The Swap by Jan Ormerod
Ill. by Andrew Joyner. Little Hare, 2013. ISBN 9781921541414.
Oh dear. There's a new baby in the house and Caroline Crocodile is not happy that he is soaking up all her mother's attention. Mama Crocodile loves that he is as green as a grub, loves to eat his fish and frogs and has an adorable snout, but to Caroline he's smelly, he dribbles and he is no fun. And she hates that he takes up all the room on Mama's lap and gets the big smacky-smoochy kisses that she wants. So, on a day in town when Mama asks her to mind him for a few minutes while she goes into The Hat Shop to swap a hat she has bought, Caroline sees The Baby Shop and figures if her mother can swap a hat . . . And so the trials begin - but is ANY baby quite right?
This is Jan Ormerod at her peak, but it is also Jan Ormerod at the end of her career as she died earlier this year. Ever since her first wordless picture book Sunshine was released in 1982, her delightful stories have enthralled young children and she has won the hearts of many, including me, for her illustrations and her story-telling. Her ability to turn the most ordinary of family situations into an engaging tale that enables the reader and listener to empathise and put themselves in the story, is the hallmark of her work. The Swap is no exception - who hasn't known an older sister or brother filled with the promise of a playmate being disappointed with this all-consuming baby who just sleeps, cries, smells, takes up the space of your lap and gets the big smacky-smoochy kisses?
Caroline's predicament is one which many children in the preschool - Year 2 range face and it provides a perfect vehicle to discuss expectations about the new baby as well as asking the sibling about the things their mummy loves about them and reinforcing that they are just as loved and treasured as they always were, and there are plenty of smacky-smoochy kisses for everyone. At that age they are straddling that dependent-independent gap, not quite able to articulate their feelings and this is a great opportunity to address them. (Perhaps it might even be a subtle reminder to the new parents as well, that their big-girl-now still has little-girl needs.)
Andrew Joyner has illustrated this story, not Ormerod, and his pictures are perfect. You can tell from the title page just what the theme of the story will be, and his skill is such that even the reader agrees that a baby crocodile is gorgeous! There is such detail and humour in each spread that you could spend an hour just focusing on them - the chef with the C8K rego plates; the zebra reading texts on the zebra crossing; a mouse on a motorcycle (which could lead to reading the book by Beverly Cleary) - there is something new each time you read this, and all add to the richness of a tale well-known and well-told.
It IS a story to read again and again and when Mem Fox tells us that when we read to children, we should read three stories - a first-read, a familiar and a favourite - this will be on the favourites pile very quickly.