The Windeby Puzzle
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Windeby Puzzle is Newbery Award-winning author Lois Lowry's (Number the Stars, The Giver) imaginative evocation of two teens who may have lived in the Iron Age before meeting an untimely death -- as evidenced by a well-preserved body from the first century A.D., found in 1952 in a German peat bog. There's a lot of factual information about ancient bodies preserved in peat bogs, and what we can learn from studying them. In this case, the author takes a deep dive into what's known about the person who came to be known as the Windeby Child, which isn't much. She draws heavily on the Roman historian Tacitus and what he had to say about the Germanic tribes of his day. And from such fragments weaves short, dramatic narratives about two different characters, trying to bring to life young people and what might have brought them to death in a bog, long before their time. Doomed as the characters are from the outset, the narrative is often horrifically violent, as sacrificial lambs cry for their mothers before their throats are slashed, a terrified young girl is dragged to death by drowning, and flickers of hope and joy exist mainly to be dashed. Warriors engage in ugly, puking drunken revelry as part of village celebrations, and tribal bands regularly fight and enslave one another. As an exercise in the writer's craft and a look at archeology, it's a fascinating study. As a story, it may be too dark, bleak, and violent for sensitive readers, despite Jonathan Stroh's gorgeous illustrations of Estrid, Varick, an old owl, and the marshy landscape they live in.
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What's the Story?
THE WINDEBY PUZZLE is inspired by young teen known as the Windeby Child, whose well-preserved body was found in a German peat bog in 1952. Author Lois Lowry takes a deep dive into archeology and the Roman historian Tacitus to create two fictional doomed characters and make their brief, hard, violent lives relatable. Thirteen-year-old Estrid doesn't want to follow her tribe's rigid gender roles, but seeks to be a warrior; her friend Varick, a bit older, was born with a spinal deformity and orphaned young, and is a sickly outcast with a kind heart. It doesn't end well for either of them.
Is It Any Good?
Newbery Award winner Lois Lowry's history-based fictional tale of an ancient bog body and its owner's brief, mysterious life is dark and violent, raising happy possibilities only to dash them. More about the writer's creative process and the craft of storytelling than an engaging portrait of long-ago teens, The Windeby Puzzle never escapes a sense of horror and brutality, as doomed lambs cry for their moms before their necks are slashed, and young humans fare little better.
The Windeby Mystery and its imaginary child characters start out with the knowledge that things will end very badly for its protagonists, and there's a no-good-deed-goes-unpunished vibe throughout, in a not entirely successful effort to make the characters engaging (by 21st century standards) before they meet their doom. Underlying all this is the author's fascination with the mysterious discovery of a child in a bog, and a writer's insatiable curiosity of how the child got there, and why.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about archeology, and what it has to teach us about the lives of people who were here before us. Do stories like The Windeby Puzzle make you want to investigate the mysteries of the past, or would you rather stick with today?
Do you feel crushed and imprisoned by the expectations of people around you, what they want you to do and how they want you to be? What do you think you might do to make things better?
How is slavery practiced in Estrid and Varick's village? How does it differ from other versions over the centuries, into the present day?
- Author: Lois Lowry
- Illustrator: Jonathan Stroh
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Topics: Friendship, History, Science and Nature
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Clarion Books
- Publication date: February 14, 2023
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 12
- Number of pages: 224
- Available on: Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: February 25, 2023
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