Willa: The Story of Willa Cather’s Growing Up Critical Context - Essay

Ruth Franchere

Critical Context

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Franchere is the author of a number of books for young readers, including Hannah Herself (1964), Stampede North (1969), and a biography of the Wright brothers. Willa is not her only book to use biography to depict social issues or a cultural milieu that will be new to many of her readers; her biography Cesar Chavez (1970), for example, combines the story of the labor leader with descriptions of the plight of migrant Mexican-American farm workers. Franchere is able to write in a style that is simple enough for even preadolescents to read without seeming to condescend or talk down to them. In Westward by Canal (1972), she presents young readers with a story of westward migration that tells them of the impact of New York’s Erie Canal.

Although Willa was published in 1958, it remains a timely and valuable addition to the literature for juvenile and young adolescent readers. By providing many details of life in the communities and on the farms of rural Nebraska, the book allows readers to discover the richness of the American pioneer movement. Moreover, by telling of the formative years of an unusual and determined woman, one who persisted in pursuing an education and career when such goals were unlikely ones for a woman, Franchere gives young readers a role model to admire.