John Velez

Reviewed by: Beth Adams

Halloween comes once a year, however the memories of each of those evenings last a lifetime. It is a time of change, as Autumn drops the leaves from the trees, the days get noticeably shorter, the weather is cooler, and people tend to mock the devils, ghosts and demons by mimicking them with scary costumes. And let’s not forget the candy!

In this beautifully illustrated book Willow, author John Velez brings a story about a group of youngsters first planning a Halloween party, then deciding what each will dress-up as (a secret), and ultimately enjoying the fun of the evening party, followed up by trick-or-treating. Laden with full bags of candy, the children end the evening with lots of fun in their minds – and memories.

The artwork is paramount in this story, as each illustration by Pettina Velez is seemingly hand painted on a textured canvas background, giving the look of oil-on-canvas, which is quite unique in the genre of children’s books. The storyboard of images track the theme of the book by setting the background of each of the children’s characters, along with the costumes they chose to wear. I liked the black cat which is drawn somewhere in each of the paintings, giving youngsters a feline diversion to seek out within the story.

For example, on page 24 is a portrait of each of the six children standing while holding their Halloween bags of candy, posing for a group “picture” – and the black cat, of course, is in the forefront. What made this most interesting is that each of the children had the right “look” as children do, posing for a cell-phone picture or photograph. The body language of the subjects (the children) standing upright holding their candy, and their expressions staring into the imaginary camera were so well done, I had a pregnant pause while paging the book, noticing these rather subliminal details with admiration.

As the seasons change, Willow is an ideal book to be read to children preparing for Halloween. I, personally, have seen Halloween become a bigger and bigger event each year, especially over the past decade – so the relevance of this story is more significant nowadays than ever.

Willow is a fun book, with a kind and loving message, and one which will go perfectly with a hot chocolate topped with marshmallows while in pajamas at bedtime, and having a black cat stretched out on the rug with happiness.