Friday, September 27, 2013

Willow by Denise Brennan Nelson and Rosemarie Brennan

Willow by Denise Brennan Nelson and Rosemarie Brennan

Rating: 5 stars

Hmmm...where to begin when there are so many things right about this book?

Maybe with Willow herself.  She's a more-than-likeable character; the type of girl you'd love for a student or daughter.  She's creative and clever, cheerful and kind.  Her wiggly hair has a mind of its own; her playful outfits made even more sunny with her smile.  She carries around her well-loved art book, the one that inspires her to draw with her heart.  Best of all, her happy demeanor is resilient against put-downer Miss Hawthorn.

Miss Hawthorn is the unlikeable character, in case her black attire and slicked-back hair don't clue you into her villainous job in the book.  Sadly, she's the school art teacher.  She instructs the kids to draw trees EXACTLY as she prescribes.  (Willow's is a whimsical, pink version of a weeping willow.)  She shows the kids EXACTLY how to produce an apple tree.  (Willow's is a big blue apple with a trunk underneath.)

Despite her cold presence in the art room, warm Willow doesn't give up on Miss Hawthorn.  At winter break, the students leave the teachers' desks full of boxes and presents and cards and tokens of affections.  Except Miss Hawthorn's desk.  She has but one gift.

It's from Willow: her very own well-loved art book.

Behind a graceful willow tree,
covered in paint from head to toe,
a woman was painting.
And the book, wonderfully, inspires Miss Hawthorn to let loose.  She (literally and figuratively) lets her hair down, whips out the paint and paper and ends up painting all night.  When the students return from their vacation, the new version of Miss Hawthorn are invited to help paint the walls with their own versions of trees and apples and nature.

I admire how Willow does not give up on either Miss Hawthorn, despite the many times Miss Hawthorn dashes her artwork, nor herself--she remains quietly confident in her own artistic ability.  Plus, Willow gives Miss Hawthorn not what she wants (obedience) but what she needs (inspiration).  Bravo to Miss Hawthorn for breathing in that inspiration, letting it fill her lungs and heart...and the classroom.

I couldn't NOT review this book today; I volunteered in the art room in Lorelei's school.  It was a gift to be able to observe my first grader among her peers, diligent and focused on her work, with a smile for the teacher and her friends, and a wink or two for me.  The class was continuing a lesson on how to draw a castle with shapes--and there was a Miss Hawthorn-esque example at the front of the class for them to look at and learn from.

But each of their castles was unique and special; the wise teacher encouraged them to make each castle their own.  Most chattered as they worked, explaining to their classmates who lived in the castle and what sort of castle it was.  There was a story for every part, a reason for each color.  You could feel the joy and creativity in the room. I did not want to leave!

A great book, and a great art hour with a great art teacher at my daughter's school.

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