Review: The Swallow by Charis Cotter

swallow

The Swallow: A Ghost Story by Charis Cotter

Set in Toronto in the sixties, this book is about two lonely girls living in homes that attach to one another.  Polly has a huge family with foster siblings too.  She feels ignored by all of them, though she can’t get away from her twin brothers and their noise.  That’s how she finds her way into the attic as a safe place away from the bustle of her family.  Polly has always wanted to meet a ghost, which is why she thinks that Rose is a ghost the first time she hears her singing in her neighboring attic.  But Rose turns out to be a real girl, who just happens to look very ghostlike too.  Rose has always been able to see ghosts, and she hates it since they never leave her alone.  Rose spends a lot of her days alone, no one at school talks to her, her parents are very busy business people, and the housekeeper ignores her.  So the two girls quickly form a close friendship, made even closer by the frightening ghost that looks just like Rose and who threatens Polly’s life.  Can the two girls figure out who this ghost is and what she wants?

I seem to be on a roll with Canadian children’s book authors lately, and this is another wonderful Canadian read.  Cotter creates a mystery inside a ghost story that twists and turns delightfully along the way.  Readers will think they have it all figured out and then the story will change.  Yet somehow Cotter makes it all work and in the end the entire novel makes great sense, enough that readers will want to start again to see the clues they may have missed.

The writing here is exceptional.  Cotter writes with a confident voice, one that allows each of these girls to be entire unique.  The two of them are quite different from one another, each clearly resulting from their very divergent upbringings.  The friendship also reads as real with small arguments happening regularly and the two girls having to repair these small issues.  Through the entire book there is a wonderful ghostly presence, a feeling of being in a real place but one unseen by others.  It’s a place that is a delight to visit.

Perfect for reading under the covers with a flashlight, this strong ghost story is both entertaining and riveting.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Blue on Blue by Dianne White

blue on blue

Blue on Blue by Dianne White, illustrated by Beth Krommes

On a family farm, the day starts out with bright sunshine and laundry drying on the line.  Soon though, clouds move in and the weather changes, becoming colder.  The rain starts to fall and it falls for a long time, combined with thunder and lightning.  When the rain slows, the dogs and the little girl head outside, discovering along with the pigs the joy of muddy play in the sunshine.  Sun sets and baths are given.  The night ends with the sparkle of stars in the night sky and everyone tucked into bed except for the whales jumping in the moonlight.

Told in very simple poetry, this picture book shines and shimmers on the page.  White’s poem captures the wildness of a summer storm, the feeling of the endlessness of the rain, and then the slow return to sunshine and warmth.  In particular, she creates that sense of impending storm beforehand as well as the slow pitter patter of the drops as they slow and then end.  Her poetry is complete accessible for even the smallest of children who will enjoy the repetition and the farm setting with all of the animals.

Krommes is a Caldecott-award winning illustrator.  Her scatchboard and watercolor illustrations are incredibly detailed and marvelously textured.  She creates a sense of place so clearly here, with the little house perched on the edge of the water, the whales jumping, and the farm.  Her detailed art plays homage to the simple things in the life, the cat on the other side of the screen door, a jumprope over a bedpost, abandoned umbrellas, and mud. 

This book is a joy and is a perfect springtime or summertime read when the big storms are blowing through.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.