Archive for December 21st, 2016


by Sam Juliano

A family car ride to a tree farm in early December is for many holiday aficionados the purest expression of the Christmas spirit.  A real tree, cut and wrapped in mesh and mounted on the vehicle’s roof with sturdy rope is a pine smelling ritual of incomparable significance for those wanting to sustain the homespun purity of this celebratory time of good will and decorative ambiance.  For those who repeat this custom year in and year out the very thought of climbing up to the attic to bring down a dusty box with a white artificial tree is tantamount to yuletide blasphemy, somehow as fraudulent as opening unwrapped gifts on the day before Christmas.  Finding the right tree by way of height, girth and fullness is never an easy task, but if it were most of the fun would be drained away.  The trip home is an exciting time, and if the flakes are falling the mood is one of exuberance.  Most kids believe the tree that makes it to their living room is better than any other, and they invariably forge a spiritual connection to the protector of their presents and the source of that incomparably lovely smell that are privy to only once a year.  Helping to squeeze a tree through an often impregnable doorway poses a modest challenge for a young girl, but the very thought that it is her turn to put the star on top will increase her brawn ten fold.

In Maple & Willow’s Christmas Tree, the fourth book in a hugely popular series by Lori Nichols that launched with Maple in 2014, and continued with Maple & Willow Together and Maple & Willow Apart, this enviable scenario is played out with some wildly unexpected results.    A review of Maple was penned in December of 2014 as part of that year’s Caldecott Medal Contender series.  After the two exquisite sequels, this wholly sublime Christmas entry is again proposed as a Caldecott contender.  The first thing everybody says when they look at any of the Maple books is that the art is so beautiful.  The precise and tidy pencil on Mylar illustrations, which are then digitally colored result in captivating spreads and vignettes, a formula that repeats itself in this holiday entry.  Nichols goes with white object silhouettes on red for the end papers, and immediately sets the festive tone on the first page depicted a bare-tree winterscape populated by the two precocious sisters sledding down an incline under the watchful eye of a burrowing rabbit.  The approaching holiday is signaled on the following panel when the girls hold and tangle with the old fashioned big bulb lights, before lending their hands to a baking assignment. (more…)

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