The Swallows’ Flight by award-winning writer Hilary McKay offers the reader another treasure of historical fiction, this time set on the eve of World War II. We revisit familiar characters from The Skylarks’ War (the first book set on the eve of World War I) and see how they have grown into themselves, having families and careers of their own in the new Britain after the First World War and before the second commences.
The Swallows’ Flight masterfully weaves together the lives of five main characters. Erik and Hans – friends since the age of 10, living in Berlin, with big dreams of their own to make their way in the world by working in Berlin Zoo. Kate, the daughter of Vanessa and Peter, Clarry’s niece and god-daughter (characters from the first book), is the youngest of nine children, plagued with a recurring cough. Ruby Amaryllis, the second god-daughter of Clarry and daughter of Violet (also from the first novel), is a feisty girl with a pronounced birthmark on her face and a complicated relationship with her older brother Will. Finally, ‘dog’ (we come to know as Pax) is a scrapyard dog mistreated in his early life but ends up finding good fortune as his path is woven into the other main characters’ lives.
Each chapter of this beautiful novel takes us on a journey, a birds-eye view of each character’s life – before, during and after the war. The novel’s pace and fluidity have a distinctly different feel to The Skylarks’ War, which had a defined before and after the war structure, each character living the same reality. McKay takes a reader on a winding journey in this new novel, as she craftily meanders through wartime Britain and overseas, eventually bringing the characters’ paths back together with an ending that is pregnant with hope for the future.
This book would be best enjoyed as a companion to the first novel as the reader is offered an exclusive glimpse into what happens to much-loved characters. By reading this second novel, we come to know and love these familiar characters even more. McKay also expertly draws in details of the historical time period to the story, providing rich opportunities for discussion of what life was like for people in Britain (and overseas) at this time. This novel would be a perfect choice to talk about how the thread of events affects each character in different ways. For instance, how would you describe the characters of Ruby and Kate before the war and after the war? What do you think were the key factors that influenced these changes? Why do you think McKay integrated German characters into the story? What different perspective does this give us as the reader? Why do you think that McKay introduced the reader to Pax as a main character? What is his role in the story as a whole?
Whether enjoyed as a read aloud, a class novel or a selection for group reading or literature circles for ages 9-11, The Swallows’ Flight by Hilary McKay is one to treasure.
The Swallows’ Flight is the companion, middle-grade novel to Costa Children’s Book Award Winner (2018)
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