Each year the judges of the "Lion and the Unicorn Award" write a thoughtful essay about the state of children's poetry, as evidenced by their careful reading of that year's books. I'd like to share excerpts of the essay in which the 2009 judges discuss Diamond Willow.
". . . Diamond Willow, a part-Athabascan girl, dog-sleds alone through the Alaskan interior to visit her grandparents. Her adventures are told via. . .diamond poems, interspersed with brief prose monologues spoken by animals—some of whom, like “Spruce Hen” and “Red Fox”—are reincarnations of the girl’s Athabascan ancestors. The chorus of voices animates the wilderness and generates an atmosphere; this is not so much magical as uncannily historical, advancing a sense of “the self” as both individually-forged (via the mushing adventure) and collectively- maintained (via language and stories).
One danger arises in Frost’s trying to pull off almost an entire book with the same structural conceit. But she uses just enough variety, in terms of the actual diamond shape and the interspersed prose sections, to keep us intrigued. The shape, of course, has significance in terms of Willow’s character and growth, but it also functions beyond such plot-related and thematic reasons; Frost, without being a slave to it, uses the diamond to shape the flow of the poem, beginning with a shorter concept, expanding, and then coming back to a pointed, and often more lyrical end, as in the verse marking Willow’s leaving on her first dog sled trip alone, when she imagines her parents watching her slide away:
And I can picture Mom,
standing beside Dad,
her arms folded tight,
like she’s holding
Like the tiny inclusions that make each diamond unique, the hidden “poems” within poems, in bold typeface, provide an exploration and complication of voice. Each one is not just a “secret message”—it is an eerie telescoping into the heart of the narrative voice, or even better, an implication of onion-like layers. If we zoom in further, do we find another “poem” within the poem within the poem? Just as the animals represent the different layers of generations, from the present to Willow’s great-great-great grandmother, so the diamond form implies narrative within narrative, going back indefinitely."
From the essay: "Lively Rigor: The 2009 Lion and the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Poetry"
by Michael Heyman, Angela Sorby, and Joseph T. Thomas, Jr., published in The Lion and the Unicorn, Volume 33, No. 3, September, 2009