Giff, Patricia Reilly. 2005. Willow Run. New York: Random House Children’s Books. ISBN 9780385900966.
2. Plot Summary
Meet Meggie, an 11-year-old from Rockaway, New York. As WWII rages on, Meggie’s family moves to Willow Run, Michigan, so her family can help with the war efforts at Henry Ford’s factory. During the harsh realities of adjusting to a new wartime lifestyle, Meggie must learn to be brave as she deals with prejudiced bullies, moving away from her grandfather, owning up to her mistakes, and facing the unknown. Through it all, one question haunts her whole family: Is her brother in the army safe?
3. Critical Analysis (This contains spoilers)
Patricia Reilly Giff weaves together historical accuracy and the fictional seemingly effortlessly in Willow Run. Even secondary characters are presented in a relatable, believable way, bringing to life this rich era of history. Meggie’s friends Patches and Harlan are typical tweens, telling tall tales to make themselves seem tougher than they actually are; throughout the story, though, we see both characters grow to where they can reveal the truth about their stories: Patches “screamed so loud when [she] had stitches” (119), and Harlan has “never been to New York” (120).
The plot and the theme are intertwined in such a way that the call to bravery does not scream at the reader, but is progressively revealed as the story progresses. The harsh realities of prejudice and having loved ones in the military are not covered up: bullies paint a swastika on Meggie’s grandfather’s house simply because he emigrated from Germany, and Meggie’s brother is missing in action in France. Through all this, Meggie learns higher degrees of bravery: removing the swastika, making new friends, warning “Arnold the spy” that his ice cream is being stolen, talking to Arnold as a person instead of a spy, facing each new day her brother is missing, and confessing to Arnold that she stole the ice cream.
Willow Run is authentic to WWII America. While no bibliography or cited resources are included, the facts are consistent with my knowledge of WWII.
4. Review Excerpts
2007 – Prairie Pasque Award (nominated)
2008 – Grand Canyon Reader Award (nominated)
From School Library Journal: “Giff’s engrossing, heartwarming story will help readers understand how personally war affects people.”
From Horn Book Magazine: “Giff presents a main character with many admirable qualities — Meggie is stalwart, competent, and thoughtful — but very much a regular girl, not a superhero.”
From Booklist: “Tough and tender, this is an excellent addition to World War II shelves.”
-Read in a language arts class in conjunction with a social studies unit about WWII or the 1940s.
-Read with Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (ISBN 9780547577098).
-For those who enjoyed Willow Run, recommend the American Girl series about Molly, also set during WWII.
(Created in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the TWU course LS5603.20 Literature for Children and Young Adults)