Diamond Willow , Helen Frost ; New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.
Grade Level: grades 6-8
ISBN & Cost: 9780374317768, $16.00
Jacket Illustrations by Max Grace. Diamond Willow © 2008 by Helen Frost. Used with the permission of Farrar Straus Giroux, an imprint of Macmillan Children's Publishing Group.
Twelve year old Willow's greatest joy is guiding a dog sled down the snowy paths in her native Alaska. She and her dad really value their dogs who so bravely work together to pull sleds. Who cares if Willow doesn't have that many friends at school? She has Roxy, her favorite dog, with whom she can communicate without words. Can't Willow's parents see that she is grown up, and capable of facing many challenges by herself? Maybe she'd be better off living with her grandparents who seem to understand her better anyway.
The unique style of the text in this book will draw the reader into the story. Most of the story is typed with the words forming the shapes of diamonds, a shape which further relates to the story of Willow's life. The story speaks to the reader even stronger when the words in bold are followed. At the age of 12, Willow is trying to figure out who she is and if she can fit into a world made up of people like those in her school who she feels she has nothing in common with. Aren't dogs better companions?
(Family life -- Alaska -- Fiction. ; Spirits -- Juvenile fiction. ; Sled dogs -- Juvenile fiction. ; Dogs -- Juvenile fiction. ; Popularity -- Juvenile fiction. ; Schools -- Juvenile fiction. ; Athapascan Indians -- Juvenile fiction. ; Indians of North America -- Alaska -- Juvenile fiction. ; Alaska -- Juvenile fiction.
Helen Frost has interests in a variety of styles of writing, and has had her works in poetry published as well her children's books, anthologies, and a play. Teaching is another of her interests, and she has written a book about teaching writing, and has taught writing to students ranging in age from pre-school to college.
Access Contemporary Authors Online , Gale Literature Resource Center through Kansas State Library databases for further author information.
Discussion Questions: (Standard 3; Benchmark 3)
• Read page 1 of the story aloud. What do we already know about Willow from just one page of text? How does the author draw us into the story?
• How would your parents react if you suddenly made a decision to do something like Willow did when she decided to take Roxy to her grandparents? Do you think she was justified in her decision?
• Do you think a dog can be “part of the family?” Do you have any animals that you see this way? Have you ever had to deal with “euthanasia” for an animal, as was considered for Roxy? Discuss your feelings.
• Do you have sparkly people at your school? (Willow discusses, p. 92) Have you ever tried to make yourself invisible from them? What does Willow discover when she talks to others besides her one known friend Kaylie?
• After reading the story, write a creative narrative from a sled dog's point of view. What would this pet think about its life with humans? Standard 9, Benchmark 4
• Select a significant event from the book and draw an illustration. Be sure to include the page number(s) where the event takes place and write an original caption for the illustration. Standard 5, Benchmark 3
• In Diamond Willow , there is discussion of finding a diamond willow stick. Is this a real item in nature? What are some resources you could use to find out more about diamond willow sticks? Do some research, and prepare a brief report. Standard 1: Benchmark 4 and Standard 7: Benchmark 1.
• List the qualities of the main characters in this story. Choose 2 or 3 and write/tell why these are important qualities to have. Standard 2 Benchmark 2; then prepare an imaginary interview with a character from the book. Write at least ten questions that will give the character the opportunity to discuss their thoughts and feelings about their role in the story. (Standard 2; Benchmark 1).
Similar Books for Further Reading
• Avi, The Good Dog
• Burnford, Shelia, The Incredible Journey
• Kadohata, Cynthia, Cracker!: The Best Dog in Vietnam
• Jordan, Sarah Clark, The Boss Queen, Little Big Bark and The Sentinel Pup