#MGTakesOnThursday: The Children of Swallow Fell by Julia Green

Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

This is a weekly meme started and hosted by @marysimms72 on her brilliant Book Craic blog.

If you love books written for an MG audience and wish to take part, the steps to follow are:

  • Post a picture of a front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.
Cover image by Helen Crawford-White, published by Oxford University Press

Author: Julia Green

Illustrator: Helen Crawford-White

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Favourite sentence from Page 11: The narrator of the story, Isabella rushes to the phone early in the morning, hoping that there is news from her Mamma who has not returned home since the previous day’s bombings…

” There’s a hissing sound, then silence, then her voice again, fainter”

This book in three words: Breakdown – Rebuilding – Hope

This is one of those perfectly composed books that swept me along in its enthralling narrative until I actually had to force myself to put it down and let the story percolate a little before continuing.

Narrated by Isabella in a breathless, present-tense stream of consciousness mixed with dialogue, the story immediately plunges you into a world turned on its head. From bidding “Ciao” to her best friend Marta at the school gates on page one, isabella’s leisurely journey home turns to nightmare as explosions rip through her un-named Italian city by page three. Short sentences punctuated with frantic text messages immerse the reader into the panicked crowd as it surges across narrow bridges under a sky darkening with smoke and Isabella rushes home to her anxious, artist father. The tension mounts as they await messages from older sister Gabriella, away at university in another city and mum, stuck at work in the danger zone. News and internet blackouts add to the feeling of helplessness and it becomes clear to the reader that political forces are at play of which Isabella in her schoolgirl innocence, has not been aware.

A hurried phone call from Mum, who it appears is the dynamic force of the family, orders Dad and Isabella to flee to Dad’s old family home in the north of England, where she and Gabriella will join them when they can. Their subsequent train journey had resonances of one of my favourite chapters in all children’s fiction – the escape from Berlin of Anna and her mother and brother in When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. However, in this book, the roles are reversed and Isabella must take charge of the situation as her Dad sinks deeper into confusion, depression and helplessness. 

When they eventually arrive in the empty, musty house, situated in an abandoned village in a remote northern corner of a near-future England broken by political and economic catastrophe (read into this what you will) all hope seems lost. While Dad remains shut in his bedroom, trying to draw, it is Isabella who must explore her new surroundings and try to start rebuilding their lives. When he eventually rouses himself to seek fresh supplies leaving Isabella alone, she has to rely on a pair of wild children to ensure her survival. As she adjusts to a new reality without electricity, shops and running water, Isabella’s longing for her entire family to return as the swallows do, to their ancestral home, is palpable.

I won’t go into any more details about the plot as I strongly urge you to read this book yourself and enjoy Julia Green’s supremely skilled revelation of the story. I love the spareness of her writing, with the space she allows for her readers to interpret the meaning of hints and suggestions in the text. I can see this book becoming a future classic, a vivid imagining of the results of selfish governance and the hope for a better, simpler future driven by the idealism and energy of the younger generation. I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone of 10+.

I am most grateful to Oxford University Press for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

4 thoughts on “#MGTakesOnThursday: The Children of Swallow Fell by Julia Green

  1. I’ve now read this and loved it! It wasn’t what I was expecting, but I was completely immersed in it. Julia’s writing style is just wonderful. I have The House of Light and will try to get to it soon.

    Liked by 1 person

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