Friday, May 16, 2008


I’ve written about Helen Frost’s poetry several times in the past:
• I wrote about her Printz honor book Keesha’s House and her use of the sonnet form on April 23, 2007 in Happy birthday, Mr. Shakespeare
• And about one of my favorite books of 2006, her wonderful novel in verse, The Braid on July 19, 2006
• And again last fall, when she read from her latest book at the Nov. 23, 2007 Poetry Blast at the NCTE convention in New York.

Now I’d like to herald the arrival of that new book, Diamond Willow (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008). The twelve-year-old protagonist and narrator, Willow, lives in a small town in the interior of Alaska where frequent snow, bitter cold, and dogsledding are all a part of daily life. Her story unfolds in a series of diamond shaped poems created by Frost to echo the (diamond shaped) scarred wood of a tree that grows in northern climates. Interspersed between the diamond poems are brief vignettes from the perspectives of her animal ancestors that add an element of magical realism. Willow’s journey is both physical, as she proves her strength and independence, as well as emotional, as she copes with secrets and changes that come her way.

The look of the book with diamond poems on opposing pages is quietly pleasing and the tone of the telling is oddly stirring. There are many layers here in this gentle coming-of-age story for the young reader to return to again and again—in the form, as well as in the characters. My favorite poem is the final one, but I decided I couldn’t share it, since it’s a bit of a “spoiler” if you haven’t read the whole book. So, here’s another nugget that reflects Willow's growing wisdom:

From: Frost, Helen. 2008. Diamond Willow. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, p. 87.

For much more on Diamond Willow, check out the author’s Web site.

And for more about Helen and her work, allow me to plug the entry about her in my book, Poetry People. Here’s an excerpt:

Helen Frost was born in Brookings, South Dakota on September 3, 1949, one of ten children. She earned her bachelor’s degree at Syracuse University in New York and her master’s degree from Indiana University. She is married and the mother of two sons. She has worked as a teacher in Scotland, Alaska, and Indiana and has long been involved in the YWCA and teen youth groups. She lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and her hobbies include hiking, cross-country skiing, kayaking, and raising and releasing monarch butterflies. Frost earned the prestigious Michael Printz honor distinction from the American Library Association for her first book of poetry for young people, Keesha's House. She has authored a play and a screenplay, as well as a resource book for adults who work with teen writers, When I Whistle, Nobody Listens: Helping Young People Write about Difficult Issues (Heinemann 2001). Frost is also a prolific author of nonfiction series readers for young readers reflecting her interest in science and biology.

One of the most outstanding features of Foster’s work is her creative use of poetic form in each of her books. This includes haiku, blank verse, sonnets, sestinas, rondelets, acrostics, and more. And she includes explanatory notes on these forms and her reasoning for choosing them for each book. Aspiring writers and poets may enjoy exploring this aspect of her writing in particular. If so, additional guidance and worksheets for trying different poetic formats are available on Foster’s personal web site. Children who want to read more works like Frost’s may enjoy exploring the poetry of Craig Crist-Evans, Karen Hesse, and for older readers, Marilyn Nelson.

ALSO THIS WEEK: Happy new CHILDREN'S BOOK WEEK: May 12 – 18, 2008.

Join the rest of the Poetry Friday Round Up at Two Writing Teachers.

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Anonymous said...

I will be on the lookout for this one, Sheila!

Sylvia Vardell said...

I think you'll like it. Helen Frost continues to amaze me with her innovation and craft!