illustrated by Britta Teckentrup
Published by Prestel

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The Swing is a beautifully illustrated book about the passing of time, with the swing at the centre on every page, as a place that is special, meaning many things to all the different people and generations that have used it. We see the children who come there alone and with their friends and adults who come back to visit it as, ‘The swing was a place full of memories’. It is a swing that sits on a hill overlooking the sea with a beautiful view as you swing backwards and forwards.

The front cover image starts the conversation straight away of thinking about the kinds of conversations that could be happening between friends on the swing. And this is something to develop and discuss throughout the book, which is lengthy – 150 pages – but it’s a book to spend time with, read slowly and look forward to return to later. The first words set over the first over the first fourteen pages also sets the scene and sew the seeds for the story to come when the narrator starts with,

The swing had always been there. It looked out to sea and invited everyone to take a seat. It was a place to meet up…and to be alone. A place of joy, happiness and laughter…and a place for change and big decisions. A place of beginnings… and endings…

The swing is the continuity throughout, holding memories, offering constancy and through the story themes of childhood, growing older, friendship, loss, time, change and memories can be explored.

The illustrations are quite simply beautiful, with the text often sparse, a few words, almost just a phrase to open the story that the illustration tells. So, for example, on one double spread there is a white page with the words, ‘A place of joy, happiness and laughter …’ and a tiny beetle at the bottom. Then on the right hand page the illustration is bursting with summer colours, insects in the grass and sky, two friends playing on the swing – and in the way they are depicted we see joyfulness and laughter. Each time these double spreads open up so much opportunity to muse on why they are happy, why they are there, who they are, what they are talking about and more.

Some pages have no text at all, and as a teacher or adult sharing this with children we could ask them to write their own text based on what they see. Where there is more text, we see a story with a character emerging, yet the whole feel of the book is one of vignettes, moments captured that could be stand alone. It’s open to so much interpretation, discussion and questions with children at all primary ages. A book that is guaranteed to spark conversations about memories, of playing on a swing and other places that are special.

What draws me to Britta Teckentrup’s picture books are the colours she uses in her illustrations and The Swing is no exception. They are muted natural colours throughout, taking us through the seasons. At times they appear hazy through summer sunshine and faded by time, giving a feel of an old photo album. The placing of the illustrations on many of the pages in small squares and rectangles with single words, short phrases alongside – sometimes multiple ones on each double spread – further reinforces the feeling of an old photo album, capturing memories. The consistency of the terracotta coloured swing throughout sits perfectly in these colours, giving an appearance of an old rusty swing that has stood strong through much use over the years.

And finally, I have to give a shout out to Prestel for the style and design of this book. It was the reason it stood it for me even before I saw the name, Britta Teckentrup on it.  From the textured front cover, the perfectly sized square shape of the book (22cms if, like me, you like this kind of detail), the terracotta end papers, the buttermilk coloured background on which the illustrations sit, through to the placing of images and text throughout.

This is a beautifully illustrated, poetic book and one to for children and adults of all ages to read slowly, share and savour together.