Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Year the Swallows Came Early, by Kathryn Fitzmaurice

Can we manage to hold on to our dreams when those we trust in the most let us down? Can we forgive those we love when they've done something to break that trust? Kathryn Fitzmaurice explores these issues in her first novel, The Year the Swallows Came Early. These issues are heavy, but Fitzmaurice explores them in a way that's perfect for children on the verge of becoming young adults, our "tweens" trying to figure out the world around them.
The Year the Swallows Came Early
by Kathryn Fitzmaurice
NY: HarperCollins, 2009. 277 pages.
ages 9 to 12.
Eleanor "Groovy" Robinson is eleven years old and dreams of going to culinary school. Her greatest passion is creating the perfect menu for an exact feeling or event. Her grandmother even left her an inheritance that she was going to use to follow her dream.

But then one day, "things that look just right come undone quicker than the last day of summer." That day, her father is taken away to jail right in front of her. When Groovy finally is able to sit her mother down to talk about why this happened, she finds out that her mother actually called the police. It turns out that Groovy's dad had spent the $25,000 that her grandmother had left her -- money that Groovy was planning on using for professional cooking school. Can you imagine the anger and sense of betrayal that Groovy must feel toward both of her parents - first, at her mother for calling the police, and then at her father for spending her money?

The characters in this story, especially Groovy and her friends, are drawn in a realistic way that really gives a true sense of their emotional lives. This is a soft, understated story that nestled in my heart. Although it deals with big issues, it does so in a way that I think is very accessible to kids. Although Groovy's life is turned upside down, she learns to rise and fall with it. She doesn't forgive her parents right away, but she discovers the love that they really do have for her, even though they aren't perfect. People aren't just good or bad - they're a mixed up bag of both. And she learns that she can forgive.

I would definitely recommend The Year the Swallows Came Early for kids in 4th through 6th grade who enjoy realistic fiction, like Because of Winn-Dixie or Ruby Holler.

This book is on order for the Oakland Public Library. You can find it at Amazon and your local independent booksellers. To get a sense of what the book is like, click on the widget below from the publishers and read the first few chapters online.

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