Monday, November 12, 2012

The Year the Swallows Came Early, by Kathryn Fitzmaurice

Title:  The Year the Swallows Came Early
Author:  Kathryn Fitzmaurice
Publisher:  Harper Collins
Year:  2009
Pages:  288
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Themes:  Family, Loss, Parent/Child Relationships
Age Range:  4th-8th Grade

Summary:  (from Goodreads)
Eleanor "Groovy" Robinson loves cooking and plans to go to culinary school just as soon as she's old enough. But even Groovy's thoughtfully--planned menus won't fix the things that start to go wrong the year she turns eleven--suddenly, her father is in jail, her best friend's long-absent mother reappears, and the swallows that make their annual migration to her hometown arrive surprisingly early. As Groovy begins to expect the unexpected, she learns about the importance of forgiveness, understands the complex stories of the people around her, and realizes that even an earthquake can't get in the way of a family that needs to come together

Love, loved, loved this book!  Fitzmaurice did an excellent job taking a very difficult subject and making it something accessible to younger readers.  Groovy is a girl with goals.  She knows exactly what she wants to do with the money that her great-grandmother, the famous writer, left for her.  Groovy is going to be a chef.  She keeps a cooking notebook, and tries out new recipes for her family and friends.  One day, on the way to help her friend at his brother's store, her father is arrested.  When she finds her mother to deliver the bad news, her mother tells her that she is the one who called the police.  It turns out that her father stole the money that was meant for her education and gambled it away on one bet.

Obviously, Groovy is devastated.  And feels betrayed.  And generally hates life.  Around the same time, her best friend's absent mother returns.  He is devastated, and feels betrayed, and generally hates life.  Both of these characters are living situations that go beyond the usual "my parents just don't understand" that populates much of children's literature, especially for this age range.  But there are children who might read this book that also have awful parental situations.  And, like this book, their stories do not always end up with a happy ending tied up in a bright shiny bow.  Fitzmaurice has written a book that tells children that being deeply angry at a parent is OK, but that eventually you are going to have to make some kind of peace, either with your parent or inside of yourself, in order to move forward.  The book also highlights the healing power of forgiveness, but with the recognition that sometimes forgiveness is hard, or not possible at all.

Teacher Resources:
HarperCollins Reading Guide

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