Book characters can find a permanent place in your heart. They are as real to you as your neighbors, best friends or family. When they appear in companion titles you can feel your spirit soar because you enjoy their company.
These characters look at life as readers do or as readers wish they could. They inspire us to pause and ponder trying to be our best selves. Maple & Willow Apart (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), July 21, 2015) written and illustrated by Lori Nichols is the third title about these sisters began in Maple (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), February 20, 2014) and continued in Maple & Willow Together (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), November 4, 2014). It's a joy to watch their friendship grow stronger as they get older.
Maple and Willow loved summer.
Every minute possible the pair was outside happily busy enjoying what nature had to offer. When the last day of summer rolled around they never rested for a single second. They wanted these magical moments of play to last.
On Monday Maple was going to school for the first time. Even though she was a big girl now, Willow was not quite big enough to go with Maple. Willow missed Maple...a lot.
After her first day of kindergarten Maple talked nonstop about all the fun she had. Not to be left out, Willow spoke about her new friend, Pip. Her description of him and where they met resembled an acorn.
On Tuesday when Maple is at school Willow discovered tiny bits of nature. She also became the teacher at Rock School. Pip was her only student. His guessing abilities had him in the third grade quick as a wink.
By Wednesday Maple's chatter about school couldn't top Willow's announcement of visiting Pip's home. It was a tree house. On Thursday morning and when Maple came home from school, she was quiet, more thoughtful. She was a little upset when Willow told her Pip taught her to ride a bike.
After a sister to sister chat that evening, Friday morning was better for both the girls. Willow shared a secret with Maple making her day at school more exciting. The weekend (and many days after) turned out to be spectacular because more was truly merrier.
Endearing, lighthearted text paired with conversations between the sisters welcomes us back into the world of Maple and Willow. Lori Nichols gives her characters real-life feelings and circumstances; inseparable sisters, loneliness when they aren't together, inventiveness when facing absence and the sharing which comes from unconditional love. When Maple comes home from school excited about her day, her dialogue is delightful; exactly as you would expect from a kindergarten student. Willows' responses are genuine to a fault; spoken softly and bravely from her wonderful imagination.
"I had fun, too," said Willow.
"I played with Pip."
"Pip?" Maple asked. "Who's Pip?"
"Pip is my new friend," said Willow.
"He has a bumpy head and he is afraid of squirrels."
One word comes to mind, my mind, when looking at the matching dust jacket and book case, winsome. As Maple climbs the steps on the school bus, she is sure to wave and smile at Willow. Looking as cute as cute can be in her overalls Willow waves in return. The autumn leaves extend to the left, the back, where review excerpts from the two previous titles are featured. Delicate oak leaves, mushrooms, a snail, snail shells, crickets, dragonflies and acorn caps are patterned across the opening and closing endpapers. The background colors change from soft green to soft rust.
Beneath the text on the title page, Maple is petting their white cat as Willow stands next to her holding a bunch of acorns in her gathered shirt. Rendered in
pencil on Mylar and then digitally colored
the illustrations are placed on a white canvas with the exception of four double-page images. These are a glorious display of large fall-shaded leaves as a background for the adventures Willow has with Pip.
In all of the images we feel closeness to and affection for the sisters. Lori Nichols has a way of including us by way of her layout and design. The facial looks and body language of Willow and Maple are completely charming. Tiny details call to readers; Willow riding an oak tree branch as if it's a bike, the M and W hooks on the wall for their coats, Willow giving thumbs up to a snail, and heart-shaped rocks.
One of my many favorite illustrations is when Willow and Pip are in his tree house. A swirl of leaves surrounds them. Clusters of acorns are placed around a bird's nest which is his home. Willow and Pip are looking over the edge at the sisters' yard. We feel as though we can be in the nest with them, too.
Maple & Willow Apart written and illustrated by Lori Nichols is an absolute gem. Read it at home, read it to your students. It will generate discussions and empathy. As in the other two titles, relishing the out-of-doors and appreciating what if offers is the tie binding these sisters. I think this might be the year to renew my collecting of acorns; especially when two are joined together.
To learn more about Lori Nichols please visit her website by following the link attached to her name. The book trailer for this title and a guest post by Lori Nichols appears on teacher librarian extraordinaire John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read.