Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Willa: The Story of Willa Cather, an American Writer (American Women Writers)

Willa: The Story of Willa Cather, an American Writer (American Women Writers)

Amy Ehrlich
Illustrator:   Wendell Minor 
For ages 7 to 9
Simon and Schuster, 2016   ISBN: 978-0689865732

Willa Cather was born near the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia and she loved Willow Shade, the home she grew up in and shared with her parents, her siblings, and her grandma. Her life was full, with adventures outdoors, hours spent with her grandmother who gave her an education, and the good times that she shared with the many people who visited Willow Shade. Willa’s days were complete and happy and she never imagined that it would change, but it did.

In April of 1883, when Willa was nine, her family moved from Virginia to live on the prairie in Nebraska. Willa’s aunt, uncle, and grandparents had moved there some years earlier, and after many setbacks on his farm in Virginia, Willa’s father was ready for a new start. Willa did not like her new home, with its lack of mountains, its miles and miles of open grassland, and its wind. She missed Virginia terribly, and in the beginning “she thought she would die of homesickness.” Willa was made of sterner stuff though and she took comfort in long rides on her pony’s back on the open prairie. She enjoyed hearing the stories told by the immigrant women who had left their homes in Germany, France, Russia and other countries to build a new life in America.

When it became clear that farming on the prairie did not suit him, Willa’s father moved his family to the town of Red Cloud and it was here that Willa began to explore who she was. She cut her hair, dressed in boy’s clothing, and tended to prefer the company of adults, whom she felt were more “interesting than children.” Willa did not back down from her “boldness,” even when narrow-minded people said unkind things about her. When she needed a break from the real world she took refuge in books.

When she was just sixteen Willa headed off for college in Lincoln where she began studying to become a doctor. However, in her first year Willa wrote an essay that was so well written that her professor got it printed in the newspaper. Willa saw her name in print for the first time, and “realized she could be a writer.”

This wonderful biography introduces young readers to the life of one of America’s great writers. Children will discover how Willa Cather traveled far and wide, only to come back to the prairie, a place that she once longed to run away from. She also came back to the stories that fed her imagination when she was a young girl. Throughout the book, Wendell Minor’s luminous paintings offer readers glimpses of moments in Willa’s life, and at the back of the book readers will find a timeline and information about American women writers from Willa Cather’s time.