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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Willodeen is a budding scientist, making lots of observations about how things work in nature and taking lots of notes. It's in a fantasy world but there's a lot of detail about ecosystems, symbiotic relationships, and how they can get out of balance. Her caregivers are fond of quoting Shakespeare: "And though she be but little, she is fierce."
Strong messages of friendship, community, working together, paying attention to how nature works and working with it rather than against it. Importance of being yourself and doing what you can. Opening page quotes environmentalist Greta Thunberg: "I have learned you are never too small to make a difference." Or, as Willodeen's caregiver says, "Do something useful with all that anger." Also: "Change is coming, certain as sunrise. The only question is how we deal with it."
Positive Role Models
Following her caregiver's wise words, Willodeen finds something useful to do with her anger, protecting those she loves against those who would harm them, fighting superstition and greed with information and understanding, and making friends in the process. Her friend Connor, more of an artist than a scientist, gives her a life-changing gift, proves a valuable ally when the gift takes on a life of its own. The two old ladies who care for Willodeen are strong, forceful, supportive, great in a crisis. When a fire threatens the village, everyone puts aside their differences to fight it.
Willodeen doesn't fit in with most people and has kept to herself since losing her family, partly because she doesn't get social cues and partly because she's appalled by a lot of human behavior. Her caregivers are two old women who seem to have been a loving couple "since the dawn of time." Her BFF Connor is described as having warm brown skin.
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Violence & Scariness
An old screecher peaceably napping in his log is killed by hunters before Willodeen's loving eyes. Hunters brandish weapons and speak harshly to Willodeen. Willodeen's entire family, and their beloved animals, perished in a fire, and she's still grieving. Connor's mom also died some time ago.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Willodeen is another cheer-worthy, inspiring, animal-centered tale written by Newbery Medal recipient Katherine Applegate (The One and Only Ivan) and illustrated by Carlos Santoso. Here, an 11-year-old orphan, traumatized by the wholesale slaughter of odd-looking creatures (called screechers) she loves, heeds the advice of her caregivers to do something useful with her anger. Unfolding events involve a new friend (whose mom died some time ago), a toy animal who comes to life, a lot of research and observation -- and summoning the courage to speak to a hostile, clueless crowd to share your findings. Violence includes an old screecher killed by hunters before Willodeen's eyes. Hunters brandish weapons and speak harshly to Willodeen. Willodeen's entire family, and their beloved animals, perished in a fire when she was 6 and she's still grieving. While the story takes place in a fantasy world (though one where people still quote Shakespeare), it has a lot of detail about how ecosystems and symbiotic relationships work, and how things go awry when they're out of balance. There are also strong themes of family, friendship, and community that includes more than humans.
Is It Any Good?
Katherine Applegate's tale of two tweens, their love for misunderstood creatures, and magic born of righteous fury will delight animal lovers and anyone who's ever been outraged by harm to innocents. Eleven-year-old characters Willodeen (orphaned, introverted, traumatized, a scientist at heart) and Connor (motherless, kindhearted, and a brilliant artist in the making) will have readers on the edge of their seats cheering their efforts as they strive to protect the baby screecher brought to life by Willodeen's tears. They'll also love the supporting cast of characters, from orphan hummingbear Duuzuu to the two old women who care for Willodeen, who enrich the story. Along the way, there's a lot of practical, accessible detail about symbiosis (a relationship between two unalike organisms), ecosystems, and how they work. Carlos Santoso's detailed, appealing illustrations enrich the story by bringing the characters and scenes to life.
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.