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Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Baby Swap, written by Jan Ormerod with pictures by Andrew Joyner. Simon & Schuster. 2013. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"He has such scaly
skin and sharp little
claws," said Mama.
"He takes up all the
room on your lap,"
said Caroline.
But Mama Crocodile
was busy giving baby
brother a big, smacky-
smoochy kiss."

Who doesn't love a well written tale of sibling rivalry when a new baby arrives? Adding to the joy of this book for me is that it was written by Jan Ormerod, a terribly accomplished Australian writer-illustrator whose work I have always admired. Her death at 66 a year ago was a great loss to all who love children's literature, and her legacy is one of wonderful, warm stories that focused on the beauty that is a young child.

So, it is no surprise to meet Caroline on the title page and to immediately recognize her distress at the attention being paid to her baby brother. The family has just been on a shopping trip that resulted in a brand new hat for her mother, obviously a paragon of style in the crocodile community. As they make their way home, Mama is full of praise for the baby's color, eating habits, his snout and his adorable scaly skin. Each new remark gets a reaction from Caroline ... not one of them admirable.

Their next shopping excursion (to return Mama's new hat) leaves Caroline in charge of the baby, and outside the door of The Baby Shop. It seems the perfect place to swap him for something better! The shopkeeper is accommodating and quickly offers a 'soft and cuddly' panda. Seems like a good choice to Caroline. The swap is made and the two are off to have a snack at a nearby eatery. Of course there are problems. It turns out that the cafe's outdoor furniture is made of bamboo. You must know what baby pandas like to eat!

Once again, the shopkeeper does his best to make Caroline happy and offers to take the panda back in exchange for another baby animal. Each new exchange results in great difficulty for a child trying to find a more acceptable baby than her own brother. In the end, she is surprised at what really makes her happiest of all.

Understated humor and lively dialogue will have readers quickly turning pages to see what happens with each return. Andrew Joyner's detailed artwork and expressive characters add to the fun, and perfectly match the engaging tone of the book.

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