DIAMOND WILLOW (ages 8 and up; ideal for middle school)
Farrar, Straus & Giroux / Frances Foster Books

Set in interior Alaska, Diamond Willow tells the story of 12-year-old Willow, a dogmusher, and her lead dog, Roxy. The story is told in diamond-shaped poems in Willow's voice, with prose sections in the voices of animal characters.

 
 

Go to this page for Discussion questions, Q & A, and writing ideas based on Diamond Willow. (These are the "extra pages" in the paperback.)

And here is a website with many resources that will be helpful to teachers who are using Diamond Willow in your classroom and want to know more about : the part of Alaska featured in the story

 
 

See a book trailer for Diamond Willow created by Julia Vandiver.

and:

A readers' guide, including two more book trailers, part of the Teaching Toolbox , for the winners and honor books of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Childrens Poetry Award.

These book trailers and Readers' Guide were created in Sylvia Vardell's classes.

 
 

Anita Silvey features DIAMOND WILLOW on her Book-A-Day Almanac.

 
 

You can read the first 16 pages of Diamond Willow on the FSG website.

 
 

Honors and Awards for Diamond Willow

2009 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award/

2008 Mitten Award--Michigan Library Association/

The Lion and the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Poetry: 2009 Honor Book/

2009 Winner of Best Books of Indiana, Children and Young Adult Book/

2009 CCBC Choices List/

Indie Next Kids' List Great Read

Cybils Middle Grade Fiction Finalist

Bank Street List of Best Children's Books

Capitol Choices Noteworthy Titles for Children and Teens

 
 

State Reading Lists

2012-2013 Maud Hart Lovelace Award list, grades 3-5 and 6-8

2011-2012 Alaska Battle of the Books

2011-2012 several Michigan communities: Battle of the Books

2011 Sasquatch Award (Washington)

2010-2011 Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl (Georgia)

2011 Louisiana Young Readers' Choice Award nominee

2011 Oregon Battle of the Books

2009 Texas Lone Star Reading List

2010-2011 William Allen White Children's Book Awards Master List, grades 6-8 (Kansas)

2009-2010 Vermont Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award Master List

2009-2010 Keystone to Reading Book Award Master LIst (Pennsylvania)

Nominated for Iowa Children's Choice Awards

Nominated for Blue Hen Book Award (Delaware)

2010 North Carolina Children’s Book Award Master List

Rebecca Caudill Young Readers' Award Nominee (Illinois)

2011 Hawaii Nene Award Master List

2010 Black-Eyed Susan nominee (Maryland)

 
 

Each year the judges of the "Lion and the Unicorn Award" write a thoughtful essay about the state of children's poetry, as evidenced by their careful reading of that year's books. I'd like to share excerpts of the essay in which the 2009 judges discuss Diamond Willow.

". . . Diamond Willow, a part-Athabascan girl, dog-sleds alone through the Alaskan interior to visit her grandparents. Her adventures are told via. . .diamond poems, interspersed with brief prose monologues spoken by animals—some of whom, like “Spruce Hen” and “Red Fox”—are reincarnations of the girl’s Athabascan ancestors. The chorus of voices animates the wilderness and generates an atmosphere; this is not so much magical as uncannily historical, advancing a sense of “the self” as both individually-forged (via the mushing adventure) and collectively- maintained (via language and stories).

One danger arises in Frost’s trying to pull off almost an entire book with the same structural conceit. But she uses just enough variety, in terms of the actual diamond shape and the interspersed prose sections, to keep us intrigued. The shape, of course, has significance in terms of Willow’s character and growth, but it also functions beyond such plot-related and thematic reasons; Frost, without being a slave to it, uses the diamond to shape the flow of the poem, beginning with a shorter concept, expanding, and then coming back to a pointed, and often more lyrical end, as in the verse marking Willow’s leaving on her first dog sled trip alone, when she imagines her parents watching her slide away:

And I can picture Mom,

standing beside Dad,

her arms folded tight,

like she’s holding

me, wrapped

up inside

them.

(15)

Like the tiny inclusions that make each diamond unique, the hidden “poems” within poems, in bold typeface, provide an exploration and complication of voice. Each one is not just a “secret message”—it is an eerie telescoping into the heart of the narrative voice, or even better, an implication of onion-like layers. If we zoom in further, do we find another “poem” within the poem within the poem? Just as the animals represent the different layers of generations, from the present to Willow’s great-great-great grandmother, so the diamond form implies narrative within narrative, going back indefinitely."

From the essay: "Lively Rigor: The 2009 Lion and the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Poetry"

by Michael Heyman, Angela Sorby, and Joseph T. Thomas, Jr., published in The Lion and the Unicorn, Volume 33, No. 3, September, 2009

 
 

Perceptive readers who have read The Braid, might catch a glimpse of Jeannie on the cover and in the pages of Diamond Willow. She appears as a spruce hen named Jean who tells part of the story. If you are a child who has enjoyed Diamond Willow, you'll probably enjoy The Braid when you are a few years older. When you meet Jeannie there, you might find yourself wondering, "Do I know you?"

The spruce hen and the other animals are a protective presence in the story, and are especially helpful when the characters are attentive to their surroundings. I thank them for helping me tell the story.

 
 

Diamond Willow is set in the fictional town of Old Fork, Alaska. As I was imagining Old Fork, I remembered the three years I lived in Telida, Alaska, and the people who became like family to me.

Here is a website about the history of Telida, with beautiful old photographs. (Sorry, this link is down--if anyone knows where this photo-history can now be found, please email me and let me know! helenfrost@info.net )

 
 

I have received many delightful letters from children about Diamond Willow, and regret that I'm not able to share them all, but here is a wonderful note from 3rd grade teacher, Jeanette Feifarek:

"My kids absolutely adored your book, Diamond Willow. It was the impetus that helped one of my students, Ben, learn to read better and with a passion. Always a reluctant reader, he could not wait to read aloud your words in class. His unsure reading voice suddenly took a whole new dimension...filled with emotion, spirit and excitement. We actually cheered as Benny read your words."

 
 

Excerpts from reviews:

"Frost invents an ingenious poetic form for her story that is both stable and fluid; like the diamond willow branches that she is imitating, the diamond shapes of her poems vary. . . . Frost has spun metaphoric gold out of an evocative natural landscape, and she knows just how to craft it into an elegant and moving story of a young girl's deepening understanding of the relationships she shares with those around her." —Bulletin for Center of Children's Books (starred)

"This complex and elegant novel will resonate with readers who savor powerful drama and multifaceted characters." —School Library Journal

“Set in a remote part of Alaska, this story in easy-to-read verse blends exciting survival adventure with a contemporary girl’s discovery of family roots and secrets.” —Booklist

 
 

If you're interested in following the conversation about Diamond Willow here are a few of the many places online where it has been thoughtfully reviewed:

The Reading Zone

Richie's Picks (Richie Partington)

The Goddess of YA Literature (Teri Lesesne)

School Library Journal--Fuse #8 (Elizabeth Bird)

More online conversation

 
 

A poem from the book:


I

was

named

after a stick.

The way Mom tells it,

she couldn’t get Dad to agree

on any names: Ellen, after Grandma?

Sally after Dad’s great aunt in Michigan?

No, he wanted something modern, something

meaningful. It will come to us, Dad kept saying.

Let’s hope it comes before the baby learns to walk,

said Mom. Always does, said Dad. That’s how they

argue, each knows what they want, but neither seems

to think it matters much who wins. Since Mom gives

in before Dad most of the time, Dad gets his way a lot.

He told me that just before I was born, he found a small

stand of diamond willow and brought home one stick.

That’s it! Let’s name our baby Diamond Willow!

Mom had to think about it for a few days.

I can see it now: They’re on the airplane

flying to Anchorage. Mom’s in labor,

she’ll agree to almost anything.

Okay, she says. So Dad puts

Diamond Willow on my

birth certificate, and

then Mom says,

We will call

the baby

Willow.

 

Diamond Willow
FSG Books for Young Readers/
Frances Foster Books

Diamond Willow at IndieBound

Examples of Athabascan artwork

More about diamond willow sticks:
article by Bob Gander/

Ken Laninga's website/

Below: Diamonds in a diamond willow stick.