Swap! by Steve Light

Swap! is the fifth picture book I have reviewed by Steve Light and I think it just might be my favorite of them! Swap! is simple and elegant in its story and execution and Light's trademark use of thick lined black and white drawings with well chosen chunks of color are at their best here. I was a bit nervous about reading Swap! out loud to groups of students because the story relies so much on the richly detailed illustrations, but it turned out to be completely engaging for my students and a great way to talk about the history of bartering and synonyms for the word swap. 

A youngster (I honestly could not tell if it was a boy or a girl and discussed this with my students, who always were of mixed opinion, telling them that I loved the ambiguity) with a peg leg wants to help a sad friend, a seafaring fellow with a run down old vessel and a mischievous monkey that readers should be sure to keep their eyes on. Swap! begins, "An old ship. A sad friend. A button . . . An idea. Let's swap!" The boy trades his friend's button for two tea cups. Two teacups become three coils of rope. Two coils of rope - the ship needs a new coil of rope and the intricacies of the trades make this counting book a challenge for readers - are traded for six oars.

Oars become flags, then flags become anchors. Sails, hats, ship's wheels, hats, birds and carved figureheads but a smile on the boy's and the sailor's faces. The industry exhibited in Light's illustrations as the friends make their way through the village trading with various craftsmen and craftswomen is marvelous. And Light's sparse but well chosen text leaves much room for imagination and storytelling by little listeners and readers, not to mention the opportunity to discuss bartering and economics. Swap! is a brilliant picture book with a timeless feel that is a joy to read over and over!

More Books by Steve Light!

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