A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
MARCH 14:

  • Happy birthday Malka Drucker (Jacob’s Rescue).
  • It’s the birth date of Marguerite de Angeli (1889–1987), The Door in the Wall, and Hank Ketcham (1920–2001), Dennis the Menace.
  • It’s also the birth date of Charles Ammi Cutter (1837–1903), the librarian who developed Cutter Expansive Classification system. Read Our Librarian Won’t Tell Us Anything by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa.
  • It’s Save a Spider Day. Read Step Gently Out by Helen Frost, Diary of a Spider by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Harry Bliss and, of course, Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White, illustrated by Garth Williams.
  • And it’s Pi Day (March 14 = 3.14), one of the most celebrated holidays among math aficionados.

In honor of Women’s History Month, the book of the day is a title by veteran writer Lois Lowry, Like the Willow Tree. After a hiatus, the Dear America series, a historical fiction series told in diary formats, has been revitalized with this one of the first volumes. Among its many accomplishments, the book presents the charismatic figure of Ann Lee, who at age twenty-two joined a branch of the Quakers, the Shakers. Fleeing persecution in Europe for her beliefs, Lee came with eight others to form a colony in New York state and, although she died at forty-eight, she set the direction and philosophy of the American Shaker sect.

Lowry had always been fascinated by the Shaker Village of Sabbathday Lake, which is close to her home in Maine. However, the three elderly Shaker residents there did not seem a likely focus for a children’s book. Then Lowry thought about the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, a time when the Shakers provided a home for many orphaned children, and realized that she had found the historical context she needed.

Eleven-year-old Lydia Pierce loses her mother, father, and baby sister to the Spanish flu. She and her brother ultimately find themselves in the Shaker community at Sabbathday Lake. At first the rules seem harsh to the young girl when she has some of her favorite possessions taken away. But for Lydia, who lost so much, the order, peace, and simplicity of the Shaker life provide the discipline she needs to heal, grow, and ultimately make decisions about her life.

The novel rests on the internal conflict of Lydia who worries about her brother and how unhappy he seems. Although eventually he runs away, he does return to the community and embraces the Shaker lifestyle. Lydia recounts Shaker songs and shows the daily schedule that keeps the community working and praying together. A master storyteller Lois crafts a totally satisfying saga that unfolds over six months in Lydia’s life. Final notes and photographs round out the historical information. Although readers learn a great deal about the flu epidemic and the history of the Shakers, they do so because they want to follow Lydia’s story. Ultimately Lois does in this book what she has done in every book that she’s written since her debut novel, A Summer to Die—delineate compelling, believable characters and their relationships to each other.

One of Lowry’s most accomplished books, Like the Willow Tree is accessible, compassionate, and deals honestly with sorrow and joy. The simplicity of the style matches the subject matter perfectly. In describing a spare lifestyle, Lois too has honed away every extraneous word. Not only appropriate for Women’s History Month, the book will work with young readers—and adults—any day of the year.

Here’s a passage from Like the Willow Tree:

“This is really, truly a confession. When we kneel in the dining room, I don’t know what to pray.”“You can use the words that Mother Ann taught. ‘I pray God bless me, and give me grace, and make me a good child.’”I repeated the words, then said, “That’s all?”Sister Jennie smiled. “Amen,” she said. “Ah, child, that’s everything.”

 

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Originally posted March 14, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: 20th Century, History, Religion/Spirituality, Women
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Like the Willow Tree
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COMMENTS

  1. Rebecca says:

    I look forward to this – sounds like a departure for her, but sure to be as compelling as her other titles.

  2. Sydnee says:

    This looks really interesting, I really enjoy when she works with historical fiction.

  3. Mary D says:

    This is especially interesting to me since I visited the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky last fall. The restored site gives a glimpse of this life through restored buildings and artifacts and re-enactments by professional quality actors and docents. The Shakers had advanced ideas about hygiene and healthy living, and therefore, I believe, were less affected by things like epidemics and infectious diseases. I do not remember seeing this book in the gift shops, though I wasn’t looking specifically for children’s literature there.

  4. Autumn says:

    This sounds great! I love Lois Lowry and historical fiction. I will be sure to check this out.

  5. Karen Boss says:

    We studied the Dear America series in nonfiction class as a way to consider where history meets fiction and what kids take away as truth. This was one of the two I read, mostly chosen because of Lois Lowry’s name. I really enjoyed the story – her writing is so solid. Learning about a part of US history I otherwise wouldn’t have really remembered was a treat as well!

  6. Barb says:

    Lois Lowry was the final judge for the 2009 SLJ Battle of the Books. If you want to see a different side of her (maybe the evil side?), read her post here: http://battleofthebooks.slj.com/2009-battle/ (2nd to the last post). It had me roaring with laughter.

  7. Anita says:

    Barb: Yes, that post really has a wicked sense of humor behind it.

  8. Allison Cole says:

    The more I find out about Lois Lowry, the more I like her– and frankly, I didn’t think the latter was possible! The SLJ link did indeed have me laughing out loud. A Summer to Die, Number the Stars, and The Giver were, of course, some of my true favorites as a child (and actually, so were the Anastasia and Sam books). They’ve really stayed with me, and I look forward to reading more of Lois Lowry’s work now, as an adult. For instance, The Messenger came out in the time between when I was the target audience and the time that I realized I never wanted to leave children’s literature, so that’s on the list. And as someone who spent the last four years in Portland, ME, this one is, as well. Thanks so much for sharing it.

  9. Kim says:

    Thanks for the link Barb, I adore Lois Lowry’s books. Reading that post made me laugh out loud.

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