by Holly Goldberg Sloan, published 2013
“I’ve got some toddler memories, but my first sequence recall is kindergarten… My parents said the place was going to be all kinds of fun. It wasn’t. It was here that I first committed the crime of questioning the system.”
This astounding children’s book took me by surprise. I had no idea I would walk into a world filled with kindness and the goodness of people. I especially didn’t think that when the book opens with a tragedy – the death of the young girl’s parents. But as my friend Wilder says, if the book starts at rock bottom, it can only go up. Indeed, this children’s book is about the journey up through grieving into true transformation.
The most uplifting part of reading the story of Willow is the effect she innocently has on other people. It is clear from her first person voice that in addition to her off-the-chart IQ, she has major obsessions and lacks any social skills. She only knows how to speak facts, i.e., she generally speaks the truth. And she does this with complete innocence. The result is that people around her begin to transform, through no intentional effort on her part.
In some ways, I read this children’s book as an homage to acceptance. People accept the quirky character of Willow, and she in turn accepts everyone in her world. Through this simple acceptance, the best in people comes out.
There is no lack of happy moments, and a particularly happy ending. I love that! I recently reviewed another children’s book about an autistic child, called Rain Reign. The two books could not be more opposite. One is a drama from start to finish, with tears and sadness all the way through, until a successful ending. The other is smiles and laughter. They are both important books about accepting differences. You just have to know what your child resonates with. I would put this one as 11 (5th grade) and up.