Review of Willodeen, by Katherine Applegate


by Katherine Applegate
illustrations by Charles Santoso

Feiwel and Friends, 2021. 263 pages.
Review written January 7, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

This is a sweet and poignant fantasy for younger readers with a strong theme about how life is interconnected. In less skilled hands, it would be a Message Book. As it is, this lovely story has a strong theme.

Willodeen lives in a village in a world with creatures unlike those in our world. She’s narrating the story, and tells us this:

I suppose I always loved strange beasts. Even as a wee child, I was drawn to them.

The scarier, the smellier, the uglier, the better.

Of course, I was kindly disposed toward all of earth’s creatures. Birds and bats, toads and cats, slimy and scaly, noble and humble.

But I especially loved the unlovable ones. The ones folks called pests. Vermin. Monsters, even.

My favorites were called screechers. They screamed at night like demented roosters, for no reason anyone could ever make out.

They were grumpy as tired toddlers. They were sloppy as hungry hogs.

And – I guess there’s no nice way to put it – they stank to high heaven.

Willodeen’s family was killed in the Great September Fire, and now she lives with two ladies who are healers. She doesn’t like large groups of people and feels like she never got the lesson on what to say when. But she watches the creatures who live around her village.

The other folks of the village love the hummingbears – adorable little bear-like creatures with silvery wings that make bubble nests in the blue willows by the river. They have a grand Faire every year when the hummingbears nest. Willodeen has her own hummingbear who was injured in the fire and can no longer fly long distances.

But recently, there are fewer creatures in the forest. The Council put a bounty on screechers because of their terrible smell. Willodeen is horrified when the last one she has seen in months gets shot by a bounty hunter.

Then a boy who crafts little model creatures makes her a little screecher on her birthday. And that day, Willodeen discovers a baby screecher. Can they keep it hidden from the hunters?

Then when hummingbears are missing from the town – but nest in the trees where their screecher feeds at the roots – Willodeen wonders if there is a connection.

Willodeen is a wonderful lovable character who pulls you into this story. You’ll find yourself loving the stinky screechers, too.

This is a gentle story with a strong punch.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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