Thursday, August 9, 2007

A Perfect Pair: Olvina Swims...and So Does Baby Duck!

I know some kidlit bloggers have already begun thinking about books that would be great to read to children once they begin the new school year. I’m sticking with summer for the time being—mainly because the weather in these parts has been pretty uncomfortable for most of the past few weeks. The humidity has been oppressive!!!

I’ve chosen to review two picture books that are perfect for reading to young children who may be timid about the water or who may not have learned how to swim yet.

Written by Amy Hest
Illustrated by Jill Barton
Candlewick Press, 2002

Although Baby Duck swam last year, this summer she sits at the edge of the town pool dipping her webbed feet in the water. She’s hesitant to take the plunge. Her parents prance and dance and splash in the pool, remind Baby Duck what fun she had last year, and encourage her to join them. “No,” says Baby Duck. Even when her mother says: “Be a big girl now, and jump right in,” she remains at the pool’s edge with a troubled look on her face.

Then along come coach and the swim team. Coach blows his whistle and the young ducks splash into the pool. Davy and Dotty Duck come paddling by and eagerly announce that they’ve made the swim team. Baby Duck wishes she could be on the team, too. But she worries that she may be too slow a swimmer…or that her arms might get tired…or that she might swallow water.

That’s when Grampy comes along to save the day. He hugs and kisses Baby Duck, listens to her concerns, gives her gentle encouragement, and eventually allays her fears. He understands that Baby Duck is the one who must make the decision about taking the plunge.

When Baby Duck is ready, she stands up and lines up her toes at the edge of the pool. She squeezes her eyes tight and jumps into the water. She swims along with the other ducks…kicking very hard—and her arms do not get tired—and she doesn’t swallow any water!

Jill Barton’s pencil and watercolor illustrations are a perfect complement to Amy Hest’s text. They show the emotions Baby Duck is feeling and the warm and loving relation between Grampy and his little granddaughter. In one touching illustration, Grampy is shown bending down to kiss Baby Duck; in another, a worried Baby Duck clings to Grampy as he speaks to her.

You Can Swim, Baby Duck! Would be a great book to include in a unit of stories about childhood fears.

Written & illustrated by Grace Lin
Henry Holt, 2007

Olvina Swims is another good book to read to children who haven’t yet learned to swim. Olvina the chicken, who was afraid of flying in Olvina Flies, returns. This book begins where Olvina Flies leaves off. Olvina and her friend Hailey (a penguin) are vacationing in Hawaii after attending the annual Bird Convention. Now that Olvina has conquered her fear of flying in an airplane, she learns to muster the courage to overcome her fear of the water. She does this with the help of her good friend Hailey.

First, Hailey teaches Olvina how to take a deep breath, dip her face in the warm water of a bathtub, open her eyes, and blow out bubbles. Once Olvina learns how to do that, Hailey takes her to the pool where she learns how to do the dog paddle, to float, and to do the backstroke. The day before they leave Hawaii, Hailey encourages Olvina to swim in the ocean. Gradually, Olvina wades into the salty sea. Then she dips her head into the waves and it seems as if the water is hugging her. “It was a wonderful feeling.”

The last page of text:
"Isn’t swimming fun?” Hailey said to Olvina. “I told you chickens could swim if they really wanted to!” “I guess chickens can do anything,” Olvina said with a smile, “if they have good friends to help.”

Admirers of Grace Lin’s picture book art will not be disappointed in Olvina Swims. The gouache illustrations are bright and colorful and include touches of sly humor: The title of the book that Olvina is reading at the beach is Bird Sense: What Every Chicken Knows…and some of the fish she sees swimming underwater are wearing hats!

I really like the ending of the book because it is true to life. Childhood friends and relatives close in age can often teach each other how to do things. One of my first cousins taught me how to float in the ocean. A neighborhood friend taught my daughter how to ride a two wheeler. Olvina Swims is not only a story about learning how to swim—it’s a story about how friends help one another.

Note to Blog Readers: Grace Lin is a good friend.


Katie Dicesare said...

These are great suggestions for friendship and bravery as a new school year begins...thanks!

Elaine Magliaro said...


Glad you like the books. I think they're perfect for sharing with young kids to discuss friendship, bravery...and maybe to open a discussion about the things they fear.

Anonymous said...

Aw. I love the way Olvina looks in her polka-dot bathing suit, with goggles and water wings. That Grace Lin knows how to create endearing characters, doesn't she?

Great idea to pair these two titles, Elaine!

Elaine Magliaro said...


I relate to Olvina (Alvina) in this book. I was really afraid of the water when I was young. I still hate to stick my face in the water!