Every year in December, for those who observe Christmas, an ancient tradition is followed. We trudge through woods and fields. We walk through rows and rows of possibilities. Or we open a box. Whether you get a fresh selection or put together an artificial likeness, the Christmas tree holds a prominent place in the celebration. Every single one of us has at least one if not more stories about this holiday custom.
There have been those less than financially secure years where the tree looks like a Charlie Brown tree. There have also been those years through unfortunate choices where the tree needs to be wired to the wall to avoid late night crashes. (It certainly didn't look that crooked before we cut it down.) Some years extra trees find a place in our lives. Now each year there will be an outside potted tree in the back yard, lighted in honor of my wonderful dog, Xena. In the spring it will be planted to grow and give hope to our environment.
Two tree-loving, endearing characters who we have grown to cherish in Maple, Maple & Willow Together and Maple & Willow Apart have returned in a new release. Maple & Willow's Christmas Tree (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, October 18, 2016) written and illustrated by Lori Nichols is a delightful journey of joy. These sisters exemplify pure hearts.
Maple and Willow loved winter.
They enjoy playing in the snow. Winter also heralds a favorite holiday, Christmas. It's work to get ready but together they can do it.
For the first time, they are getting a real tree for their home for Christmas. Decisions. Decisions. They finally pick out the tree that is perfectly perfect. Willow is especially happy because this year it's her turn to put the star on top.
Once inside and in its stand, the tree can now be decorated but something is amiss. Maple does not look so good. She starts to sneeze repeatedly. Willow wonders if she is allergic to the tree. When Maple is outside the sneezing stops. Their first real tree is taken outside.
Both girls are understandably upset, Maple for the lack of the tree inside and Willow because she feels like the holiday is spoiled for this year. That evening after bedtime in the quiet of the night changes happen. It is truly Christmas.
Lori Nichols's spare text conveys the pure essence of this story allowing for her illustrations to showcase her words. She builds the excitement of the first shared experience with the sisters making their disappointment genuine. It also allows for the repetition of earlier phrases used with an entirely different meaning and outcome. Her mix of conversation with the narrative brings us into the girls' most meaningful moments. Here is a passage.
"At least we have an outside tree," said Maple.
"I wish you weren't allergic to Christmas," said Willow.
"I'm not allergic to Christmas," said Maple.
"Just Christmas trees."
The crisp white background framed in evergreen trees on the opened, matching dust jacket and book case depicts a very particular time of year, a changing of seasons and a pause allowing for contemplation. You can also feel the anticipation building in the girls by the expressions on their faces. Lori Nichols has a gift for creating trees with photographic realism. On the left, the back, these trees direct readers to quotes from starred reviews for the three previous books. The opening and closing endpapers are a warm red with items, evergreen boughs, cookie cutters, ornaments and pine cones, etched in white. A portion of an interior image has been placed beneath the text on the title page. (I am curious about the heart and acorn ornament.)
Rendered in pencil on Mylar and then digitally colored
the pictures throughout this book, usually on a canvas of white except at night, alternate between two-page illustrations, single page images or a series of smaller visuals grouped on a page to convey pacing. Readers will enjoy looking at each page noticing the tiny details Nichols includes, dried weeds near trees, a rabbit watching from a hill of snow, cracked eggs on the table during cookie making, a reindeer mug holding hot chocolate and the items scattered on Willow's bedroom floor. Everything about these two girls, their clothing, body stances and looks on their faces makes you want to reach out and hug them.
One of my many favorite illustrations is a two page spread portraying the return trip home after selecting the tree. From left to right Lori Nichols gives us a wintry scene of a hilly countryside dotted with evergreens and leafless deciduous trees. In the upper, left-hand corner a doe peeks out and down at a winding road. A small red car with a tree roped to the top carries four happy passengers.
Maple & Willow's Christmas Tree written and illustrated by Lori Nichols is going on my personal shelf of Christmas books to be read every single year. It embodies all the hope of the season. It reminds us of what is most important. It will cause a warm glow of happiness to grow from the top of your head and spread down to the bottom of your toes leaving a large portion to fill your heart.
To learn more about Lori Nichols and her other work please visit her website by following the link attached to her name. You can view a tour of Lori's studio and read an interview at Andrea Skyberg's blog. Enjoy the book trailer.