FOLLOW THE SWALLOW :: because we all need a little diversity in our lives

Ages baby to pre-teen

Two little birds learning to fly literally bump into each other! And they begin a friendship that teaches them both about acceptance, trust and the world they live in.

There’s Chack the Blackbird and Apollo the Swallow who, when they meet, begin a fun and witty dialogue about themselves. At first they repeat to each other over and over again, “I don’t believe you!” as they tell about their lives. 

Apollo tries to tell Chack that he’ll be flying to Africa, but Chack says, “I don’t believe you!”  And sure enough, the day comes and Apollo is gone – to Africa. But Chack needs to show Apollo the orange berries on his tree because Apollo didn't believe that the white blossoms could turn to orange berries – yet here they are.

So Chack sends a message with a dolphin, who passes it to a camel, who passes it to a crocodile, who passes it to a monkey, who eventually finds Apollo. It’s a funny game of Chinese Whispers – the message starts out as “Come to the tree” and ends up as “One, two, three, Whee.”  (Actually not a bad effort all things considered.)

When the friends are finally united upon Apollo’s return from Africa, Chack’s tree is back to having white blossoms but Apollo listens, thinks and then believes Chack – even though he hasn’t seen the evidence.

Pam Smy’s illustrations are gorgeous – they remind me of new life, spring, refreshment, bounty – all the good things that this story brings to mind. (There’s a more recent version too, illustrated by Martin Ursell – both are gorgeous.)

This is a book that covers a lot of ground. It’s a good early reader. There’s repetition (“I don’t believe you!”) and rhyme (Apollo the Swallow) for the beginning reader to contribute, but there's also enough complexity in the words to make it interesting, time and again.

There are also:

  • lessons about migration,
  • lessons about animals and their habitats,
  • lessons about the possibility of a story or message changing with the telling,
  • lessons about birds and nests and eggs,
  • reminders that friends don’t have to be the same,
  • hints about the value of diversity,
  • puns (“And what do you swallow?”),
  • hints about helping others, and
  • reminders that sometimes we need to trust those we know and care about.

A game or two of Chinese Whispers either before or not long after reading this story will help younger listeners to appreciate the humour. They’ll likely have no trouble seeing the humour in two boastful little birds who won’t believe each other when the truth is so self-evident!

Follow the Swallow was written by Julia Donaldson, Illustrated by Pam Smy.