Captain Swashby is a reclusive, elderly man with an impressively unkempt beard. Having retired to a small house by the seashore, he is just fine with his “salty and sandy and serene” life of solitude in in Beth Ferry and Juana Martinez-Neal’s charming Swashby and the Sea.
That is, until unwelcome new neighbors appear: a girl and her grandmother. Captain Swashby leaves messages for them in the sand that state, in no uncertain terms, his desire that they skedaddle—but the waves alter his warnings by erasing some of the letters. The water turns “NO TRESPASSING” into “SING.” “NOW VANISH!” becomes “WISH!” Of course, the joyful, bespectacled girl follows the sandy directives, even breaking into song on Swashby’s deck. It seems the curmudgeonly captain’s continued attempts to live a quiet life are destined to be thwarted by both the ocean and his neighbors’ desire for his companionship.
Illustrations by Caldecott Honoree Martinez-Neal (Alma and How She Got Her Name, Fry Bread) give the curious girl much energy and spunk, and evoke the seaside with warm, earth-toned hues. Beth Ferry (Stick and Stone, The Scarecrow) has fun with Captain Swashby’s spirited dialogue (“What are ye up to, ye great salty imp?” he asks the girl at one point), and builds a tenderness to his transition from solitude to neighborliness that never becomes saccharine. “THANK YE, FRIEND,” he writes in the sand after he realizes “neighbors could be fun.” Fittingly, the waves turn this message into “THE END” on the final page. Swashby and the Sea is a picture book with a heart as big and boundless as the ocean.