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Willow

Pettina Velez & John Velez

review by Barbara Bamberger Scott

“’Don’t forget your Halloween bags and remember, we don’t eat any treats until we get back home,’ says Willow.”
The author and illustrator have created a magical story about Halloween celebrations as experienced by a group of active children. The group’s leader is Willow, who awakens on Halloween morning and greets her kitty, Ben, with the announcement of the upcoming event at her home: a Halloween party. Willow dons a dress arrayed with pumpkin images and answers Mother’s call to breakfast. With Ben as her constant companion, Willow decorates the house for the upcoming gathering with a traditional carved pumpkin, a stream of hanging lights, balloons, a dance floor, and boxes of multi-colored candies. She is visited by her friend Annie, who invites her out to play, and the two girls agree that they won’t talk about their costumes for the upcoming evening; it should be a surprise. Together, they enjoy the autumn colors and play in the falling leaves.

Annie departs, and Willow continues preparations. Her mother has put out apples for bobbing, and they will play “spooky music” for the guests, who arrive soon after—boys José and Gus, girls Annie and Mary, who join Willow in dancing to “The Monster Mash” and other appropriately themed tunes until time to go trick or treating together. They will greet their neighbors, admire the many Halloween-themed home and yard decors, and return with heavy bags full of treats and a sense that this has been the best Halloween ever. The Velezes have brought to their marriage their sincere wish to guide and benefit children with their shared talents: hers as an imaginative graphic artist and his as a writer and storyteller. This offering is meant for children ages two to seven. Its endearing and enduring quality is seen in the realistic situations the children find themselves facing. There are engaging examples of best behaviors, such as the fact that the gang cooperates and ventures out together, giving a sense of close comradeship as well as mutual protectiveness among them. Willow’s mother is obviously a diligent influence behind the scenes who has helped her daughter prepare for this special occasion without interfering with the youngsters’ enjoyment. Willow herself is shown as a cheerful but spirited leader, admonishing her friends not to eat any of their treats until they return home and happily thanking her mother afterward for her participation. The group is styled as including children of different races and ethnic backgrounds, an essential model that reminds readers of the need for outreach across many social lines, projecting friendly cohesion.

Throughout the story, with its morals and models, are the remarkable pictorial presentations, with such details as the group’s colorful, clever costuming, the sweet face of a neighbor offering treats to the children, the jack-o’-lantern motif on treat bags, and the continued presence of Ben the cat as a loyal onlooker and a member of the group, too, as they dance, play, and roam the brightly decorated neighborhood together. It is this combination—lively illustrations, a spirited storyline, and gently asserted, time-honored principles offering a focus for group discussion and individual understanding—that give this creation its well-deserved attention and appreciation.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review