Swallow's Dance Reviews

Kirkus Reviews ★ Starred Review

“Spiritual and cultural beliefs blossom into a celebration of life—at least until the darkness of fear and ruthlessness of the earthmother rip apart a homeland and a cherished way of life. This mesmerizing, aching tale explores ancient beliefs in gods and nature and their impact on an Aegean island society in the Bronze Age….Orr nimbly shows Leira’s imperiousness and her humanity alike as the girl witnesses the jarring shift in order when once-exalted priests and priestesses find themselves cast adrift. Her mixture of prose and free verse to tell Leira’s story is lyrical and magnetic—and devastating. Not for readers searching for a simple or happy journey, this is a beautiful song of a book that shows that life isn’t always fair, but change is always constant.”

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Booklist ★ Starred Review

“As she faces the demands of sheer survival, Leira gradually realizes that the privileges afforded to her, thanks to her social status, are meaningless, and she starts taking on whatever unpleasant job she must to protect herself and her family. There are no miracles and no clear answers for Leira, but she learns to love what she has and that she can cope with anything. Leira’s lyrical first-person narrative advances the story along beautifully with a fitting sense of urgency, and free-verse songs clue readers in to her emotional development. Immersive historical fiction.”
—Donna Scanlon

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School Library Journal ★ Starred Review

“Gr 5-8–Leira’s sheltered life of privilege is all she has ever known. Her biggest concern is becoming a woman so she can start her priestess rites. Her people believe the earth goddess will protect them if the proper rituals and sacrifices are carried out, but an earthquake rocks their existence. Leira’s mother is crushed inside their home and suffers severe brain damage, and eventually her family chooses to take their chances by boarding a boat to Crete. As tragedy upon tragedy befalls the sweet but naive Leira in this Bronze Age–set tale, readers will cheer for her to succeed, grow, and to find her way in this new world. Some chapters written in verse make the more emotional plot lines sing. An eye-opening look at how difficult it is when one’s status changes in life, and how attitude can shape outcome. VERDICT Beautiful writing and a fast-moving plot will give young historical fiction fans much to love.”
–Mandy Laferriere, Fowler Middle School, Frisco, TX

Read the full review in the October 2018 issue of School Library Journal

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“After her home is swallowed by the sea, Leira’s protracted fall from grace is effectively punctuated by seamless narrative shifts among prose, verse, and song, which fans of Orr’s Dragonfly Song (BCCB 01/18) will recognize. What she endures—the uncertainty of her family’s fate and becoming a servant herself—makes for a gripping exploration of privilege during her journey toward womanhood.”

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Canadian Children’s Book News

“This beautifully written story left me wanting more. It revolves around the importance of family values and the strength one must have to survive unexpected challenges. Swallow’s Dance could be used in conjunction with the grades-five-to-eight Language Arts or Social Studies curriculum and would be great to teach students how to incorporate symbolism and imagery through free verse and poetry. In addition, Swallow’s Dance could also be used to teach students about family, culture, history and the importance of the role of women in society. A fantastic novel to use as a read-aloud or novel study!”
—Michelle Snowden

Read the full review on page page 28 of the Winter 2018 issue of Canadian Children’s Book News

CM Magazine

Swallow’s Dance is a sweeping tale of courage, fortitude, hardship and perseverance against all odds. It is also a coming of age story, an intimate glimpse into the life of a young girl adjusting to puberty at a time when her family, friendships and her understanding of her place in the world are brutally torn apart. Wendy Orr has crafted a sympathetic, memorable heroine whose struggles and challenges transcend time from the Bronze Age to modern day. Youth will relate to and sympathize with Leira, and readers of all ages will find hope in Leira’s resilience and ability to adapt and move forward despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Orr delves into the universal themes of family, love, loss, friendship, status and endurance within an engrossing and moving tale. As in Dragonfly Song, Orr includes some of Leira’s thoughts in segments of beautiful lyrical prose that could easily function as stand-alone poetry. While suitable for middle grade students and a wonderful introduction to mythology and discussions surrounding puberty, spirituality, class, mental health, death and disaster, Swallow’s Dance is one of those rare books that is also just a great story, an epic tale for all ages.

Highly Recommended.”
—Cate Carlyle is an author and former elementary teacher currently residing in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where she is a librarian at Mount Saint Vincent University.

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Historical Novels Review

“Prolific children’s author Wendy Orr beckons us back 4,000 years to Minoan Greece…The ‘Isle of Swallows’ is the author’s name for Thera, which suffered a devastating volcanic eruption in 1625 BCE. This stunning middle-grade novel is poetic, lyrical, and interspersed with elegant free-verse through which readers walk in Leira’s footsteps and share her many heartaches. Nevertheless, from the residual gray ash of the goddess’ warmth, the colour of new life spring as Leira discovers a new skill. Fascinating author’s notes entice readers to seek further information about the Santorini archeological dig. Captivating throughout, this story reverberates long past the turning of its last page.”
—Fiona Alison

Read the full review on page 59 of the February 2020 issue of Historical Novels Review

Youth Services Book Review

What did you like about the book? Top notch historical fiction for those who like it ancient!…Set during the Bronze Age, the story shows that migration has been a constant since time began, and that it has never been easy to lose your home and those whom you love and start over in a new place, in this case, Crete. Leira narrates, in prose and alternating poetry, the catastrophe and the emotional toll it takes on her and her family. Lots of animal sacrifice, daily ritual worship of the gods, and intense heartbreak for a young person unused to any hardship. The poetic interludes do a good job of describing the emotional journey. The scenes of devastation – earthquake in Santorini, tsunami in Crete – are riveting to experience through the lens of a survivor….

To whom would you recommend this book?  Definitely offer this to fans of Orr’s Dragonfly Song and to fans of historical fiction, ages 10-14.”
—Stephanie Tournas, Robbins Library, Arlington, MA

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Winnipeg Free Press

“Could you survive an earthquake that destroys your home and your town, devastates your family and turns your place in society upside down?

Edmonton-born (now Australia-based) author Wendy Orr presents this scenario for Leira, a young teen, in the setting of an actual catastrophe that took place in the Mediterranean in 1625 BC….Both a fascinating account of a real but forgotten society, and an exploration of a young woman’s resilience and courage in the face of adversity, this is a highly recommended novel for nine- to 12-year-old readers.”
—Helen Norrie

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Brigham Young University Children’s Book & Media Review

“Rating: Outstanding…

Orr brings to life an imaginative story from the Bronze Age through prose and free verse. This creative novel would appeal to fans of Shannon Hale….Leira finds purpose and place in learning a trade and realizing she is capable of love and sacrifice. This original story weaves a tale of strength, loyalty, and resilience.”

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Association of Children’s Librarians of Northern California BayViews

“Each month we post an annotated bibliography of books that were rated ‘Outstanding’ and nominated for our Distinguished List at our previous month’s meeting….

An unusual historical novel set in Minoan Greece, Swallow’s Dance used descriptive language and sections of blank verse to create the voice of its young heroine, Leira, as a series of volcanic eruptions interrupt her religious education and then completely disrupts her ordered and comfortable life.”

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Log Cabin Library

Swallow’s Dance is the fictionalized story inspired by the real events of a hurricane that occurred in 1625 BCE on the island of Thera (now known as Santorini) that resulted in a huge tsunami on Crete and the speculation of whether the people of Thera were able to flee to Crete before the city was buried.  Like Dragonfly Song, Swallow’s Dance is told through a combination of prose and free verse. It’s a wonderful mix of survival and a coming of age story.

Leira is a resilient young girl who endures so many hardships once she arrives in Crete. One of her early concerns is that she will never be able to complete her learning to become a woman….Despite everything that she endures, she is still strong, fierce and strives to improve her living situation, to one day be free. You can’t help rooting for Leira as she vows to honor her people and claim who she is.”

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Jill Jemmett

“This is a very powerful story. It was quite emotional at times. I had tears in my eyes by the end, but I was pleased with the ending. This story has a traditional Greek form because it is written partly in verse. The sections in verse are particularly descriptive and lyrical. This reinforces the Greek atmosphere of the story.

This is a beautiful and powerful story. I loved it!”

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Resource Links

“Rating: G…The story is related in a combination of prose and free verse, in keeping with the historic saga style. Leira becomes a resourceful and determined young woman, as she learns to appreciate life and family in a new and humble way.”
—Patricia Jermey

Read the full review on page 9 of the February 2019 issue of Resource Links

Kids’ BookBuzz

“This book is written in a very interesting way–the story is told both in prose and in verse. The poems seem to be Leira’s direct thoughts on what is happening around her, which made it feel like the reader was a part of the story.”
—Julia – Age 8

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