By Maureen Tai, 16 June 2020
Ed was in a bad mood.
Books about big emotions are popular in our household. One of my favourites is Sweep, a gorgeously illustrated picture book that tells the charming cautionary tale of what happens when a sandy haired boy called Ed allows his bad mood to sweep him off his feet. We open with Ed, all bundled up in a heavy coat, a woolly hat on his head and a long scarf twirled around his neck, pulled up to cover almost all of his face. He’s dressed for Covid-19, and he’s very, very angry.
Ed is holding a long broomstick, and he is attempting to sweep up fallen leaves into a large yellow-sepia-russet coloured pile. A mischievous wind, denoted by swirling grey lines that curl across the page, threatens to undo all of Ed’s hard work. A leaf as large as his open hand is twirled by that same tricky wind, and it slaps right into his face, causing Ed to trip over his broom. As trivial as that sounds (and don’t most tantrums start from the most modest of inciting incidences?), Ed’s mood sours considerably. His brow furrows, his eyes narrow with determination. He picks up his broom and sweeps more vigorously than he ever has before, powered by the gale-force of his lost temper.
As we turn the pages, we are aghast to see that Ed is sweeping up not only leaves, but everyone and everything in his path. Ed doggedly pushes his broom and his pile gets bigger and bigger. Before you know it, a scooter, bicycles, house pets, cars, an entire athletic team, a bus loaded with passengers, two old ladies having tea (their pinkies stuck in the air as they hold on to their delicate tea cups), all of these have been swept into a jumbled pile by Ed’s tenacious broom. His ire knows no bounds.
In fact, Ed’s bad mood has blinded him to the wonderfully uplifting things around him. There is a ferris wheel, full of laughing children, their hands waving ecstatically. A roller coaster rumbles in the distance, the cars full of people with outstretched arms. Further up in the sky, hot air balloons hover like colourful oversized light bulbs. Paper kites tug on their strings, their ribboned tails flapping in the breeze. The townsfolk smile and greet each other from windows.
No, none of this is evident to Ed. His steely eyes are trained on his broom, on the ground in front of him, and on his pile of leaves which is now as high as a four storey building, and growing. And it continues to grow until the entire town is engulfed in leaves. The sky has turned coal black and all the lights in the buildings have gone out. By then, Ed has begun to doubt his bad mood. He finally stops to survey the incredible damage he has wrought.
Because this is a picture book, the ending is, of course, a highly satisfying one. The ill wind dissipates and Ed is able to move beyond his destructive behaviour. What I find so clever about Sweep is how perfectly balanced the storytelling is, as shared between the writer and the illustrator. It is a tricky equilibrium to achieve, as any aspiring picture book writer or illustrator will tell you, and it is executed masterfully in this very funny, very relatable and very clever picture book. So next time your little person feels a big emotion coming on, hold onto your horses and grab a hold of Sweep. It could well save you.
For ages 5 and up.