One of our recommended books is Vango by Timothée de Fombelle


Between Sky and Earth

A breathless adventure from international award winner Timothée de Fombelle charts a desperate search for identity across the vast expanses of Europe.

In a world between wars, a young man on the cusp of taking priestly vows is suddenly made a fugitive. Fleeing the accusations of police who blame him for a murder, as well as more sinister forces with darker intentions, Vango attempts to trace the secrets of his shrouded past and prove his innocence before all is lost. As he crisscrosses the continent via train, boat, and even the Graf Zeppelin airship, his adventures take him from Parisian rooftops to Mediterranean islands to Scottish forests.

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A breathless adventure from international award winner Timothée de Fombelle charts a desperate search for identity across the vast expanses of Europe.

In a world between wars, a young man on the cusp of taking priestly vows is suddenly made a fugitive. Fleeing the accusations of police who blame him for a murder, as well as more sinister forces with darker intentions, Vango attempts to trace the secrets of his shrouded past and prove his innocence before all is lost. As he crisscrosses the continent via train, boat, and even the Graf Zeppelin airship, his adventures take him from Parisian rooftops to Mediterranean islands to Scottish forests. A mysterious, unforgettable, and romantic protagonist, Vango tells a thrilling story sure to captivate lovers of daring escapades and subversive heroes.

Read our interview with the author on the Reading Group Choices blog!

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  • Candlewick Press
  • Paperback
  • April 2016
  • 432 Pages
  • 9780763686048

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$12.99 indies Bookstore

About Timothée de Fombelle & Sarah Ardizzone (Translator)

Timothée de Fombelle is the author of Vango Between Sky and EarthTimothée de Fombelle is a popular French playwright who has achieved international success as a novelist with his debut, Toby Alone, and its sequel,Toby and the Secrets of the Tree. He has worked as a teacher and in 1990 set up his own theater company. Timothée de Fombelle lives with his family in Paris.

Sarah Ardizzone has won several awards for her translation work, including the Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation for Toby Alone by Timothée de Fombelle and for Eye of the Wolf by Daniel Pennac. She lives in London


“In this exceptional, sprawling novel, French author de Fombelle builds a layered tale around his mysterious protagonist, one full of humor and memorable characters. Part fantasy, part adventure, part historical novel, the story of Vango’s flight across Europe and the smart young women that populate his life will be sure to thrill fans of Kenneth Oppel and win de Fombelle many enthusiasts of his own.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Thrilling… With numerous characters and a winding and often complicated story, this breathtaking tale is guaranteed to keep teens on the edge of their seats, and will appeal to confident readers who enjoy intricately plotted tales.”—School Library Journal (starred review)

“The story’s got all the classic elements of swashbuckling adventure tales like The Count of Monte Cristo. … Beautiful writing, intricate plotting, and breathless reveals—plus several plucky female leads—make this a must-read.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“French author de Fombelle has written a brilliant, wonderfully exciting story of flight and pursuit, filled with colorful characters and head-scratching mystery. As the novel proceeds, the suspense is ratcheted up to breathtaking levels as the boy remains only one step ahead of his relentless pursuers. This reminds even the most jaded readers of the abiding pleasures of a compelling, page-turning story.”—Booklist (starred review)

Discussion Questions

1. Based on the cover, what do you think this story is about? How do you think it will begin/end? Where and when do you think it is set? What genre do you think it fits into? Once you have finished reading the book, revisit your answers to these questions and compare your judgments based on the cover to the actual story. Discuss whether you should judge a book by its cover.

2. In media res is a Latin term used for when a story starts at a midpoint or at the conclusion rather than at the beginning. Why do you think the author has used this technique with Vango? How would the novel be different if it was told in chronological order (starting with Vango and Mademoiselle washing up on the shore of the island)?

3. Discuss the significance of the names the Bird and the Cat. What traits do these characters share with their namesakes? What do the names signify about the relationship between these two characters? How do you think their relationship will continue to develop in the second volume of Vango?

4. The concept of belonging is often revealed by exploring alienation and isolation. Discuss this statement in relation to Vango by finding examples of how people are alienated and isolated. Consider Vango not knowing about his past, Ethel and Paul living in their mansion without their parents, and Zefiro running an invisible monastery where people can escape from peril. How does not belonging affect individuals and the wider society? What factors influence or determine whether a person belongs?

5. Research the real Graf Zeppelin. Is it described accurately in the novel? Why do you think the author chose to incorporate the Graf Zeppelin in the story?

6. Vango is set in Europe during the 1930s, in the buildup to World War II. Why do you think the author chose to set the novel during this time?

7. Freedom is an important theme in Vango. Have a class discussion about how this theme is explored in the book and how it applies to each of the main characters and their motivations.


The Way of the Angels
Paris, April 1934

Forty men in white were lying facedown on the cobbled square.

It looked like a giant snowfield. Swallows whistled as they brushed past the bodies. Thousands of people were watching the spectacle. The cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris spread her shadow over the assembled crowd.

All around, the city seemed to be gathering its thoughts.

Vango’s forehead was pressed against the stone. He was listening to the sound of his own breathing and thinking about the life that had brought him here. But for once, he wasn’t frightened.

He was remembering the sea, the briny air, a few special voices, a few special faces, and the warm tears of the woman who had raised him.

Rain started falling on the square in front of the cathedral, but Vango didn’t notice. Lying on the ground in the midst of his companions, he wasn’t aware of the umbrellas bursting into bloom one after another.

Vango didn’t see the crowd of Parisians, the families dressed in their Sunday best, the devotion of the old ladies, the children squeezing between people’s legs, the pigeons numb with cold, the dance of the swallows, the onlookers standing up in their carriages. Nor did he see the pair of green eyes, over there, to the side, watching only him.

Two green eyes brimming with tears, behind a veil.

Vango kept his own eyes tightly shut. He hadn’t turned twenty yet. This was the biggest day of his life. A solemn feeling of happiness welled up inside him.

He was about to become a priest.

“Sweet madness!”

The bell ringer of Notre Dame, high above, muttered these words as he glanced down at the square below. He was waiting. He had invited a young lady by the name of Clara to dine with him on boiled eggs in his tower.

He knew she wouldn’t come: she’d be just like all the others. And while the water was simmering in the pan beneath the giant clock, the bell ringer took a good look at the young seminarians down below who were about to be ordained as priests. They would lie on the ground for a few minutes more before making their commitment for life. From his perch fifty meters above the crowd, it wasn’t the sheer drop that made Simon the bell ringer’s head spin but the leap into the unknown that these prostrated lives on the ground were, of their own accord, about to make.

“Madness,” he said again. “Madness!”

He made the sign of the cross, because you never know, and went back to his eggs.

The green eyes were still fixed on Vango.

They belonged to a girl of sixteen or seventeen who was wearing a charcoal-colored velvet coat. She rummaged in her pocket but couldn’t find the handkerchief she was looking for. The back of that white hand ventured under the veil and wiped away the tears on her cheeks. The rain was starting to come in through her coat.

The girl shivered and glanced across to the other side of the cathedral square.

A man looked away abruptly. He had been watching her.

She felt sure of that. It was the second time she had noticed him this morning, but she knew, far back in her memory, that she had already seen him somewhere. A waxen face, white hair, a thin mustache, and small wire glasses. Where had she met him before?

The thunder of the organ brought her back to Vango.

The ceremony was about to begin. The elderly cardinal stood up and made his way toward the young men in white.

He brushed aside the umbrella held out to keep him dry, just as he brushed aside all the hands that offered to help him down the steps.

“Leave me be!”

He was carrying his heavy crosier, and every step was a small miracle.

The cardinal was old and sick. That same morning, his doctor, Esquirol, had banned him from celebrating mass. The cardinal had laughed, sent everybody away, and heaved himself out of bed to get dressed. As soon as he was alone, he could groan freely with every gesture. In public, he was a rock.

Now he was walking down the steps in the rain.

Two hours earlier, with the black clouds thickening, everyone had begged him to move the ceremony inside the cathedral. Once again, he’d held firm. He wanted it to take place outside, facing the world these young men would engage with for their whole lives.

“If they’re worried about catching a cold, let them choose another job. They’ll live through other storms.”

On the final step, the cardinal came to a stop.

He was the first to detect something afoot in the square.

Up above, Simon the bell ringer didn’t suspect a thing. He dropped his eggs into the water and started counting.

Who could have predicted what would happen in the time it takes to boil an egg?

Three minutes to change the course of destiny.

While the water was coming to a boil, the crowd was simmering in a similar state of excitement, starting from the back row. The girl gave another shudder. Something was going on in the square.

The cardinal raised his head.

Twenty individuals were beating a path through the crowd.

The murmuring swelled. Shouts could be heard.

“Make way!”

But the forty seminarians didn’t move. Only Vango turned his head to the side, putting his ear to the ground. He could see the shadows closing in.

The voices were becoming clearer now.

“What’s going on?”

“Move back!”

People were distrustful. Two months earlier, riots had led to fatalities and hundreds wounded in the Place de la Concorde.

“It’s the police!” a woman called out to reassure the crowd.

They were looking for somebody. The faithful tried to quell the hubbub.

“Shhhh . . . be quiet!”

Fifty-nine seconds.

Under his clock, the bell ringer was still counting. He was thinking about young Clara, who had promised him she would come. He looked at the wooden crate set with two places. He could hear the saucepan humming on the embers.

A cleric wearing a white robe went over to the cardinal and whispered something in his ear. Just behind them stood a short, rotund man, holding his hat in his hand: Superintendent Boulard. There was no mistaking his drooping eyelids, like those of an old dog, his big snout, his ruddy cheeks, and his eyes, which twinkled with a zest for life. Auguste Boulard.

Unflappable under the April shower, he was on the lookout for the slightest sign of movement from the young men lying on the ground.

One minute and twenty seconds.

Just then, one of the seminarians stood up. He wasn’t very tall. His robe was weighed down with the rain. His face was streaming. He turned full circle in the midst of so many bodies, none of which moved. On every side, plainclothes policemen emerged from the crowd and began to advance toward him. The young man brought his hands together as if in prayer, then let them fall to his sides. The clouds in the sky were reflected in his eyes.

“Vango Romano?” the superintendent called out.

The boy nodded.

In the crowd, somewhere, a pair of green eyes was flitting, like butterflies in a net. What did these people want from Vango?

The young man started moving. He stepped over his fellow seminarians and walked toward the superintendent. The police officers were edging forward.

As he advanced, Vango pulled off his white robe to reveal the black clothes underneath. He stopped in front of the cardinal and dropped to his knees.

“Forgive me, Father.”

“What have you done, Vango?”

“I don’t know, Your Grace. Please believe me. I don’t know.”

One minute and fifty seconds.

The old cardinal gripped the cross with both hands. He leaned on it with his full weight, his arm and shoulder wrapped around the gilded wood like ivy on a tree. He looked sadly around him. He knew every one of these forty young men by name.

“I believe you, little one, but I fear I may be the only one here who does.”

“That already means a great deal, if you really do believe me.”

“But it won’t be enough,” whispered the cardinal.

He was right. Boulard and his comrades were only a few paces away now.

“Forgive me,” Vango begged again.

“What do you want me to forgive you for, if you haven’t done anything?”

Superintendent Boulard, who was now standing right behind him, put his hand on the boy’s shoulder, and Vango gave the cardinal his answer: “For this . . .”

Vango grabbed hold of the superintendent’s hand, stood up, and twisted Boulard’s arm behind his back. Then he flung him toward one of his men.

Text and cover design © 2010 Gallimard Jeunesse

English translation © 2013 Sarah Ardizzone


Read our interview with Timothée de Fombelle on the Reading Group Choices blog!