The Windeby Puzzle by Lois Lowry (Clarion, February 2023) is unlike any children’s book I’ve ever read before. With a mix of history and inventive storytelling, Lois Lowry tells of the young 2,000-year-old body discovered in a German bog, first by explaining the facts of what is known and then by inventing the story of the person found. Then, since analysis has changed in the past years, Lowry rewrote her story to meet the descriptions of the new facts. Her compelling stories left me wanting to know more of her ancient world and the loveable characters I read of.
As I already knew, Lowry is a masterful storyteller. The compelling storytelling section told of Estrild’s dreams and her self-training to become more than just another girl of her society. I loved her friendship with the disabled Varick, and I felt I knew them. I wanted to keep reading Estrild’s story. Lowry obviously did extensive research to create such an accurate German settlement from the early years A.D. Although I am not familiar with the era or locale, it seemed clear to me that she had researched traditions, and the descriptions of life and rituals of the small society rang true.
First, the beginning section of the book was an informational section. This described how a body was found in a bog, the condition it was in, and Lowry’s desire to figure out the person who had once lived in the body. So, because Lowry explained that her story was written to explain the body, I knew even as I read, that Estrild was going to end up dead at the end. This made the reading of the story sad, and when the story did end, it felt abrupt. I was almost mad.
But, this was not all. The most unique aspect of this book was Lowry’s continued expansion. After she told Estrild’s story, Lowry returned with more historical facts about the bog body. Following that history, she returned with another fictional creation, this time adapting the story based on the facts that had been learned. I really enjoyed seeing how Lowry could take the same village and characters and create two unique explanations for the bog body.
Even with the unique blend of fact and fiction, though, The Windeby Puzzle was simply not my favorite book to read. It is usually pretty difficult to end a lovely story with the death of the loved main character, and death was ultimately the destiny for the character in this story, since it is based on the young bog body that was actually found. Knowing these facts going in made for an interesting archeological and historical thought experiment, but it did not make it a satisfying children’s story.
I received a digital review copy of this book.