Buzzing Kids’ Books – The Year the Swallows Came Early

Announcements. I have an unusual number of these, so please bear with me. There is actual content below.

First, I participated in an email discussion about Christian speculative fiction, initiated by Mike Duran. He has posted the first part today at Novel Journey. (Warning: the discussion has taken a turn on a statement I made about what CBA’s target audience—women. Evidently my remark was controversial. Well, I hadn’t intended it to be so, but I’m pretty sure the comment I left, is! 😮 )

Second, I posted a review of an upcoming Marcher Lord Press release, By Darkness Hid at Speculative Faith which I hope you’ll take time to read.

And lastly, you’re invited to vote for the CSFF Blog Tour’s February Top Blogger.

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The Children’s Book Blog Tour, of which I am a member, is featuring Kathryn Fitzmaurice‘s debut novel, The Year the Swallows Came Early.

Tomorrow I’ll give a full review of the book, but today I want to think a little bit about what makes a character draw readers in, perhaps even become memorable.

Eleanor Robinson, AKA Groovy, is just such a character. I found she drew me into the story on the first page:

We lived in a perfect stucco house, just off the sparkly Pacific, with a lime tree in the backyard and pink and yellow roses gone wild around a picket fence. But that wasn’t enough to keep my daddy from going to jail the year I turned eleven. I told my best friend, Frankie, that it was hard to tell what something was like on the inside just by looking at the outside. And that our house was like one of those See’s candies with beautiful swirled chocolate on the outside, but sometimes hiding coconut flakes on the inside, all gritty and hard, like undercooked white rice.

So here’s what I learned about Groovy, even before I knew her name. She considered her house perfect. Her father went to jail. She has a best friend who evidently is a boy. She thinks about things more deeply than you’d expect an eleven year old to think and even came to a wise, truthful conclusion. And she doesn’t like coconut.

Only that last part is a negative, as far as I am concerned. That her father went to jail makes me feel sad for her, and curious about why. That she has a boy best friend makes me think she’s not a spoiled-princess type. And that she’s likable enough to have a best friend. The coconut thing, I think she’s just wrong, but I’m willing to let that slide because I know there’s a whole set of people out there who don’t like coconut.

A little further into the story, I learn that Groovy had a special relationship with her father and that her mother loves her. I learn that those two facts seem to be in conflict and maybe in doubt. That she suddenly feels like she doesn’t know one of her parents as she always thought makes her even more sympathetic.

I also learn that she has One Great Desire and a particular talent. Before too long, she comes to realize that others have a similar passion to hers and this changes the way she perceives those of like mind. OK, I’m trying intentionally to be circumspect because I don’t want to give away too much of the story. The point is, Groovy doesn’t have a closed mind.

Eventually she shows that she is also kind, that she appreciates others for their kindness. In other words, she’s aware of others at the character level.

Is she perfect? Not at all. She makes some independent decisions that lead her into a real tailspin, and while it looks for a time as if she might get stuck, she makes another change that is probably the best of all, one that just might make her a memorable character.

I invite you to see what others on the Children’s Book Blog Tour have to say about The Year the Swallows Came Early:

17 Comments

  1. I find it interesting that several of us posted that first paragraph/page of the book. It’s really a great opening.

    I am also interested in your comments about her parents. I saw one blogger who thought the mom was not very nice, but I think Groovy came to see that her mother, though she seemed distracted, was paying attention and loved her, while her father, who seemed much more loving, wasn’t paying attention and he crushed her. I found the book to be excellent because of how well-rounded the characters were, all likable but flawed.

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  2. The beginning of this book was so compelling to me; I just had to find out why her dad was arrested, and also what crazy thing her mother would be deciding next. I loved that her mom gave up horoscopes, or at least that’s what I think she’ll do, at the end. Those can’t be a good way to look for guidance in your life!

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  3. Hello, Rebecca. Thank you for posting your comments about The Year the Swallows Came Early, and about the first page. I only wish I shared your love of coconut!!

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  4. […] … is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old… Buzzing Kids’ Books – The Year the Swallows Came Early – hsblog.org 02/23/2009 Announcements . I have an unusual number of these, so please bear with me. […]

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  5. The only way to develop a taste for coconut is to eat lots of lamingtons a a child. I suspect there are cultures around the globe where parents neglect this duty. It’s no wonder they have problems as the kids grow up!

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  6. I don’t believe I’ve ever visited your blog, but I was led here from MAW books. Great blog!

    This book sounds so good. I am going to have to pick it up.

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  7. I love your observations! (I love coconut too!) Groovy is a great character and that is one great hook in the first paragraph!

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  8. Ken, I don’t know what lamingtons are, but it is true, I learned to love coconut as a child. About once a year, as a treat, we would buy a coconut, drill holes and drain the “milk,” then crack it open and pry chunks away from the shell. It was work my dad mostly did, but the project created anticipation and made it all the more fun. So, yes, I learned to like coconut. 😉

    Becky

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  9. Kathryn, writing about coconut reminds me of what I wish I’d said in my review today. One of the things I loved was Groovy’s voice. I noticed, for some reason, the first and second time she used the word “million.” At first I thought, with my editor hat, that a bit of repetition had slipped in. But no. It soon became apparent this was a part of Groovy’s thinking. As were the food references, the recipe book, the notebook with foodology. You really did a wonderful job with some of the parts that might not come up in reviews but which contributed to the entire reading experience to make it thoroughly enjoyable.

    Becky

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  10. Sally, I went to your blog right after I posted and had to laugh that we had taken such a similar tack.

    Bellezza, I’m with you. I wasn’t sure what the point of the mom’s astrology was, but when she gave it up in the end, I thought it was an outstanding device to show the character’s development. No big speech necessary because we had seen the whole story long her focus on it, so the change was powerful.

    Tina, I’m happy you made your way over here. Thanks for the kind words. I hope you get the book and enjoy it as much as I did.

    Becky, thanks for stopping by too. I can really see the power of hooking the reader early, and this book sure hooked me.

    Becky

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  11. […] writing at A Christian Worldview of Fiction, does a close reading of the opening of the book to show how a good writer conveys a lot about a character with just a few words. Paraklesis does […]

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  12. Really great analysis, Becky! You’ve convinced me to add this to my TBR list. I learned of this blog tour via Superfast Reader, and her blurb about your close reading of the opener was too good to pass up — glad I popped over.

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  13. And by the way, not to make a shameless plug, but based on the title of your blog you may be interested in an essay I wrote on “Finding Grace in Fiction.” You’ll find it at http://mindywithrow.com/?p=267. Enjoy!

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  14. […] A Christian Worldview of Fiction […]

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  15. […] a look at characterization […]

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  16. Mindy, thanks for stopping by. I hope you enter one of the contests and win a free copy. But if not, I hope you still buy it because it is a worthwhile book, for sure.

    Becky

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  17. Wow that was a really great post. I could never write something about a part of a book like that.

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