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“In my experience,” Mae said, casting a fond glance at Birdie, “it’s best for all concerned if you simply go ahead and be what you are meant to be. Saves valuable time.” –Willodeen      


by Katherine Applegate
AR Test, Must Read

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Eleven-year-old Willodeen adores creatures of all kinds, but her favorites are the most unlovable beasts in the land; strange beasts known as “screechers.” The villagers of Perchance call them pests– even monsters– but Willodeen believes the animals serve a vital role in the complicated web of nature.
Lately, though, nature has seemed angry indeed. Perchance has been cursed with fires and mudslides, droughts and fevers, and even the annual migration of hummingbears, a source of local pride and income, has dwindled. For as long as anyone can remember, the tiny animals have overwintered in shimmering bubble nests perched atop blue willow trees, drawing tourists from far and wide. This year, however, not a single hummingbear has returned to Perchance, and no one knows why.

When a handmade birthday gift brings unexpected magic to Willodeen and her new friend, Connor, she’s determined to speak up for the animals she loves, and perhaps even uncover the answer to the mystery of the missing hummingbears.

Willodeen is a wonderfully relatable character who feels as if she’s odd and unlovable because she would rather spend time in nature than with people. Like many middle school readers, Willodeen is often self-conscious and struggles to find her voice. Many people make fun of Willodeen’s love of screechers because they don’t understand why she loves the ugly, smelly creatures. However, when Willodeen meets Connor, they connect over their love of all creatures. In the end, Willodeen becomes the heroine of the story when she uses her power of scientific observation to solve the town’s problem, saving the screechers in the process.

Through Willodeen’s experiences, readers will learn about the importance of community. When the town is threatened by fire, everyone joins in to help put the fire out. The theme is developed further when Willodeen and Connor go to the city council meetings—where both Willodeen and Connor find the bravery to speak up for the detested screechers. Readers will love how Mae, Birdie, and Connor’s father stand up for Willodeen and encourage her to “be what you are meant to be.” Even though Willodeen is different than others, the story shows that she has value and can contribute to her community in her own unique way.

Willodeen is also a story about caring for all nature—even the animals that aren’t adorably cute like the hummingbears. The story shows how all of nature is interconnected and how each animal has an important role in the ecosystem. Readers will love discovering how the screechers and the hummingbears are interconnected. In the end, the town learns to appreciate the screechers. And when tourists “complained about the horrible beasts stinking up the village, we learned to simply shrug and say, ‘when screechers were invented, Mother Nature made them scented.’”

Appplegate creates another beautiful story that advanced readers and middle school readers will love. The short chapters, loveable characters, and a bit of magic will captivate readers and leave them contemplating ways they can use their voice to impact their community.

Sexual Content

  • None


  • Willodeen and her family are caught in a fire. Her father, mother and little brother died in the fire. Willodeen has a nightmare about the “flames grabbing for me like a hungry monster. The soles of my feet blistering. The poisonous smoke scorching my lungs.” Willodeen wonders why she “made it out” when her family didn’t.
  • Willodeen is looking at a screecher curled in a nest, when she “heard footsteps, movement. Thwap. The arrow hit with such force that the nest seemed to explode.” The screecher runs, but Willodeen sees “a thick trail of blood leading into the trees.” Later she finds the animal dead. “His eyes staring at nothing. His white snout was covered in blood.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Every year Perchance has a fair where “ale and trinkets” are sold.


  • None


  • Birdie tells Willodeen “angry tears have magic in them. . . There’s magic in all of us. Just a bit. You’re born with it, like fingers and toes and fuzzy baby hair. Some of us make use of it. And some do not.”
  • A screecher magically comes alive. “The creature has a maker, a boy with nimble fingers and a tender heart. He’s spent hours weaving weeds and thistledown in the milky moonlight, spinning her into existence.” The creature began as a screecher, made from weeds, wood, and other materials. But then Willodeen cried “for myself because I was alone and lonely on my birthday. And because I was odd and unlovable. For a long time, I let myself weep. . .” Willodeen’s “angry tears” had the magic to make the screecher alive.

Spiritual Content

  • None


Other books by Katherine Applegate
Other books you may enjoy

“In my experience,” Mae said, casting a fond glance at Birdie, “it’s best for all concerned if you simply go ahead and be what you are meant to be. Saves valuable time.” –Willodeen      

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