This book was an impulse buy at my local bookshop in December last year. I was stocking up on Christmas presents and the beautiful cover by Thomas Campi caught my eye. When I noticed that the book was written by award-winning French author Timothée de Fombelle, I didn’t hesitate.
A Swallow in Winter is a short, illustrated Christmas tale aimed at readers ages 7+. At 64 pages, it might prove challenging for readers who are more used to picture books, especially as the language is rich and lyrical. Illustrations feature throughout, however, including a number of double spreads, which complement the story and add visual appeal.
Set on Christmas Eve, the book explores the stories of three main characters. Frenchman Freddy d’Angelo drives a freezer van for a failing ice-cream business. He is something of a loner, but secretly relishes a little company, whether it’s a conversation with an imaginary passenger or a brief chat about fried fish with a waiter. Gloria, perhaps the most fascinating of the three, is a swallow like no other. Rescued and cared for by a young boy in an African village years earlier, she has developed a genuine interest in humans. And this winter, she ignores the pull of the equator to fly north, convinced someone is waiting for her. The young African boy is largely absent from the text. Indeed, we learn from Gloria that his village is abandoned and that she has been unable to locate him.
Gloria’s migration northwards and Freddy’s journey home to his small French village lend momentum to the story, combined with a strong sense that something is going to happen when they arrive at their destination. I won’t spoil the story by revealing the ending; I urge you to read the book to find out!
A Swallow in Winter is a beautiful observed, gentle exploration of movement and migration, solitude and companionship that will warm the soul even on the coldest of winter days.
A Swallow in Winter
Written by Timothée de Fombelle
Illustrated by Thomas Campi
Translated from French by Sarah Ardizzone
Published by Walker Books, 2022
Originally published as Quelqu’un m’attend derrière la neige (Gallimard Jeunesse, 2019)
You can buy a copy of A Swallow in Winter here or find it in a library.*
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Laura Taylor is the founder of world children’s literature blog Planet Picture Book. She is a small business copywriter, NAATI-certified translator of French into English and member of AUSIT. When she is not writing, she is reading, and chasing after her two young children. She tweets @plapibo and posts at www.planetpicturebook.com