Diamond Willow by Helen Frost is a short, concise story that packs a powerful punch. I finished it yesterday afternoon and it is still on my mind. The action of the story takes place over the span of a few short days, but don’t make the mistake of assuming nothing happens. Willow grows and changes more in those days than most middle-schoolers do in a lifetime.
This is a gorgeous book, despite the fact that there are no illustrations. Instead, this verse novel is told in a series of diamond-shaped poems, based on the shape of the diamond willow. Within each poem, a few words are bolded and when from top to bottom, they form a poem-within-a-poem, the heart of the story. Every single diamond is different, and the word choice in each poem is amazing. I sometimes stopped on a new page just to look at shapes, which almost served as illustrations.
The story is simple and middle-grade students will easily connect with Willow and her family. Willow is a 12-year-old part-Native Alaskan who lives in a very remote town, accessible by snowmobile, plane, and boat. She is struggling with herself, with school, and with finding happiness. She begs her parents to mush the sled (with three of their six dogs) to her Grandparents house one weekend. While they say no at first, she is determined to prove her maturity and they finally give in. But on the way back there’s an accident. From there, it builds and to go on would spoil the rest of the story, so I will stop there. but I will say you should pick this up immediately!
One of my favorite parts of the story was Willow’s connection to the past. She struggles throughout the book, all the while unaware that the animals surrounding her carry the spirits of dead ancestors and friends who care for her. I loved this aspect of the story, so simple and serene in it’s beauty. It was comforting, and who hasn’t caught a glimpse of nature and felt the flicker of recognition, the momentary thought that someone or something is watching out for us? I also loved the theme of respect and love of nature. I seek out environmental themes in my books and this one did not disappoint.
Diamond Willow is a must-have for middle school teachers, and I expect it may even get some Newbery love next month!
Intrigued? Read the first few chapters here!