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Picture Book Review: A Swift Return by Fiona Barker (illustrated by Howard Gray) #TheWriteReads #BlogTour

My dear bookish friends,

Some of you may know that I absolutely adore picture books. I love the combination of the visual and artistic component and the written story. So, when I heard that TheWriteReads would go on tour with Tiny Tree Books’ A Swift Return I knew I had to take part!

Please keep on reading to find out what A Swift Return is about, and for my detailed review!

As usual, a big thank you to TheWriteReads, and also Tiny Tree for my review copy as well as spot on this blog tour (none of which influenced my review or rating in any way!).

About the Book

Aria has her head in the clouds. Yusuf keeps his feet on the ground. But when they work together to save a bird who has lost her way, something magical happens. When Swift loses her way on her epic migration. Aria and Yusuf come to her rescue and are inspired to think big about looking after the sky above their city. Inspired by Fiona and Howard’s love for wildlife of all kinds, A Swift Return is the follow-up to Setsuko and the Song of the Sea. Howard’s beautiful illustrations evoke a strong sense of place, strengthened by the beautiful Arabic text distilled by Maysoon AbuBlan.

My Review

A Swift Return is a wonderful picture book with beautiful illustrations and text that is written both in English as well as Arabic. I felt the Arabic text is portrayed so softly that it almost flows into the illustration, which I found was really nicely done. As I don’t know any Arabic I don’t know how well the translation works of course, but I feel this book would be especially nice for bilingual children, but it also works nice for just English speakers because of how the translation is depicted on the pages.

In the story, we are following Aria and Yusuf on their way to becoming friends while helping an injured swift. I think the idea behind this, their growing friendship and how they work together and the swift becomes healthier and stronger as their friendship grows, is really beautiful.

Now, you could just quickly leaf through the pages and be done with it in a few minutes. However, I have learned that in most cases, picture books are very deep, contrary to what you might expect from a book of 32 pages and with such little text. But when you read between the lines, when you combine what you see with what you read, then you realise there is actually so much more to it than meets the eye.

That is why I felt at that in a way there is a bit of a missed opportunity in here. We can see Aria and Yusuf working together in the streets, him building things and her watering the plants, and then, after the streets were so dusty and full of smoke at first, suddenly the “city bloomed green and yellow with patches of sparkling blue. Insects buzzed and the air was clear.”

While I love that the grey, hazy, misty city changed into such a beautiful concoction of greens and blues in the end, I felt this ending came about very abruptly, and I felt addressing the actual problems and what Aria and Yusuf did to change them would have been very powerful and given all the more opportunity to discuss these societal issues while reading the book with children. I know that discussing the book and answering questions that may arise is the adult’s responsibility when reading this (or other) books with very young children, but I still feel these issues could have addressed a little better.

How exactly are they helping the swift? What exactly are they doing to change the city? What little changes could readers incorporate into their lives in order to make a change too? At the same time, I also felt that the two characters might reinforce stereotypes a little. Yusuf is good with his tools and can fix and build things, while Aria is the softer, more artistic one who thinks of stories and tends to flowers. I normally don’t mind these things too much, and I know not every (picture) book has to challenge stereotypes; it is just something that crossed my mind.

I know I am analysing this picture book very closely, and perhaps one might as well just leaf through the pages and just enjoy the beautiful illustrations and not think too much. I think both is possible, and neither is wrong. I just saw a bit more opportunity in the story, but I do see that the scope of the picture book is only very short, and perhaps it is enough to give thought-provoking impulses and hand over some of the responsibility to the adult reader as well.

All in all, A Swift Return is a thought-provoking dual language picture book with beautiful illustrations that I’m sure all children will enjoy.

4 stars from me!


Thank you all so much for reading! 


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