Willa of the Wood by Robert Beatty
Where to start in reviewing this book? There is so much to explore. Beatty weaves a magical tale, set in the Great Smoky Mountains, where Willa a night spirit, lives with her 137-year-old Mawmaw, one of the last surviving “wood witches,” who knows and understand the animal kingdom as well as the natural world and can communicated across many dimensions. Willa, though determined to honor the old ways and be at peace with her friends in the natural world (both plants and animals), must also survive in a world taken over by an evil Faeren leader (Pardon, )who sows division and forces the children like Willa to thievery for survival. Willa has become the clan’s best thief, though she is an unwilling one. She slips in unseen into the human folks’ homes and steals during the night, sometimes drawing on her affinity for understanding the trees, the wind, even the stars.
It’s hard to decide which genre Beatty is writing in: there are elements of folklore, science fiction, and above all, a mystery/thriller about what happened to Willa’s parents and twin sister. The writing is lyrical, and drew me into the descriptions and each character.
Willa is an inspiration for those of us who may need a reminder to respect nature and our environment. She learns how not to be judgmental and offers great lessons in kindness and unselfishness. A wonderful read-aloud for third-grade and above, and a terrific and captivating read for middle graders.