May 20, 2023

When You Can Swim

Written and illustrated by Jack Wong
Orchard Books (Scholastic)
48 pp
Ages 4-8
May 2023 

When You Can Swim is a promise of possibilities. With four little words, a parent offers their child opportunities and experiences, all once they learn to swim.
From When You Can Swim by Jack Wong
Though the story begins and ends with one mother encouraging her child to learn to swim, various parents describe what their children will experience once they do. They speak of all the places they will go and what they will do and see. There will be a trip to the ocean...
past the sandpipers tracing
the shape of a wave on the shore
past the edge of wet
splashing at your ankles
to receive the water's welcome.
From When You Can Swim by Jack Wong
They'll experience the joys of floating and exploring underwater worlds and playing in waterfalls. Oh, and the things they'll see and feel and hear! From the early morning mist on the lake to listening to "the clinking of waves passing in and out of a million pebbles telling of countless days and months of years" and the echoes of voices beneath a canal bridge from which they've dived. 

They'll push themselves to far-off islands to pick blueberries and swim into darker waters that may look scary but promise gold. The possibilities are enormous, and they will all come when the children learn to swim.
So swim, little one!
When You Can Swim may be Jack Wong's debut picture book but it's a triumph of the heart and the senses, like he's a seasoned author-illustrator.  Whether it's for a child who needs to be encouraged to venture into the water for the first time or for a parent remembering their own experiences with water and swimming, When You Can Swim is a beautiful expression of what promise learning to swim can offer. Most of us will be taught to swim to keep ourselves safe when in or near the water but Jack Wong makes us see that there is so much more than that. It's the offering of a sensory experience of sights and sounds and touch. It's seeing and hearing and feeling. And to get that feeling may require some risk-taking and confidence building, but it also requires and feeds curiosity. 
From When You Can Swim by Jack Wong
The breadth of the experiences that are open to the children who have learned to swim are as expansive and sweeping as Jack Wong's illustrations. His artwork, created with pastels and watercolours, gives an ethereal quality to the natural landscapes and the water settings, intensifying those feelings of wonder and newness that comes from exploration and novelty. There's movement, as befits a book about swimming, and there's amazement that is both internal and external to the swimmer. For the young novice swimmer and the reader, When You Can Swim opens the door for possibilities and offers a promise that good things will happen with the courage to try and learn.

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