Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

Release Date: January 26, 2016
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers

America’s Review:

Sometimes a book cannot be judged by its cover;  Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit is one of those books that can.  From the beauty of its watercolor painted cover depicting a shivering girl leaving footprints in the snow while in the shadow of a swallow, to the story of undying trust and loyalty between two unlikely people forged out of a need for survival, this book never lets you down.

It was to be for a few short hours when Anna’s Father left her with the neighbor, Herr Doktor Fuchsmann while he went to an “all intellectuals” meeting in Krakow called operation Sonderaktion Krakau. The Germans had just entered their city, Krakow, Poland in 1939 and it was in this, her 7th year, that little Anna would never see her father again. Left entirely alone, with the ability to speak seven different languages thanks to her father’s linguistic talents, little Anna must endure the Nazi regime while staying alive.

Anna is an intelligent, silent observer and understands that the soldiers within their city will show her little compassion and no mercy. I was entranced with this little child prodigy and the fear I felt knowing what happens to the city of Krakow. Within the first few days of being alone, locked out of her apartment with no one stepping up to take her in their care, Anna observes a man who she intuitively trusts and knows will take care of her despite having a prior relationship.

Anna seeks out the man, impressing him with her ability to speak multiple languages, while he impresses her with his ability to call down a swallow; he warns her to take care of herself and in his warning she takes it as advice to follow him. He doesn’t know she has followed him out of the city until her loud cry reverberates through the woods warning him, the soldiers and the reader danger is present. Thanks to her warning the Swallow Man is saved from being discovered and the reader can let out a breath as the danger has passed. To show his gratitude to little Anna, the Swallow Man allows her to follow on his journey giving her simple rules to follow: never speak of her name, her past or question his authority in front of others. She may ask as many questions as she would like, but only when they are alone together.

Their journey is not clear as they are continuously escaping the ever present danger lurking in each and every town, city, and person they encounter for fear that the German soldiers will discover them. The fear of the unknown kept me untwined in Anna’s journey while her unyielding trust in the Swallow Man was intense. When they encounter a Jewish man on their journey it is apparent the devotion and loyalty is reciprocated. The Swallow Man allows Hirschl, a Jewish man who fled the ghetto in Lubliner, to accompany them on their journey against his better judgment, but to the pleasure and delight of little Anna. After they became a group of three, Operation Barbarossa, has started and their fight for their lives becomes more perilous than before. When they encounter a peddler who threatens their existence,  the Swallow Man has to murder this stranger for fear of what may befall them if he doesn’t and Hirschl leaves them shortly after this act of brutality. The intense grief is felt through Savit’s compassionate description of words flooded with emotion.

Throughout the book many issues weaved together making a truly cohesive description of the dark elements found within humanity during times of desperation. This is not a book to hand to a young child for the visions depicted are not for the weak minded nor for those wanting a light summation of World War II. The unnatural relationship formed was one only found in times of hardship and one in which I cannot let go easily. Anna is a brave young girl who survives this world because she had a savior and learned to become one as well.

In the classroom:

Childhood obesity is an epidemic Michelle Obama felt compassionate about. She started the Lets Move initiative to get students of all ages to MOVE! Thanks to this initiative it makes this lesson plan possible–although it doesn’t exactly link to common core, it does make it possible to justify in the classroom. Anna and the Swallow Man walked. They walked everywhere–across borders of towns, cities and countries. The average person walks around 1 mile or 2,500 steps a day. Since our characters in this book walked from sun up to sun down they probably walked around 5 miles, or 10,000 steps a day minimum. Their walking allows you a unique opportunity when teaching a World War II unit. Have your students wear a pedometer–most gym teachers can get these in bulk, or your local YMCA may have a classroom set you can borrow. Give your students a pedometer and have them walk the journey. Pick your path–set the destination: Krakow to Warsaw to Berlin. Have teams compete. Have individuals complete a homework assignment to endorse Lets Move! and help complete their own journey of steps. Imagine a homework assignment where each student has to walk a mile a day. Do your students have the tenacity to endure what a seven year old girl did for not only a week, but more than seven years?


The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary

Diversity is best taught through examples of different types of culture and an understanding from where it came. It is refreshing to learn what unique heritage is within the walls of our classrooms and with an open-mind and respect, teaching cultural differences can help build an understanding of one another verse open hostility for the unknown. One way to teach diversity is selecting books with global characters. To start the new year, Kathryn Tanquary, has made this possible with the depth and dimension to Japanese folklore in a magical awakening with her book, The Night Parade.

Saki, a 13 year old girl, is a typical middle school youth who is forced to take a family vacation to visit her aging grandmother in the mountains of Japan where there is NO cell phone service. Saki lives in Tokyo, Japan where she is busy enjoying big city life with her besties going out to Karaoke bars and being in the popular click. She cannot phantom being without cell service much less missing out on hanging with her friends over break to spend it in a some backwards, remote village without air conditioning and electricity! I have met many middle schoolers who can totally relate to Saki.

When Saki’s family arrives her Grandmother meets them in customary attire ready to start preparing for the summer festivities of Obon. Saki, who is bored to death, takes short cuts on the traditional rituals and continues to sass her parents. I was laughing out loud at her antics and could just see the sassy pants she was wearing while short changing everyone around her. Saki doesn’t think she is being crass as most her age don’t, but what Saki, and most middle school kids don’t realize, is your behaviors reflect back on to oneself and their family. Saki’s actions land her in the middle of the Night Parade and she must discover how to remove the curse she has placed on herself, her family and on the mountain village.

Saki is a spoiled brat who is a member of the mean girl clan of her Middle School in Japan. Friendships at this age are complicated; it is difficult to stand up for yourself when kids can be extremely cruel. Saki encounters members of the Night Parade who assist her despite the attitude and sarcasm she delivers. Aided by these mythical creatures, she discovers she is more than what gossip and rumors have formed her to be. The magical entities in the story are well formed to represent more than  just spirits of the netherworld and become her friends. Thanks to these unforeseen circumstances, Saki learns to seek from within and befriend the past as it has helped shape who she is.

In the classroom:

As expressed in the review, this is a wonderful book for teaching diversity in the Middle School. Too often students are harassed because of their differences. This is an opportunity to have students research their own background. Once Saki is confronted by danger she has placed on her family, she learns to appreciate and respect her Grandmother and the traditions of the past. Most of your students will not know about their past or their lineage. This is a two part assignment: read a book and complete a written research.  All your students can read this book as a starting place or you can use it for your Japanese students and have all other students find a fictional book starring a character from their own background. CCSS in the middle grades wants your students to “conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.7.) I really liked the ability to explore different avenues as stated in this CCSS, but also allowing students to discover from where they came.

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