The DFF Book Club

I’m not really certain why I find The Special Swap so outstanding. Written by Sally Wittman with pictures by Karen Gundersheimer, it’s an old book published by Scholastic in 1978 (with later reprints).

The pen and ink illustrations are delightfully whimsical, in a style that I really like, but I think this book may stand out for me because the topic vicariously satisfies a deep yearning. The story is about a friendship that stretches across the age gap and provides a stable relationship in two lives over time.

When I started researching the book for this article, I discovered that I’m not the only one who thinks it’s a great book. The Special Swap has been nominated for several awards, has been reprinted several times, and the story is included in numerous school textbooks.

A special swap by Sally Wittman

Nelly grows up next to Old Bartholomew, and they are best friends. When she’s little, he takes her out for walks in her pram and later helps her to take her first steps. Bartholomew is no grumpy, old man. Instead, he’s able to delight in Nelly’s youth and shares her fun, proving that you’re only as old as you act.

A special swap by Sally Wittman
When Mrs Pringle's sprinkler was on, he would say, 'Get ready, get set, CHAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRGE!'

As Nelly grows up, Bartholomew ages and later finds he can’t get around quite as well as he used to. But this doesn’t stop the best friends from sharing special times and fun outings around the neighbourhood.

A special swap by Sally Wittman

The two friends like to spend time together — just because. (I really like the idea of my children growing up with a friendly neighbour.)

A special swap by Sally Wittman
Some days they just took it easy and sat on the porch.

When Bartholomew goes to the hospital, Nelly writes to him every day and eagerly awaits his return. Bartholomew does come home, but he is wheelchair-bound:

The smile was gone from his eyes.
‘I guess our walks are over,’ he said.
‘No they aren’t,’ said Nelly.
‘I can take you for walks now.’

A special swap by Sally Wittman
One day when the sprinkler was on, Nelly started to go around. But she changed her mind. 'All right, Bartholomew. Ready, set, one, two three. CHAAARRRRRRRRRRRRGE!' And she pushed him right through it!

The swap — the role-reversal — will delight children, as well as opening their minds to the realities of aging and the disabilities that may come with it. I find that this book is a very easy one to read, and it leaves the reader satisfied and feeling good about life.

A Special Swap was originally published under the title A Special Trade, so try looking for it under that title too. When I wrote this, there were several copies available on Amazon: here, here and here, and the author’s website says a new edition will soon be available.