By Britta Teckentrup
(Prestel Publishing, 2023)
The Swing is the picture book version of a tome, straying far from the customary 32-page format and coming in at 160 pages. Still, it’s a fast read. Or it has the potential to be. I found myself lingering.
The book is an ode to a swing set perched seaside, at the end of a bushy meadow, with two swings dangling from a red bar. Occasionally, they get tangled. Sometimes they’re wrapped around the upper bar. In some images they’re empty; other times, they’re a resting or a play place for one or two people, for a cat, for birds. Swingers sit, stand, gaze upside down and jump. The illustrations remind the reader how diverse the experiences can be when coming upon such a simple apparatus, sometimes coveted, oftentimes overlooked.
The text is usually sparse. On one of the opening pages, Britta Teckentrup writes, “It looked out to sea and invited everyone to take a seat.” In a few places, a vignette expands beyond a single sentence such as when Mia and her grandmother stop at the swings every morning on the way to school or when young Peter rests alone on a swing after a daily swim, dreaming of his future and avoiding what awaits him at home.
The book chronicles the “life” of the swing set over a generation or two as some of the briefly mentioned characters get another cameo later on. Max and Paul, for instance would meet at the swings each day after school. Flashing forward, Teckentrup tells us, “They still do.”
The Swing evokes our own nostalgia around times spent on a swing, pumping legs to go ever higher or dangling downward, our bellies held by the seat strap as we stare at seemingly nothing in the dirt, feeling mopey or thoroughly bored. How many times did we insist someone push us one more time—or a hundred more times? Harder. Let me go higher! How many times was a swing a thinking seat or a momentary escape from dark thinking? How many times were occupied swings a place of power as someone arriving too late begged for a turn?
Martha had an imaginary friend
who arrived whenever she needed her.
That's the beauty of this book. Despite 160 pages of experiences, most of us can still recall our own special memories. The Swing gently pushes us to think beyond the page.
The illustrations are as calming as a standard swing ride though sometimes they go higher—farther out there, becoming magical as the sun’s golden orb seems within reach or the journey transports someone to a place that’s part forest, part safari. The color choices are drawn from a generally soft, muted palette, giving the book a sense of timelessness.
And isn’t that typical of a swing ride? Time stops. We’re in the moment. Until the next time. And the one after that. Indeed, I found myself flipping through the pages many times, sometimes reading and observing all the way through while other times find joy and serenity in a few random flips.
This lovely picture book would also serve as a great coffee table book, celebrating the child that remains in each of us, eliciting conversation and an unspoken “Whee!” from a visitor. It is a perfect go-to for paging through, side by side with someone else, like a photo album on one of those afternoons when the weather makes an actual swing ride seem less appealing. But, wouldn’t you know it, Teckentrup sees ways around that as well.
As with its real life counterpart, The Swing is simply beautiful.