Diamond Willow

Diamond Willow

by Helen Frost


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more to me than

most people


Twelve-year-old Willow would rather blend in than stick out. But she still wants to be seen for who she is. She wants her parents to notice that she is growing up. She wants her best friend to like her better than she likes a certain boy. She wants, more than anything, to mush the dogs out to her grandparents' house, by herself, with Roxy in the lead. But sometimes when it's just you, one mistake can have frightening consequences . . . And when Willow stumbles, it takes a surprising group of friends to help her make things right again.

Using diamond-shaped poems inspired by forms found in polished diamond willow sticks, Helen Frost tells the moving story of Willow and her family. Hidden messages within each diamond carry the reader further, into feelings Willow doesn't reveal even to herself.

Diamond Willow is a 2009 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312603830
Publisher: Square Fish
Publication date: 05/10/2011
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 144
Sales rank: 99,366
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range: 10 - 14 Years

About the Author

Helen Frost is the author of several books for young people, including Hidden, Diamond Willow, Salt, Crossing Stones, Room 214: A Year in Poems, and Keesha’s House, which was a Michael L. Printz Honor Book.

Read an Excerpt

Diamond Willow

By Helen Frost


Copyright © 2008 Helen Frost
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-9634-5


below zero,
ribbons of white
and green and purple
dancing in the blue-black sky.
I'm up with Dad as usual, feeding
our six dogs. I climb the ladder to the cache,
toss four dried salmon out to Dad. He watches
me as I back down: Be careful on that broken rung.
I pack snow into the dog pot; Dad gets a good fire going
in the oil-drum stove. He loves these dogs like I do. We're
both out here on weekends, as much as we can be, and every
day before and after school. He loves Roxy most. Willow, go
get the pliers,
he says, showing me a quill in Roxy's foot.
(It's surprising that a porcupine is out this time of year.)
I bring the pliers; Dad pulls out the quill, rubs in salve;
then we go from dog to dog, spreading fresh straw.
Hey, Magoo. Hey, Samson. Roxy, you stay off
that foot today.
Dad pats Prince on the head.
Lucky sniffs my hand — she smells salmon.
I find a bur in Cora's ear and get it out.
The snow melts into water, simmers
in the cooking pot. I drop in the
salmon, add some cornmeal.
The dogs love that smell.
They start to howl
and I howl

after a stick.
The way Mom tells it,
she couldn't get Dad to agree
on any names: Ellen, after Grandma?
Sally, after Dad's great-aunt in Michigan?
No, he wanted something modern, something
meaningful. It will come to us, Dad kept saying.
Let's hope it comes before the baby learns to walk,
said Mom. Always does, said Dad. That's how they
argue, each knows what they want, but neither seems
to think it matters much who wins. Since Mom gives
in before Dad most of the time, Dad gets his way a lot.
He told me that just before I was born, he found a small
stand of diamond willow and brought home one stick.
That's it! Let's name our baby Diamond Willow!
Mom had to think about it for a few days.
I can see it now: They're on the airplane
flying to Anchorage. Mom's in labor,
she'll agree to almost anything.
Okay, she says. So Dad puts
Diamond Willow on my
birth certificate, and
then Mom says,
We will call
the baby

had called
me Diamond,
would I have been
one of those sparkly
kinds of girls? I'm not
sparkly. I'm definitely not
a precious diamond — you know,
the kind of person everyone looks at
the minute she steps into a room. I'm the
exact opposite: I'm skinny, average height,
brown hair, and ordinary eyes. Good. I don't
want to sparkle like a jewel. I would much rather
blend in than stick out. Also, I'm not one of
those dog-obsessed kids who talk about
nothing but racing in the Jr. Iditarod.
I like being alone with my dogs
on the trail. Just us, the trees,
the snow, the stories I see
in the animal tracks.
No teachers, no
parents, no

of my family
in the middle of
a middle-size town
in the middle of Alaska,
you will find middle-size,
middle-kid, me. My father
teaches science in the middle
of my middle school. My mother
is usually in the middle of my house.
My brother, Marty, taller and smarter
than I ever hope to be, goes to college in
big-city Fairbanks. My sister, Zanna (short
for Suzanna), is six years younger and
twelve inches shorter than I am.
She follows me everywhere —
except for the dog yard.
I don't know why
my little sister is
so scared of

I love
about dogs:
They don't talk
behind your back.
If they're mad at you,
they bark a couple times
and get it over with. It's true
they slobber on you sometimes.
(I'm glad people don't do that.) They
jump out and scare you in the dark. (I know,
I should say me, not "you" — some people aren't
afraid of anything.) But dogs don't make fun
of you. They don't hit you in the back
of your neck with an ice-covered
snowball, and if they did, and
it made you cry, all their
friends wouldn't stand
there laughing
at you.

votes! Did they
have to announce that?
Why not just say, Congratulations
to our new Student Council representative,
Richard Olenka.
Why say how many votes each
person got (12, 7, 3)? I don't know why I decided to
run in the first place. A couple people said I should,
and I thought, Why not? (I don't like staying after
school, and no one would listen to me even if
I did have anything to say, which I don't.)
Now here I am, home right after school,
and as soon as we finish feeding
the dogs, Dad says, Willow,
could you help me clean
out the woodshed?

I say, Okay, but
it feels like
I'm getting
for being
a loser.

the woodshed,
and I lift up a tarp.
An old gray stick falls out.
Just a stick. Why does it even catch
my eye? Dad, what is this? I turn it over in
my hands a few times; Dad studies it for a couple
minutes, and then he gets so excited he almost pops.
Willow, let me tell you about this! What you have
found is more than just an old stick. This is the
diamond willow stick I found that afternoon,
just before you were born! Can it be —
let's see — twelve years ago already?
All this time, I thought it was lost.

He hands it back to me like it's
studded with real diamonds.
This belongs to you now.
Use your sharpest knife
to skin off the bark.
Find the diamonds.
Polish the whole
thing. It will
be beautiful,

Dad says.

out here to
the mudroom
so I could be alone
and make a mess while I
think my own thoughts and
skin the bark off my stick. But it's
impossible to be alone in this house.
Mom: Willow, don't use that sharp knife
when you're mad.
I say, I'm not mad, Mom,
just leave me alone!
and she looks at me like
I proved her point. Then, on my very next cut,
the knife slips and I rip my jeans (not too bad;
luckily, Mom doesn't seem to notice). Maybe I
should go live with Grandma. I bet she'd let me
stay out there with her and Grandpa. She could
homeschool me. I think I'd do better in math if
I didn't worry about how I'm going to get a bad
grade while Kaylie gets her perfect grades on
every test, then shows me her stupid paper,
and asks how I did, and, if I show her,
offers to help me figure out where
I went wrong, "so you can
do better next time,

to mush
the dogs out
to Grandma and
Grandpa's. By myself.
I know the way. I've been
there about a hundred times
with Dad and Mom, and once
with Marty when he lived at home.
Their cabin is close to the main trail.
I know I'm not going to get lost, and I
won't see a baby moose or any bears this
time of year. Even if I did, I'd know enough
to get out of the way, fast. But Mom and
Dad don't seem to see it this way. What
do they think will happen? Dad at least
thinks about it: She's twelve years old;
it's twelve miles. Maybe we could
let her try.
Mom doesn't
even pause for half a
second before
she says,

they'll let me go
if I just take three dogs,
and leave three dogs here for Dad.
I'd take Roxy, of course — she's smart
and fast and she thinks the same way I do.
Magoo is fun. He doesn't have much experience,
but if I take Cora, she'd help Magoo settle down.
Dad would want one fast dog. I'll leave Samson
here with him. Lucky might try to get loose
and follow me down the trail again, like
the last time we left her, but this time
Dad will be here to help Mom
get her back. Prince can be
hard to handle; it will be
easier without him.
If Dad sees how
carefully I'm
thinking this
through, he
might help

I'd only take
three dogs. You know
I can handle them. You've
seen me.
She won't listen. You
are not old enough,
she says. Or
strong enough.
I make a face (should
not have done that). Mom starts in: A moose
will charge at three dogs as fast as it will charge
at six. A three-dog team can lose the trail, or pull you
out onto thin ice. What if your sled turns over, or you lose
control of the team?
(Mom really goes on and on once she gets
started.) Willow, you could be alone out there with a dog fight
on your hands.
(Oh, right, Mom, like I've never stopped a
dog fight by myself.) When Mom finally stops talking
and starts thinking, I know enough to quit arguing.
She looks me up and down like we've just met,
then takes a deep breath. You really want to
do this, don't you, Willow?
It takes me by
surprise, and I almost say, Never mind,
Mom, it doesn't matter.
But it does
matter. I swallow hard and nod.
Mom says, I'll think about it
and decide tomorrow.

What if she says

trust her
to take Roxy
by herself?
questions Dad. They
don't know I'm listening.
I know my dogs, Dad answers,
how they are with Willow. It's more
that I'd trust Roxy to take her. Honey, if
it's up to me, I say let's let her do this.

I slip away before they see me.
I'm pretty sure they're
going to say yes.
I go out
and talk to Roxy
and Cora and Magoo.
I think they're going to let us go
to Grandma and Grandpa's by ourselves!
I get out at noon on Friday — it's the end of the
quarter. We'll leave by one, and be there before dark.
We'll have almost two days out there, and come home
Sunday afternoon!
Even as I let myself say it,
I'm trying not to hope too hard.
I know all I can do now is
wait. It will jinx
it for sure if
I keep on

I have a
wool sweater
under my jacket.
Extra socks, gloves,
and, yes, I have enough
booties for the dogs. I have
my sleeping bag and a blanket,
in case I get stranded somewhere

(which of course won't happen). Yes,
I have matches, a headlamp, a hatchet.

Dad keeps adding things to his checklist.
Zanna comes up as close as she dares, keeping
her distance from the dogs, to give me a card she
made for Grandma. It's cute, a picture of an otter
sliding down a riverbank. Okay, Dad says, it looks
like you're all set. I know you can do this. Take it
He keeps on talking as I take my foot off
the brake and let the dogs go. He might still
be talking even now, yelling out last-
minute warnings: Don't forget to
call us when you get there!
Watch where the trail ...

And I can picture Mom,
standing beside Dad,
her arms folded tight,
like she's holding
me, wrapped
up inside

new snow,
red-streaked sky
and full moon rising.
I know this trail, know
where it gets scary. I know
where it sometimes floods and
freezes over. And I know Grandma
and Grandpa will love it when they hear
the dogs, knowing that it's me mushing
out to see them. I'm almost there.
Can't be more than half an hour
to go. Down this small
hill, past the burned
stumps. There — I
see the light
by their

John, Willow's great-great-grandfather (Red Fox)

Willow saw my tracks and looked around, but I didn't show myself to her. Don't want to take a chance that her dogs would see or smell me, and take off running after me.

Old times, they wouldn't let a girl go off alone like that. I don't like to see it. That's why I followed her, made sure she got to her grandma's house. (Think of it, my little grandchild someone else's grandma now.)

Lots has changed round here since I was Willow's age. Everyone talks that English now, kids go to school all the time, instead of being out here learning to get food. They should think about what happens when those airplanes don't come in. They should teach the kids how to keep warm, how to feed everyone when it stays cold a long, long time. Hungry times could come again, and what will they do then if they don't learn the old ways now?

I wasn't too sure about that man Willow's mother married. When he first came here, he smiled too much, lots of times for no reason — he'd start smiling when he just met someone, before he even got to know them. He'd put out his hand that way they do, smile, say his name, try to make people talk too much. But he turned out okay. He learned how to hunt and fish, made himself some pretty good snowshoes. That takes patience.

I've been watching him teach Willow how to run the dogs. She's a quiet one. She knows how to listen to those dogs, so they listen to her, too. They're patient with her. Sometimes when she does something wrong — gets their harnesses all tangled up or something — I'm pretty sure I see them barking inside, but those dogs are polite to Willow. They give her a lot of chances. After a while she always gets it right.

I see her through the window now, with her grandpa and grand-ma. They love that girl; she's safe here. I'll go back upriver to my den.

my life,
this has been
my favorite place.
Grandma's beadwork
on the table, Grandpa's furs
stretched out to dry, the smell of
woodsmoke mingling with the smell
of moose meat frying on the stove.
As soon as I walk in, I see that
Grandma's made a batch of
doughnuts. It's how she
tells me, without
saying much,
she's happy
that I'm

the dogs,
and Grandpa
helps me feed them.
We look at Roxy's foot.
I tell Grandpa she had a run-in
with a porcupine. Oh, he says, that nuné.
It's one of our Indian words. Or, as we say,
Dinak'i. I know some, from bilingual class,
but not as much as Grandpa and Grandma, not
even as much as Mom. Sometimes, when we're
dropping off to sleep out here, I hear them talking
Dinak'i, chuckling together, and I feel a little bit
left out. Not that I would like to go back to
the old times I hear the two of them talk
about — back when people didn't have
TV, computers, telephones, or
snowmachines and airplanes.
I'd miss all those things.
But I like to listen
to their stories.
I know if I try,
I can learn to

gets up first
and makes a hot
birch fire in the stove.
When the house is warm
Grandma makes a pot of coffee
and cooks pancakes. Grandma, I ask,
can I move out here and live with you?
I give her all my reasons. Well, most of them.
She looks down at her sewing. I do know what
you mean, Willow. We'd like to have you here.

I'm surprised! I was expecting some argument
about my family, or all the friends she thinks
I have at school. Then she goes on: Could
you and your dad take care of all
those dogs if you're here and
he's there? Maybe you
shouldn't split up
a dog team like
that, Willow.
Those dogs
get used
to each


Excerpted from Diamond Willow by Helen Frost. Copyright © 2008 Helen Frost. Excerpted by permission of Macmillan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Author's Note,
Begin Reading,
A Conversation with Helen Frost,
Discussion Questions,
Writing Ideas,
Things You Might Like,
Hidden Teaser,
Also by Helen Frost,
About the Author,

Reading Group Guide

Note: None of these questions has a "right answer." They are suggestions of things you might think about or talk over with someone else who has read Diamond Willow.

1. Do you think Willow is lonely? Is being lonely the same as being alone?

2. Is having a pet just as good as having a person-friend?

3. What does Willow discover that makes it easier for her to make new friends?

4. Have you ever experienced the death of someone who loves you? If so, do you sometimes feel like their love for you is still somewhere in the world, as expressed by the animals in Diamond Willow?

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