Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Like the Willow Tree: The Diary of Lydia Amelia Pierce, 1918

Like the Willow Tree: The Diary of Lydia Amelia Pierce, 1918

Lois Lowry
Historical Fiction  Series
For ages 10 and up
Scholastic , 2011   ISBN: 978-0545144698

It is October 14, 1918, and Lydia is now eleven years old. The original plan for her birthday celebration was that Lydia, her parents, and her brother Daniel would go to the Strand Theatre to see Tom Mix in Cupid’s Revenge. Lydia has never been to the Strand Theatre, and she is “desolate” when she learns that they cannot go to see the moving picture because the Portland Board of Health has announced that theatres, motion picture houses, dance halls, and schools will be closed because of the Spanish influenza.

It isn’t long before churches are also closed, and Lydia and her family find themselves practically confined to their home. They hear that people living in their neighborhood are falling ill. Doctors are too busy to make house calls, and the hospitals are “filling up” with seriously ill men, women, and children. Just four days after her birthday, Lydia’s father comes home feeling terribly tired, and soon after he falls ills. Then baby Lucy becomes sick as well, and it isn’t long before Lydia’s mother is also ailing. She insists that Lydia and Daniel stay away from her, keeping a door between herself and her older children at all times. Eventually, Lydia and Daniel call their uncle, asking for help, and when he comes to their house, they all find out that Lydia’s parents and baby Lucy are dead.

For a while, Lydia and Daniel live with their uncle and his sharp-tongued wife, but it isn’t long before their uncle drives them to Sabbathday Lake, where he leaves them with the Shakers. He and his wife simply cannot manage to provide for two more children and the Shakers “take in children and raise them.”

At first the rules in the Shaker community are very difficult for Lydia to understand and accept. Though she likes how neat and clean everything is, she cannot understand why she cannot keep her grandmother’s ring and her copy of The Secret Garden. Why must her book belong to everyone? Why is she not allowed to talk to her brother? Will she have to spend the rest of her life with the Shakers?

In this powerful and thought provoking Dear America title, Lois Lowry helps us to see what life was like in Maine in 1918. Readers will learn that hundreds of thousands of people died of the Spanish influenza all over the world, and countless children were orphaned and left homeless. In addition, Lowry tells the story of the Shakers, a close-knit religious community that took in children whom no one else wanted, raising them and providing for them. Though the Shakers had rules that some people would find onerous, they were peaceful people who valued hard work, treated everyone as equals, and who gave unwanted children a home where they were cared for and valued.