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K-12 Evaluated Resource Collection

Swallow's Dance

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Author/Publisher/Website: Orr, W.
Copyright: 2018
Evaluation/Record Entry Date: Jan/2019
Submitting suppliers/Website: Not Available
Primary Identifier: 9781772780628
Recommended Grades and Subjects/Courses: 5-8
(View recommended grades and subjects) English Language Arts

Resource Description

Leira, a member of the wealthy and noble Swallow Clan in the Bronze Age, and other village girls her age are beginning their “Learning” to become women when disaster strikes: an earthquake destroys her home and when she and her family escape to Crete, a volcanic eruption and tsunami devastate her life and her plans but she learns to become stronger, wiser, and better equipped to cope than the “Learning” could have taught her. This historical novel details the personal, societal, economic, and environmental impacts of natural disasters and the themes of family, community, love, and loss. Suitable for literature circles or guided novel study and to launch small group discussions and research for grades 5-8.


Does the resource support BC curriculum?
This product supports the Core Competencies of the BC curriculum:
Creative Thinking
Critical thinking
Positive Personal and Cultural Identity
Personal Awareness and Responsibility
Social Responsibility
This novel supports two Big Ideas for the grades 5-8 Language Arts Curriculum. One is "Exploring stories and other texts helps us understand ourselves and make connections to others and to the world". Students will make connections to the themes of family, community, and personal survival as they learn about the lives of the main characters and their way of living. The second Big Idea, "Using language in creative and playful ways helps us understand how language works", is displayed by the free verse poetry and songs that are shared by the characters to illustrate their environment, conflicts, and ultimate life goals.


Gender Roles, Identity & Sexual Orientation:
All male characters have traditional working roles; sailors and deckhands on trade ships, farmers, hunters, and general laborers. Women are responsible for child rearing, cooking, cleaning, and gathering food.
The main character's mother has an accident and becomes "like that of a child" in her mind with the inability to talk and express herself as she once did. Now this woman can only perform very simple tasks such as sweeping.
Belief System:
The characters believe in various gods and goddesses of the ocean, sky, and Earth.
Socio Economic:
There is a social hierarchy and family status among the people of the various islands and settlements. It ranges from slaves to nobility.
There is a public killing of a young slave girl as a sacrifice to the gods.
The main character is responsible for taking care of herself, her mentally ill mother, and their elderly nurse (or her grandmother) after leaving their home island. She is still learning about life and people and must protect her family from the natural disasters that occur. As these characters have lost everything, they have very limited food, water, and supplies in order to travel and survive.
There are repeated references to the process of "bleeding" as a reference to the protagonist's menstrual cycle and the process of maturing that may be awkward for some readers.
Do the social considerations support, rather than detract from, student learning?
Social Considerations Comments:
As this is a novel based on historical events, the author has portrayed the characters, setting, and social conflicts as realistic for this time period. This information is valuable for teachers to share and explain to their students when engaging with this story. The social considerations mentioned do not detract from the overall message of the novel.


Should this product be identified as Canadian?
Is the resource engaging?
Is the content current for the intended curriculum and grade?
Is the content accurate for the intended curriculum and grade?
Is the content timely and important for student broad understandings?
This resource supports the characteristics of Aboriginal worldviews and perspectives:
Connectedness and Relationship
Awareness of History
Engagement with the Land, Nature, the Outdoors
Emphasis on Identity
Language and Culture
Is the content appropriate to the emotional maturity and cognitive level of students?
Does the resource provide opportunities for creative and critical thinking?
Can the content be differentiated?
Not at all or slightly
Can reading level be adjusted?
Not at all or slightly
Is the level of detail appropriate?
Is the content of particular interest to male students?
Is the content of particular interest to female students?
Is the language use appropriate to the emotional maturity and cognitive level of students?
This novel is interesting and engaging based on the historical events which occur. The main character is a girl and female readers will likely find it easy to identify with her desire to mature into a young woman, find acceptance among her peers, and strive towards personal life goals. Male readers may not find it as easy to identify with the feelings, experiences, and physical development of this female character.


Does the resource make effective use of the medium?
Is the location of illustrations appropriate?
Is the resource easy to use?
Is the use of font, text size and presentation uniform?
Are extraneous elements/illustrations kept to a minimum?
Swallow's Dance has an intriguing, artistic front cover which invites the reader into the story. The vocabulary, font, and chapter divisions are all suitable for intermediate level students. The font size and placement are relatively consistent, only altering when Leira is speaking through poetry or song. Located in the beginning pages are two maps which display The Isle of Swallows, The Great Isle, and Gournia. In addition, there is an Author's Note explaining the historical events and their significance to this area of the world.


Does the text show insight into the complexity of the human condition?
Does the text broaden students’ experiences and understanding?
To what degree is this text stylistically rich?
Plot description:
This historical story has a group of interesting, well-developed characters and an intriguing plot as the main character, Leira, endeavors to survive after a volcanic eruption and tsunami destroy her island home and cause havoc with her sense of purpose in the world. She is part of the noble Swallow Clan family and is raised with a sense of wealth and dignity among the other people of her village. Leira is with other girls her age who are all doing their "Learning" in order to become women. The struggles and hardships that Leira endures after the natural disasters allow her to become stronger, wiser, and more capable than any traditional "Learning" teachings would ever provide to her.
Related Comments:
Swallow's Dance describes a rich setting and time period which provokes thought among readers. It tells about young Leira's personal thoughts around learning how to become a young woman, what this means for her family, and the friendships she cherishes most. This story describes the challenges characters face when natural disasters occur and how these events not only have personal impacts but also societal, economic, and environmental ones. Prominent themes of family, community, love, and loss will engage intermediate readers.
Literary Highlights:
Written prose and free verse poetry


At intended grade level(s)
Winner of the JLG (Junior Library Guild) Gold Standard Award. Included on the 2018 CBC Books “13 Canadian middle-grade books to watch for this fall” list. Teachers' Notes available through Allen & Unwin Book Publishers website.


This novel could be used in a literature circle or guided novel study in which students explore the topics of family, personal strength, and trust among people. Through small group discussions and research, students could explore their family heritage and learn about the challenges their ancestors endured to survive and thrive. In addition, elements of history (Minoan Bronze Age) and geography (the Mediterranean and the island of Crete) could be explored and discussed. Students could write free verse poetry to express their emotions towards their personal environment, a memory from childhood, or to explore challenging life questions.