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Diamond Willow Hardcover – April 1, 2008

4.7 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 5–8—When a diamond willow's bark is removed, sanded, and polished, it reveals reddish brown diamonds, the dark center of which are the scars of missing branches. Frost has used this image to craft an intricate family story in diamond-shaped verse. In her small Alaskan town, 12-year-old Diamond Willow, named for the tree, prefers to be just "Willow" but muses that if her parents had called her "Diamond," "…would I have been one of those sparkly kinds of girls?" Instead she describes herself as an average, part-Athabascan girl with one good friend, who finds herself more comfortable around her family's sled dogs than with people. Her story takes a heartrending turn on a solo dogsled trip to visit her grandparents, and Willow is soon caught up in an intense adventure that leads to the discovery of a family secret. As she unravels the truth, Willow comes to understand the diamonds and scars that bind her family together. She also gains awareness of her own strength and place in her community. Willow relates her story in one-page poems, each of which contains a hidden message printed in darker type. At key intervals, the narrative is continued in the voices of her ancestors, who take the form of animal spirits—Red Fox, Spruce Hen, Mouse, Chickadee, Lynx—and her sled dogs. Frost casts a subtle spell through innovative storytelling. Her poems offer pensive imagery and glimpses of character, and strong emotion. This complex and elegant novel will resonate with readers who savor powerful drama and multifaceted characters.—Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA
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From Booklist

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. Middle-schooler Willow’s dad is Anglo, and her mother is Athabascan. The girl longs to spend more time with her traditional Indian grandparents even though she knows she will miss computers and other things that are a part of her life. When her beloved dog, Roxy, is blinded in an accident (partly Willow’s fault), and her parents want to put the dog down, Willow tries to take Roxy to Grandma and Grandpa. The two are caught in a raging blizzard, and Willow is saved by the spirits of her ancestors, who live on in the wild animals around her. Frost, who spent years teaching in Alaska, blends the young teen’s viewpoint with a strong sense of place and culture. The casual diamond shape of the poems reflects how precious jewels of wisdom can grow around painful scars. Willow’s bond with Roxy is the heart of the tale. Give this to fans of dog stories and to readers who liked Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet (1987). Grades 6-9. --Hazel Rochman
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 10 - 14 years
  • Grade Level: 5 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 670L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (April 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374317763
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374317768
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 0.7 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,140,722 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
My daughter (age 9) and I read this book together and both absolutely loved it. It is beautifully written, engaging, and so creative. We really connected reading the book aloud together (something we hadn't done together since 1st grade but have now started doing again since we enjoyed it so much!) and both were especially take with the "secret messages" on the pages. That really inspired some great discussion between us about subtext and how to figure out what people are thinking even when they don't say it outright. I will be giving this book as a gift over and over.
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Format: Hardcover
The sentence "I told you so!" is deeply satisfying. Granted, the satisfaction you feel when you say it only lasts a minute or two, but for a little while, as you do your "I told you so" dance, you get to feel that thrill of vindication sweeping through your veins. I often feel this way when an author or illustrator I've liked over the years starts garnering a little more notice. Admittedly Helen Frost is maybe not the best example I could call up. After all, she won a Printz Honor a couple years back for her book Keesha's House and her recent picture book Monarch and Milkweed has been getting nothing but sweet sweet loving from professional reviewers. All that aside, I've never felt that anyone has ever given Ms. Frost enough attention for her cleverness. When The Braid was published several years ago it was so smart, so sharp, and so interesting that it took everything I had not to bop people over the head with it at dinner parties. "BOP! Read this!" "BOP! Read this!" No such bopping will be necessary with her newest novel, though. "Diamond Willow" aims younger than Frost's usual teenaged fare. Examining the relationship between a girl and her sled dog, Frost combines her standard intelligent wordplay with a story that will catch in the throats of dog lovers and people lovers alike.

Take the branch of a willow tree, carve it down, get to the center, polish it, and there where the scar of a living branch remains you will find the shape of a diamond.
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Format: Paperback
My daughter picked this book out and I read it to her, not entirely enthusiastically at first. The prose-in-diamond-shape makes a "poem" thing is a bit lost on me. I don't get most poetry, and I very much don't get the idea of "regular prose being written in lines instead of paragraphs" making poems.

That said, the writing does what it should--it tells a good story and creates memorable characters. The story is touching, and even with very little description the scenes are vivid.

I wasn't sure I'd like the part with Willow's ancestors being represented by animals--as in, these ancestors became animals and remembered who they'd been as humans. They looked after Willow and told parts of the story that couldn't be told from Willow's point of view. But as I got farther into the book, those parts grew on me, especially when they included Roxy. I'll say no more--spoilers!

Essentially, it took me a little while to warm up to the format, but by the end I was solidly convinced of the author's skill as a story-teller and would definitely recommend this book!
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