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A Swallow in Winter

Authored by Timothée de fombelle translated by Sarah Ardizzone
Illustrated by Thomas Campi
Published by Walker Books

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A Swallow in Winter: Award winning author Timothée de Fombelle’s beautiful fable takes place in a contemporary setting and at Christmas time. However, its exploration of the manner in which lives intertwine in ways we may not understand and its messages of hope and humanity are valid at any time of year.

A Swallow in Winter tells the story of a swallow, Gloria, who against all normal behaviour, is flying north as Christmas approaches, away from the warmth of Africa where all the other swallows are spending the winter months. Their annual migration defies explanation in many ways and the swallows may not understand the necessity still less do they understand or notice the tiny humans on the ground below. Gloria is different. As a small bird she was rescued by a young boy following an accident and nursed back to health with kindness and gentleness. It was he who named her Gloria. Now Gloria flies alone, leaving the other swallows behind, in search of something or someone. Meanwhile Freddy D’Angelo, an ice cream salesman is also travelling north across Europe, in his yellow van, towards London to make a delivery. A solitary man who can go for many days without human interaction or proper conversation. Freddy listens to his cassette playing Christmas tunes all year round and chats to imaginary passengers to pass the time. As Gloria flies, she thinks about the boy who saved her and how she was unable to find him when she subsequently returned to his village, and below her, Freddy drives pondering on a lost love and his quiet and empty home.

Slowly and carefully through the rich and beautiful text and the stunning illustrations by Thomas Campi the reader becomes aware not only of these separate lives but also of the world they inhabit. The bringing together of the different threads, the different lives, is beautifully executed. It is then that the subtitle of ‘A Christmas Miracle’ feels most apt. The story and in particular its final pages are full of compassion and care. The partnership between author Timothée de Fombelle and translator Sarah Ardizzone is a long standing and extremely successful one. It must take a great deal of trust to hand over your work to another but Ardizzone’s translation is both rich and atmospheric. The illustrations convey much that adds to the story, the starkness of the Calais port, the light and warmth from the church on Christmas Eve, the war-torn African city and Freddy’s little yellow van battling through bad weather, all add to the reader’s understanding.

Inevitably this is a book that will be brought out at Christmas time and shared as a story of hope and kindness but it would be a shame if it was neglected for the rest of the year. This is a story that would provide an alternative viewpoint to some media stories and could prompt thoughtful discussion in the classroom around the topics of migration and refugees. It would be excellent as a book for promoting empathy and understanding.