Friday, October 10, 2008

Diamond Willow by Helen Frost

Two things attracted me to this book: its title and its cover. Diamond Willow --what kind of willow could that be? I imagined a sparkling willow tree. The author explains that Diamond Willow is no special type of willow tree. The diamonds appear on willow branches when the bark is stripped away. The diamonds form on the areas where a branch has been injured or fallen off. The dark center in each diamond is the scar of the missing branch. These beautiful, natural willow diamonds with their dark centers inspired Helen Frost to write her book in the form of diamond-shaped poems, with a hidden message printed in darker ink at the center of each one.

As for the intriguing cover art, we see mysterious blues swirling around the profiles of a young person and either a wolf or a dog. The human and the animal are facing each other, smiling, and looking intensely into each other's eyes. They are drawn to each other, forming a strong bond. I wanted to find out more about their relationship and what drew them together.

This is the story of 12-year-old Willow, who grows up in Alaska. She begs her parents to let her take the dog team to visit her grandparents. Finally the parents decide that Willow is old enough to manage the sled dogs by herself. Willow takes off enthusiastically with the dogs. In her exuberance, she races the dogs and lets them fly across the arctic landscape. But then she makes a mistake, and disaster strikes. Her favorite dog is badly injured. How Willow shows great strength and fortitude in fighting for her dog's life is beautifully told in diamond-shaped poetry. Willow also grows into her Athabascan heritage by becoming aware of and honoring the spirit world that surrounds her. Review by Trudy Walsh

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