Suddenly orphaned by the Spanish flu epidemic in the fall of 1918, eleven-year-old Lydia Pierce and her fourteen-year-old brother, Daniel, of Portland, Maine, are taken by their grieving uncle to be raised in the Shaker community at Sabbathday Lake. Thrust into the spartan lifestyle of this isolated religious sect, which practices celibacy and pacifism, Lydia, a fiercely independent girl, must grapple with a new life that is nothing like the one she used to know. (goodreads summary)
This is a wonderful new historical fiction in the Dear America series by Lois Lowry. The setting takes place in Portland, Maine in the year 1918. Lydia Pierce just turned 11 years old and received a journal for her birthday. She has plenty to write about as the country has been hit hard by the Spanish Influenza epidemic and life will soon change for her and older brother Daniel. With the loss of their parents, they move in with an Uncle who has troubles of his own and just cannot afford to take on two more children. The decision is made to place Lydia and Daniel under the care of the Shakers, a religious group living on Sabbathday Lake whose beliefs are very different from their own. Making an adjustment to a new way of life is not easy for Lydia or Daniel. As the months go by Lydia learns more about the sisters lifestyle and finds herself adusting easier. She eventually makes friends, attends school and looks forward to learning new jobs and skills along the way to help make money for the community.
I found this story different from other Dear America books mainly because it focuses on the simple way of life in a Shaker Community instead of just the character Lydia going through an adventure. I really enjoyed learning about the Spanish Flu epidemic and its impact on the cities. I was also intrigued with the hard working but yet joyful life of the Shakers (who eventually dwindle down in numbers over the years). Like all other Dear America books, it ends with an epilogue about Lydia, historical notes and fabulous pictures of the past. After reading it, I realized how much I've learned about a community that I have never seen or heard about until now and I have Lois Lowry to thank. I guess that is why I love historical fiction so much! This is a "just right book" for ages 9-12 and any fan of the Dear America series will find this one interesting.~
Title: Like the Willow Tree: The Diary of Lydia Amelia Pierce
Author: Lois Lowry
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: January 2011, Scholastic Inc.
Hardcover, 217 pgs.