Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Frost, Helen. 2008. DIAMOND WILLOW. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. ISBN 9780374317768 [Suggested Grade Levels 4-10]
Willow is a twelve-year old girl who fits in with the family sled dogs more than with her schoolmates. After much wrangling she is allowed to take the dogs on a solo trip to her grandparents’ house. Her lack of attention during the trip results in a bad accident that injures the best of the dogs. She feels guilty, and she wants to regain the respect of her family, friends, and the dogs by attempting the trip once again. Disaster is avoided this time, thanks in part to the spirits of her ancestors watching over through animals along the trail.
The format of this story is intriguing. As the author explains in an introductory note, “diamond willow” is a type of willow wood that bears diamond-shaped scars under the exterior bark. Whittling away the bark reveals the beautiful patterns. Willow’s narration is told in poetry that has this symbolic shape. Additionally, certain words within each poem are bolded, so that when read in sequence, the reader discovers more of Willow’s thoughts. The poetry is interrupted by prose written in the viewpoint of Willow’s ancestral spirits who are “watching over” her. Their perspectives attribute foreshadowing and reassurance throughout.
The Athabascan belief regarding animal spirits is a strong element of the story. Research Native American traditions in Alaska, focusing on how those traditions affect the lives of young tribe members. Discuss the similarities and differences between youngsters who grow up in tribal communities and those that don’t.
Other novels that highlight Athabascan and Native American beliefs:
Smelcer, John. THE TRAP. ISBN 9780805079395
Wallis, Velma. TWO OLD WOMEN: AN ALASKA LEGEND OF BETRAYAL, COURAGE, AND SURVIVAL. ISBN 9780945397182
By Rebecca S. McKee