Something you never tire of seeing or hearing when reading picture books aloud is the connections made by the listeners. A word, phrase or detail in an illustration will trigger a memory binding them to the story as surely as if they are a part of it themselves. A kinship is felt with the characters, an activity has been shared, or an appreciation for a particular place is noted.
Upon entering my home to the left of the porch is a small portion of a collection I began when Xena chose me. It's a tangible reminder of being able to find love if you are only willing to look. I had to smile when two familiar characters, introduced to readers in Lori Nichols first picture book, Maple (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), February 20, 2014), returned in Maple & Willow Together (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), November 4, 2014) enjoy the same kind of hunt, searching for heart-shaped rocks.
Maple and her little sister, Willow, were always together.
When readers last enjoyed the company of these sisters, Willow needed to be carried by Maple to their namesakes, two trees side by side. Now Willow walks about freely delighting in her sister's company no matter what they do. They are inseparable. Their own special language is one known to be adopted by people everywhere sharing a comfortable closeness and fondness for fun. Even at night, Willow somehow ends up sleeping in Maple's bed with her.
Their world during the day is filled with the magic of childhood; gathering heart-shaped rocks, constructing residences for fairies and trying to hold grasshoppers. Hours are spent playing hide and seek although Willow's counting is less than perfect. Like an older sister, when it rains Maple wants to hold the umbrella. Willow is completely content to let her. She would much rather play in puddles.
It's easy to see a pattern beginning to form. Maple is fairly set in her ways about how things should be done. Willow is a free spirit preferring a more active approach. This difference is their undoing one fine day; a day which should have been spent among the dandelions.
Instead they have a shouting match which escalates into toy stomping, a shove, tears and sibling upheaval. Behind closed doors in their separate bedrooms, they sit. Both realizing they are at the-twiddling-your-thumbs stage, a mutual plan is put into action. Maple cracks her door open. Willow cracks her door open.
Exchanges are made. Wishes float on a breeze. Sweet dreams are shared.
Using lighthearted and truthful sentences Lori Nichols reacquaints us with Maple and Willow. Their relationship is one founded on their mutual affection for shared experiences inside their home and outside in nature. The manner in which they address any given situation gradually reveals their individuality. Word selection and placement supplying pacing is spot-on for the intended audience. Here is a sample passage.
... Maple and Willow both loved worms.
Maple kept her worm in a special box.
That was okay with Willow
because she liked her worm
to wriggle all over her fingers.
Just as we fell in love with Maple as soon as we met her on the cover of the first book, seeing Maple and Willow, barefoot in the meadow with their trees, a cherished stuffed toy nearby, the one blowing dandelion seeds and the other holding a heart-shaped rock, our hearts are immediately drawn to the sisters. I really like the three different fonts used in the title along with the significance of the color red; the outline of Maple, the ampersand hooked around the W in Willow and of course, the ladybug. On the back the twosome are making angels, arms and legs spread, among a pile of colored leaves. On the opening endpapers in a bright reddish hue, white etchings show an array of acorns, worms, ferns, heart-shaped rocks, a ladybug and a maple leaf looking like a mask. The same elements are used on the closing endpapers in a shade of lavender.
The title page illustration, the entire layout, is simply precious. As in her first book Nichols renders her pictures in pencil on Mylar and then digitally colored making skillful use of white space to highlight her characters and the scenes of this story. With the finest of lines she conveys mood and thoughts on Maple's and Willow's faces. The thicker matte-finished paper contributes to making her images appear even warmer and softer.
Exquisite details in every illustration endear readers to these sisters and their shared days; the beloved stuffed toy, the ladybug, the stencil-like leaves framing pages, the small squirrel, the dandelions, the goggles-and-snorkel-wearing Willow at bath time and the maple leaf on Maple's nightgown. One of my favorite pictures is the two of them asleep in Maple's bed toward the beginning. The image covers the entire page in luminous blues. The soft glow of the moon peeks in the window over the bed. Rocks and the ladybug line the window sills. Books lay on the floor. Maple holds her toy as her arm stretches across Willow's body clothed in footy pajamas. You can't look at it without sighing.
Maple & Willow Together written and illustrated by Lori Nichols is an enchanting story of sisterly love enduring the ups and downs of growing personalities. It beautifully shows how celebrating and embracing the choice of another strengthens love. This is sure to be a favorite with readers of any age.
To learn more about Lori Nichols be sure to visit her website by following the link embedded in her name. At the site she has several more illustrations from the book. She has posted a story hour activity kit. The birthday of this book was highlighted at Watch. Connect. Read. by librarian extraordinaire, John Schumacher this week. In addition to the interview of Lori Nichols, the book trailer was premiered.