The Year the Swallows Came Early by Kathryn Fitzmaurice.
The Bowen Press/HarperCollins Publishers: NY, 2009.

Eleanor Robinson aka Groovy is a cook at eleven years old. Her fondest wish is to train at a culinary school. Knowing how costly it would be, she fears it won't be possible, and family problems are so overwhelming she's not sure she wants to continue cooking, even though customers at a friend's shop are clamoring for her specialty.

Alongside her problems and her best friend's (Frankie), the town is preparing for the annual swallow migration. The swallows travel from Argentina to San Juan Capistrano, in Southern California, to nest. The swallows' return coincides with the resolution of the children's problems, both learning to forgive a grievous injury and both sharing the return of a parent.

I thoroughly enjoyed Fitzmaurice's first novel. It is complex and emotional but also uplifting and hopeful. Two of the children in the story have career plans and are working towards their dreams (Eleanor and her cooking, Marisol and her drawings). There is community spirit - the children helping each other, Eleanor working in Luis's (Frankie's stepbrother) shop, Luis and Eleanor's father helping a resident homeless man. Eleanor and Frankie both struggle with hurt feelings and confusion about parental relationships. Both must on their own come to terms with the faults of a parent, but they support each other through the process.

The children seem older than 11 years. The book is recommended for 3rd to 5th graders by the publisher. Because of the emotional content, it seems more like 5th to 8th to me.

related-fathers and daughters, absent parent, forgiveness, conduct of life, creativity, cooking, drawing, migration of birds
RL=5th and up

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