cover image The Call of the Swamp

The Call of the Swamp

Davide Cali, trans. from the Italian by Laura Watkinson, illus. by Marco Somà. Eerdmans, $16 (26p) ISBN 978-0-8028-5486-5

In a moody exploration of belonging from the duo behind The Queen of the Frogs, a childless couple discovers an infant by the edge of a swamp. Ignoring that the baby “had gills like a fish,” they name him Boris and raise him as their own. (Readers who know their aquatic animals will recognize that Boris is an axolotl.) Though Boris likes riding bikes and climbing trees like human children, he longs for something else: “He woke up in the dead of night, feeling like he was suffocating. And he was thirsty. Always thirsty.” Somà’s otherworldly artwork pays homage to Escher in his use of tessellation, metamorphosis, and encroaching foliage: autumn leaves morph into airborne fish as Boris catches a whiff of the “salty smell” of the swamp. Cali isn’t afraid to ask big, philosophical questions, and although some of Boris’s ruminations are spelled out a bit plainly (“His mom and dad had wanted him even though they didn’t have gills.... Maybe our family is simply the ones we love? And the ones who love us back?”) the story’s fairy tale–like quality and melancholic images leave a haunting impression. Ages 4–9. (Sept.)