I picked up Like a Willow Tree: The Diary of Lydia Amelia Pierce by Lois Lowry, a 2011 installment in the Dear America series by Scholastic, because Lulu has been champing at the bit to move up from the younger My America series by Scholastic to this series marketed for older girls. I’ll share my conclusion about whether or not this is something Steady Eddie and I ready for her to read yet at the end of my review. First, the story:
Set in Portland, Maine, in 1918, this is the story of Lydia Pierce, an eleven year old girl who loses her parents and baby sister to the flu epidemic within the first fifteen or twenty pages of the story. Lydia and her older brother, Daniel, are taken in by their aunt and uncle who also live in Maine. However, there is room neither in the home nor in the heart of their aunt, both of which are overrun with an already large family. The Pierce children are then taken to Sabbathday Lake, a Shaker community in Maine. Of course, they have a hard time adjusting at first: the Shakers share most everything in common, so Lydia has to give up her copy of Little Women, one of the few personal possessions she brings with her to Sabbathday Lake. She also has to give up her opal ring that once belonged to her grandmother because Shakers do not wear any sort of “adornments.” Because men and women lead separate lives within the community, Lydia and Daniel can only even speak to each other at pre-appointed times. Slowly, however, Lydia begins to make friends and appreciate the teachings of the Shakers. She finds a place there within the Shaker community. The Dear America books are written as journal entries by the young protagonists, so in this story we read Lydia’s thoughts and feelings, things that she even keeps secret from the sisters in the community. The story is a good one with an authentic feel and an interesting plot. I love to read historical fiction and I’m also interested in religious history, so I particularly enjoyed this title. This is the second Dear America book I’ve read this year (my other review is here), and I know this is a series I would’ve devoured as an upper elementary aged child. (Scholastic, 2011)
Now, will Lulu be reading this title right away? No. While I would much prefer her to read this one over many, many, many contemporary novels marketed for her age range, I think that there are several issues within this story that she is not ready to tackle emotionally or intellectually. Lydia’s family dies abruptly in this story–it even shocked me! While I think this might bother Lulu a bit, Lydia’s life goes on quickly from there, so I don’t think it would prevent Lulu from finishing the story. The reason I don’t think Lulu is reading for this one yet is becuase the Shaker teachings are mentioned and discussed, of course, and some of their beliefs are beyond what I consider Biblical teachings. At eight, I don’t think Lulu is founded enough yet in her own belief system to be potentially confused by what she reads of others’ beliefs. It’s easy enough to read something about an entirely different worldview and know, even at eight, that it is wrong according to Biblical truths. However, when it comes to various sects of Christianity, I think it best that we wait until she’s a bit older to tackle some of them. I do think the Dear America books are worthwhile historical fiction. I particularly like the fact that established, well-known authors (Lowry has Newbery or two or three to her credit!) write the stories. I also like that there is additional historical information and pictures at the end of the story to further flesh out the time period. We’ll revisit this series in a year or two or three, I think.
Okay, friends, help this mother of a booklover out: Lulu devours mysteries (but nothing scary) and historical fiction, and she’s read much of what I’ve been able to readily get my hands on. Please, leave your favorite historical fiction or mystery story that would be appropriate for my strong-reader-but-emotionally-still-an-eight-year-old-girl in the comments.