Christmas Tree Picture Books Roundup

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By Christine Van Zandt


Maple & Willow’s Christmas Tree
Written and illustrated by Lori Nichols
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

What happens when it seems your sister is allergic to Christmas? Find out in Maple & Willow’s Christmas Tree, a thirty-two-page children’s picture book, the fourth in the series. What begins as the best Christmas ever—the first year sisters Maple and Willow are getting a real Christmas tree—soon becomes problematic when Maple starts sneezing.

To quell Maple’s symptoms, the tree is placed outside. Willow’s sharp words make Maple feel sad about ruining their Christmas. That night, Willow regrets her outburst and has an idea to mend the bad feelings between them. Her ingenious solution takes some hard work but she can’t wait until morning time and, instead, wakes up Maple to show her the big surprise.

Nichols’ slim text complements her whimsical artwork which captures the girls’ emotions well. The cheerful pencil drawings leave plenty of white space on the page, evoking a cold winter scene, a nice contrast to warmth of the sisters.


The Christmas Eve Tree
Written by Delia Huddy
Illustrated by Emily Sutton
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 5-8)

The Christmas Eve Tree begins in a forest of Christmas trees where one was planted carelessly, “so that when the wind blew strong it fell sideways onto its neighbor and had no chance to grow.” In this thirty-two-page children’s picture book, we find this little tree is about to get thrown out on Christmas Eve until a homeless boy asks if he can have it. Taking care to not snap its crooked branches, the boy plants the tree in a cardboard box. We share the tree’s thoughts, finding it goes from feeling pitiful to proud when recognizing that it belongs to someone.

In the boy’s homeless village, the tree’s boughs are decorated and an accordion plays a Christmas song to which they sing along. Soon the passersby stop to join in, creating a lively community. “The little fir tree felt it would burst with happiness, because clearly the boy had forgotten that tonight he would be sleeping in a cardboard box.”

Days later, the boy moves on, sadly leaving the mostly dead tree behind. The street sweeper notices some green shoots and, instead of discarding the tree, cleverly plants it in a corner of the park where it lives on, providing a gathering place for people and animals.

The book’s rich watercolor images by Sutton have an old-time feel; their saturated colors contrast with the ivory paper. While the fir straightens out and grows a thicker trunk, the concluding pictures show us that its branches are still sparse. Yet, it doesn’t matter because, in the end, everyone is happy—including the tree.

NOTE: “Delia Huddy worked as an editor in children’s publishing in a long career that included many happy years at Julia MacRae Books in London, after which she became editorial director at Random House UK. She was also an author of novels, picture books, and younger fiction. At the end of her life, in 2005, Delia Huddy was working on the text for The Christmas Eve Tree.”

The Great Spruce

Written by John Duvall
Illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons BYR; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

The great spruce, Alec’s favorite climbing tree, captures the attention of some men who are passing through town. Astounded that his parents agree to let the tree be cut down for the city’s Christmas celebration, Alec places himself between it and the chainsaw, imploring that they borrow the tree instead. Soon everyone is digging.

A tugboat transports the tree to the city; Alec and his grandpa accompany their tree on this delightful voyage. In downtown, when Alec flips the switch to light the tree, a young girl declares it the most wonderful tree ever and asks if it can stay. Alec explains that the tree is just visiting then gives her a pinecone and instructions on how to plants the seeds.

The tree returns home to grow even taller. Later, when Alec climbed the tree and “looked hard enough through his telescope, he could just make out the tiny sapling that took root in the big city square.” Alec’s love of nature demonstrates how one person’s courage and creativity can directly impact the environment.

The Great Spruce is a forty-page children’s picture book enlivened with colorful images. Gibbon’s acrylic ink and colored pencil style works for both the serene country scenes as well as the busy cityscapes.


  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success


Co-editor of and writer for SCBWI’s Kite Tales

Maple & Willow Apart by Lori Nichols

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Written & illustrated by Lori Nichols
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.99; Ages 3-5)

Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews


Maple & Will Apart by Lori Nichols

Maple & Willow Apart, the follow up to author/illustrator Lori Nichols’ Maple and Maple & Willow Together, will draw in fans new and old alike as they witness Maple and Willow’s growing sisterly bond.

Done in pencil and digitally colored, the illustrations emphasize the two central characters. The background is simply white with just enough detail to hint at the setting.  At center stage of the book is the sisters’ relationship.

When a major change in their routine takes place, both girls feel this relationship may be in jeopardy. Maple, now old enough to attend “big-girl school,” will be away from home, and her younger sister Willow, for most of the day. While the two pretend this fact doesn’t bother them, their actions speak louder than words.

From Monday through Wednesday, Maple returns home sharing the thrill of her new school life–perhaps a bit too forcefully. Speaking in what seems like a mile a minute, she narrates with open arms, expressive eyes, and a dazzling smile. In true sibling rivalry fashion, Willow subtly strikes back with her own tale of adventures with an imaginary forest friend. In this game of one-upmanship,or rather one-upgirlship, each sibling creates a more fantastic story than the other.  

Though underneath the theatrics lie real emotions:  the fear of separation and the longing to express it. By Thursday morning, the siblings have toned down their contest of words allowing for the natural bonds of sisterhood to take over and heal their friendship. First in pig Latin, then in more candid conversation, Maple shares how she “miss[es] playing at home” with Willow who admits to sharing the same feelings. While younger, Willow finds a way to stay connected with her sister even when Maple is away at school.  

For families who are experiencing a similar change or for parents looking to open a more general discussion of separation, I highly recommend Maple & Willow Apart. The inherent presence of love between family members ensures that no change is too scary to face.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian


This Orq (he cave boy.) written by David Elliott

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This Orq (he cave boy.) written by David Elliott and illustrated by Lori Nichols, (Boyd’s Mills Press, $15.95, Ages 4-6), is reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

Orq, a chubby-cheeked cave boy wearing a fuzzy, one-shouldered green tunic, has a pet woolly mammoth named Woma. Orq loves Woma, and Woma loves Orq. But a woolly mammoth is not a perfect pet, even if you live in a cave. Woma grows bigger and bigger, sheds, smells, and isn’t housebroken – er – cave-trained. None of this troubles Orq, but it does bother his mother who declares Woma has got to go!

Of course Orq can’t bear to part with his pet. He decides to show his mother that Woma is “smart” and “cute” by teaching Woma some tricks. Orq teaches Woma to “speak” but the mammoth’s blast knocks mom off her feet. Learning to “roll over” is also disastrous, crushing the flower garden. How will Orq convince his mother that Woma is special and loveable?

Elliott’s splendid story is told in brusque, blunted cave speak that will delight young listeners. Using the simplest of phrases, he carves a connection between boy and pet with humor and flair. This prehistoric pair is sure to have preschool fans grunting along in cave grammar style.
Nichols’ illustrations are appealing and slyly funny. Look closely in this picture book to find a stone tricycle, crayon cave art, and a comic family of brightly colored birds. The expressions and body language of boy and mammoth perfectly convey their deep emotions and enrich the spare dialogue with meaning. My favorite detail – Nichols draws thickly lined red hearts floating above the characters when expressing their love for one another.

Me love Orq… you will too!

Click here for a link to This Orq activity kit with directions to make your own woolly (aka paper bag) mammoth!

-Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where Obtained:  I borrowed This Orq (he cave boy.) from my library and received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.