Maple & Willow Apart by Lori Nichols (InfoSoup)
Maple and Willow love playing together but what is going to happen when Maple goes off to kindergarten for the first time. On the first day, Maple came back from school and talked all about it. Willow had spent her day with a new friend, Pip, a friendly acorn she met. The next day Willow explored outside and Maple once again had lots of stories about her day when she returned home. Each day, Maple has stories about school but Willow also has stories about her day with Pip and all of the things they did together. Soon Maple is rather regretful about heading off to school, but the girls soon figure out a way that their days can still keep them in touch with one another.
This third book about Maple and her sister Willow delicately captures the experience of both the sister being left behind at home and the sister going off to school. There is the excitement of a new adventure for the older sister, the feeling of abandonment for the younger. There is the pull of wanting to be together for both of them, especially when the games at home seem so much fun. Nichols nicely figures out a way that works perfectly in the story for the girls to be connected and for their stories and experiences to continue on together in unison.
The art in all of the Maple and Willow books shines. Done in pencil on Mylar and digitally colored, the illustrations have a lightness that is captivating. The use of big colorful maple leaves is also very effective, and adds a distinct fall flavor to the entire read.
A great pick for families with children heading off to school for the first time and also for those left behind too. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Nancy Paulsen Books.
Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon (InfoSoup)
The creator of Dragonbreath and Hamster Princess has an illustrated novel filled with sorcery, witches, magic and minions. The minions of Castle Hangnail are worried. If they don’t find a witch, wizard, sorceress or vampire to run the castle, it will be decommissioned and sold off by the Board of Magic. But the minions did not expect a twelve-year-old girl to show up on their doorstep, especially one that does not seem as wicked a witch as she should. Molly sets out to prove herself, taking on the list of requirements set by the Board of Magic. She is a natural witch and uses her magic to successfully turn a donkey into a dragon, though the spell does last a lot longer than expected. She also befriends the moles in the garden, vanquishes weeds alongside a local gardener, and tries to find a solution to the castle’s failing plumbing. But despite her success, Molly has been lying all along and her lies are about to tumble down around her and may have her leaving Castle Hangnail for good (or evil).
This novel works exceptionally well. Vernon captures a diverse set of characters. There is the guardian of the castle who is doubtful about Molly from the start, the animated suit of armor who would fight anyone who threatens the castle except that his knees seize up, Pins the animated fabric doll who is a great tailor, and his pet goldfish who suffers from being a hypochondriac. Against this wild cast Molly is refreshingly normal. She’s a girl who is not squeamish about bats or insects, enjoying that liking them counts as being wicked. She is clever in her solutions to the list of requirements and figures out how to use her uneducated power to accomplish great things.
The book is also illustrated, adding to the delight for the reader. There are just enough illustrations to have the book still be a novel but also to break up the blocks of text very nicely for young readers. Readers will enjoy seeing what Pins looks like, what a dragon-donkey appears as, and the little bat who is sent to stay with Molly because he likes being awake during the day. All of this adds to the friendly and fascinating menagerie of characters throughout the book, with Molly the wicked witch being the foil for all of it.
Filled with humor and a strong sense of home, this fantasy novel for children has enough action and magic to win the day. Appropriate for ages 8-11.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.