An Italian import confronts questions of identity, belonging, and family.
The story begins with a folkloric sensibility as it introduces a white couple who “had given up hope that they would ever have any” children. They find a “newborn” child in a swamp and ignore his unusual appearance, including gills, large eyes, and, instead of hair, the watercolor-and-ink illustrations add spiky appendages that look like sea anemones atop his head. In an initially troubling turn for a fantasy positioning itself as an adoption allegory, the couple decides it doesn’t matter whether the baby’s parents abandoned him or died; they simply name him Boris and take him home. Boris grows up happily enough, but the titular call of the swamp beckons, and he leaves home to reconnect with the swamp. He communes with creatures who, though realistic animals, look something like him, and he delights in his swampy surroundings. His compassionate parents, in gestures that belie their initial insensitivity, leave notes reading “If you’re happy where you are, then we’re happy too.” But—“How much are we really like those who look like us?” Boris wonders as he begins to feel there’s nowhere he belongs and notices differences between himself and the swamp creatures. An affecting, emotional open ending concludes the story, resisting a happily-ever-after tone as Boris departs to reunite with his parents.
A melancholy contemporary folk tale. (Picture book. 4-8)