In at the deep end

posted in: Rebecca Patterson | 14
Photo: cmaccubbin

Last night as I ordered 3 books from Amazon (this, this and this if you must know ;-)) I wondered what I would feel if the only bricks-and-mortar bookshop in our neighbourhood closed down. It’s not some wonderfully creative, enticing, independent bookshop but merely one of a very large chain. It’s main appeal for my girls is the fish tank in the children’s section and the number of books it contains with batteries and buttons you can press to make horrendous tinny noises.

That said, since our local library closed, it is a place we visit to read new books, and occasionally, in amongst the tv-tie-in books and electronic jingles, something turns up that really catches my eye. The Deep End by Rebecca Patterson is one book that recently did exactly that.

Perfectly capturing the quintessential features of learning to swim, this book will make you and your learner swimmer giggle and keen to get in the pool themselves. From the slightly chaotic changing rooms, to the refusal to jump into the water, from the seemingly crazy instruction to “keep our heads down and our bottoms up” to the curiosity about what exactly is below the grill covering the hole in the deep end, from the gloriousness that is singing under a warm shower to munching on a snack afterwards, the whole experience of attending a swimming lesson is beautifully and wittily observed.

Patterson’s brief text is full of well chosen phrases, acknowledging a child’s fear and celebrating her sense of achievement as she learns to float and then finally manages to swim all the way to the deep end. Like her text the illustrations are simple but perfect in the details they capture. There’s the inevitable plaster on the floor of the changing room and another one swimming loose in the pool (although no-one is wearing a verucca sock, the bane of my childhood swimming!) and I’m amazed at how well the expressions on the children’s faces are captured with just a few strokes of the pen.

Delightful, funny, truthful and reassuring – a perfect picture book whether or not you are learning to swim.

This is Rebecca Patterson’s debut picture book, and now I can’t wait to see what she creates next. You can read what inspired Rebecca to create this lovely book here (a pdf document).

We decided to hold our own swimming race inspired by The Deep End. Here’s what we did:

Using permanent markers (Sharpies) we drew some swimmers on silver foil. The girls always love the experience of drawing on foil – they often want to repeat what we did here.

I cut them out (cutting silver foil is quite a delicate job and even for M at 6 it can be frustrating as the foil tears really easily) and then we chose our swimmers to race in a shallow tray of clean water.

I gave the girls two squeezy bottles (washing up bottles), one filled with washing up liquid, the other with water. The girls squeezed a small amount from each bottle between the legs of the swimmers (sorry about that sentence, it really doesn’t conjure up a pleasant image!) and they watched to see what happened.

The swimmer with washing up liquid between her legs sped off whilst the one with water between her legs didn’t go anywhere…

The girls repeated this several times to try and work out what was happening. Sometimes they used two bottles of water, sometimes two bottles of washing up liquid. They swapped swimmers to see if that made a difference to who sped off. Every time, the swimmer with washing up liquid between her legs was the one who sped off.

So… what was going on here?

It’s all to do with the surface tension of water. The washing up liquid causes the surface tension in the cut-out circle to drop. This in turn causes the swimmer to propel forward. Adding water to water doesn’t change the surface tension and so the swimmer paired with water drops doesn’t move forward.

Some tips if you’re going to try this at home. Cut your silver foil with a point at one end and a circular-ish cut out at the other end – this is where you want to drop your liquid. Every time you repeat this experiment you need clean water. If any washing up liquid is left in the water you re-use the race simply won’t take place.

Whilst racing our swimmers we listened to:

  • Nightswimming by REM
  • It’s Too Hot by Johnny Keener (all about going swimming because it’s so hot outside)
  • Rolling In The Deep by Adele
  • The Pool by Recess Monkey

  • Other activities that would go well alongside this book include:

  • Making dressing up swimming goggles, like these from Kaboose.
  • Making your own hooded towel – an easy sewing project that could be done with kids. Marie at Make and Takes shows us how!
  • Experiment to discover which things sink and which things float, just like Deb from Science@Home did here


  • For more info and ideas on investigating water tension check out this link and this post from the ever inspirational @Sciencemum.


    Can you recommend any great picture books about learning to swim?

    Disclosure: I received my copy of The Deep End gratis from the publisher. This review, however, reflects my own and honest opinion. I must also put on record my guilt. Even with this book which I thought was wonderful I didn’t support my local bookshop and feel with this admission I’ve probably jumped into the deep end of controversy. I get about a fifth of books I purchase from there, cost and stock being what drives me to buy online. Are you a better supporter of your local bookshop?

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    14 Responses

    1. Hi,
      I’ve (surprisingly) only just discovered your website. I wish I’d discovered it earlier. I;ve created something ‘similar’ but not anywhere near as fabulous. I’ve got an Australian audience.

      You have so much info in this post but the line that caught my eye is that your local library has shut down. I’m flabbergasted. Is this something that is happening in your area? Would love to know more. Please feel free to email be some background there.

      Like you I receive books from publishers and purchase discount books online. I absolutely love independent bookstores but as a stay at home mum with the costs of running a website I simply can’t afford to purchase there regularly. Once my little one starts school and I return to work so will my custom to local booksellers.

      Thanks for sharing the book. Will look it up. My daughter doesn’t like swimming lessons but it’s something that’s important to her dad. Their ‘daddy-daughter’ time- this might just be what I’m looking for.

      Would love to be in touch some more in the future.

      :)

    2. My daughter is both eager and anxious regarding learning to swim, particularly at the camp she’ll be attending this summer. She just happened to pick up Froggy Learns to Swim by Jonathan London while at her grandma’s. In a nice confluence, it also inspired her to read all by herself! I’m definitely going to look into Patterson’s book.
      Even in Australia recently posted..Cracking the Code

    3. Sounds awesome Zoe. Wish we had this one right now – its peak summer in India and the pool is full of kids. It is a tad diffrent from London in that it often rains in the afternoon in Bangalore and the kids love having water everywhere – under and over!
      And love your idea of the swimming race an dthe simple but effective explanation for surface tension – will try that one, thanks!
      Local bookshop – hmm, we havemany here now, and I am lucky enough to have an uncle who owns one of the largest and oldest bookstores in the city. needless to say he is my favourite uncle :) Also there is a delicious used books shop called Blossom where we have discovered many gems. But I dont miss a chnace to pick up boxfuls from bookpeople.co.uk if anyone visiting the UK, simply because I don’t get some here. There is also a lovely place called Sutradhar in Bangalore – it stocks Indian NGO publications for kids – its like an Aladdin’s Cave!
      Choxbox recently posted..Well Done Abba

    4. Hi Jackie,

      Thank you for your lovely comment – I’ll certainly stop by your “Little Bookcase” and say hi! Yes, libraries are being shut and services reduced all over the UK because of govt. cuts. Ours was originally shut because they found asbestos, but now of course there isn’t money to remove the asbestos so it’s looking highly unlikely the library will reopen (though of course, for political reasons, the council are not admitting that). I’m lucky that there are 4 libraries within cycling distance, but 3 are v small, and one is v stuffy (the staff and book selection!) so we do still go to the library, but perhaps only once a week or even once a fortnight whereas we used to go almost every other day.

      Thanks Even in Australia! The text in this book is minimalistic – I suppose it’s “meant” for reading to the preschool crowd, but we found that it worked well for M as a beginning reader.

      Hi Choxbox, You sound like you’re surrounded by bookshops! How lovely. And how great to have a bookseller actually in the family!

    5. What a great sounding book, it will def. be jumping in my basket next time I order from Amazon!

      • Hope you enjoy it Justine when it comes through your letter box!

    6. That’s my local book store. It is a really tough call as it is a massive indulgence in many ways to purchase a book full price when it could be cheaper from amazon or whatever. We’re lucky as they offer children’s events and things, so I buy there when I’m at the free children’s sing time and similar, and they feel like a part of the community, rather than a business.
      Love the silver swimmers!

      • Hi Lucy, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head – if a place feels like part of the community and not just an exercise in making money then I too feel happy to spend my money there.

    7. Yet another brilliant idea from you! What a wonderful resource.

      I don’t think that you have any need to feel guilt at buying online. Bood Depository, Allibris and Amazon all have independent bookshops selling through them (click on “new” rather than buying straight from Amazon if this is important to you) and according to my other half, so has eBay- can’t confirm this as I don’t have an eBay account.
      Ali B recently posted..Kat- irrepressible

      • Yes, Ali, thanks for pointing that out. Actually, often, i’ll buy a second hand copy if one’s available – like the recycling aspect of it. Not sure what authors/illustrators think of choosing second hand books over new ones though…

    8. I love our local library. We have another, larger library about ten minutes drive away too, and I can order books online from three different libraries to be picked up at my local one. Being a chronic book-getter though, I also buy books in bricks and mortar stores, from Book Depository, from Amazon, from Boomerang Books, from garage sales, from markets…and very happy that makes me. I also use Amazon and Google to research books before I buy.
      Susan Stephenson, the Book Chook recently posted..Childrens Book Review- Daisy plays Hide-and-Seek

    9. My DD would love this book and experiment.Thanks Zoe!
      In Guildford, we don’t have any independent bookstores which is very sad. So we buy ours from Amazon.
      I have started doing a regular feature on my blog:Book Sharing Mondays. I would love it if you linked up and help me spread the word.
      Isil recently posted..Book Sharing Monday-Some dogs do

    10. I love bookstores and I go in every one I can. Sometimes I buy, sometimes I don’t. I browse new bookstores and second hand bookstores and even the book sections of big retailers. And when my kids were small, visits were frequent special treats.

      I don’t know how bookstores will fare in the future, but a recent article (in Publisher’s Weekly, I think) made the case that, at a minimum, publishers need bookstores as showrooms for their books. As a place readers can browse, hold, skim a book and then perhaps buy it online or buy the ebook. Maybe they’ll figure out how to make that business model work. I hope so.
      JT recently posted..Pop-up Book- 600 Black Spots

    11. Shockingly and living so close to London, I don’t have a local bookstore… they are all at least a 15 min bus ride away and not local independents. Our nearest independent closed down as he wasn’t getting enough custom. It was a sad thing but their books were so much more expensive than buying online. We are though blessed with an amazing local library that is about the only one in our area not to have been closed down by the govt.

      Might try this activity out with Milo – tin foil is something that has scared him in the past as the noise of it hurt his ears, but he now likes it as he knows it covers cheese! :)
      Tasha recently posted..A Monster Calls

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