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The Windeby Puzzle: History and Story by Lois Lowry

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The Windeby Puzzle is half history and half story: Lowry allows young readers to peer behind the curtain into the process of creating a work of fiction grounded in history. The Windeby Puzzle: History and Story by Lois Lowry. Clarion Books, 2023. 224 pages. Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12 Recommended for: ages 10 and…

The post The Windeby Puzzle: History and Story by Lois Lowry appeared first on Redeemed Reader.

The Windeby Puzzle is half history and half story: Lowry allows young readers to peer behind the curtain into the process of creating a work of fiction grounded in history.

The Windeby Puzzle: History and Story by Lois Lowry. Clarion Books, 2023. 224 pages.

cover of windeby puzzle

Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12

Recommended for: ages 10 and up

The History: A Bog Body Is Found

Bog bodies are a thing: human remains found in peat bogs across Northern Europe that have been remarkably preserved by the bog’s micro climate. When the body of a young girl was unearthed in 1952, speculation swirled. Who was she? Why was such a young girl dead, in a bog? There were no evident marks of trauma (such as broken bones or head injury), nor was there any other notable explanation of why she’d been “buried” in the bog.

Lois Lowry wondered these questions and more. So she started digging for answers. Copious research and a fertile imagination in the hands of a gifted author yield remarkable results. The Windeby Puzzle begins by offering up some of this research, the “history” part of the title. The entire first section of the book is nonfiction, outlining what bog bodies are, how they are discovered, and what some likely explanations for their location in the bog might be.

The Story: Who Was This Girl?

Lowry’s research turned up unsatisfactory results, in terms of explaining why a young girl’s body might be in the bog. So, she turns to historical fiction, imagining a possible narrative for this young woman (whom Lowry names Estrild) leading up to her tragic ending. Knowing the tragic ending ahead of time certainly lends pathos to the story, but Lowry manages to create a compelling tale even with the ending in sight. Estrild is a warrior at heart, even though her culture doesn’t grant that role to women. She’s determined to fight for her community, though, and she convinces her friend Varick (a young man) to help her learn the men-only fighting techniques.

Obviously, a story that is about a young girl whose body was found means she will die at the end of the story. But I won’t spoil the means for you. What you should know, though, is what Lowry herself discovered: historical events are often re-interpreted in light of new evidence. When new research into the 1952 bog body uncovers a surprising twist, Lowry re-wrote her story. After a second “history” part, there’s a second “story” part. The second story is entirely different from the first, and, while it also has a tragic ending, feels more in keeping with the historical time period indicated by the bog body.

What Kind of Book Is This?

This book is impossible to categorize: half of it is history, and, more specifically, nonfiction about history: how to research, how to put facts together, and how to interpret history. The other half is all story, historical fiction based upon the history. The first story felt too contemporary for me: Estrild is consumed with improving the woman’s place in her society. Lowry herself acknowledges this in a subsequent “history” section: Estrild wouldn’t even have had time to think about those things in her day and age, much less have thought about them if she did have time. Thus, the second story feels much less anachronistic.

Most kids won’t pick this up and read it as a novel. But this book would make for a very interesting study into the ways we learn history and what we then do with that history. A great class discussion could result from thinking through how an author goes about creating a historical fiction narrative. How do authors make sure they are writing historically accurate stories? What license do they give themselves to imagine characters’ thoughts, actions, and words? Especially if the main character is a well-known historical figure (such as a previous king or queen).

The book is a quick read, worth checking out if you are a middle school classroom teacher (history, social studies, or language arts), or a school librarian.

Considerations:

  • Sexuality: One proposed explanation for the body was that she’d been caught in an adulterous affair, but Lowry rules this out.
  • Language: Occasional crude language that feels in keeping with the story (i.e. “piss” and the like)

Overall Rating: 4

  • Worldview/moral value: 3.75
  • Artistic/literary value: 4.25

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The post The Windeby Puzzle: History and Story by Lois Lowry appeared first on Redeemed Reader.

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