Books by Nancy Willard

GUM by Nancy Willard
by Nancy Willard, illustrated by Jeff Newman
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 24, 2017

"A clever, polished story whose lively illustrations reinforce the retro theme. (Picture book. 4-8)"
Two white boys ply the gumball machine with their quarters, pursuing the elusive silver racer toy in this picture book. Read full book review >
THE THREE MOUTHS OF LITTLE TOM DRUM by Nancy Willard
CHILDREN'S
Released: Feb. 10, 2015

"Inventors and pie lovers will find this one delicious. (Picture book. 4-9)"
Little Tom Drum's love of strawberry pie leads to a lot more than he bargained for. Read full book review >
THE FLYING BED by Nancy Willard
CHILDREN'S
Released: March 1, 2007

Willard is a master storyteller, never more so than in this many-layered fable. Guido and Maria, a baker and his wife, live in the city of Florence, but can scarcely make enough money to live from day to day. Maria asks for a bed for her birthday, and Guido finds one, in an odd shop. It's a gorgeous bed, with apples and lilies and three laughing children's faces carved on it. Their first night in the new bed, it dances out the window. It brings the couple across the sky to the master baker, who bakes in crystal ovens, gives them a bag of yeast and cautions them to tell no one. When they use it in their baking, no one can resist, and they are successful until an elegant stranger wants to pay for their secret. Guido ignores the warning of the master baker and sells some of the yeast for a huge sum that turns out to be counterfeit. But Maria releases the bed once again, and she flies home with gifts even more magical than the yeast. Thompson paints the city of Florence in a stunning, hard-edged magical photo-realism: The master baker, Guido and Maria are as real as portraits. Willard plays with rhythm and repetition, and leaves much understated or unsaid, but offers a wondrous story for older readers that can be read repeatedly with both joy and longing. (Picture book. 7-12)Read full book review >
SWEEP DREAMS by Nancy Willard
CHILDREN'S
Released: June 1, 2005

As in all their work together, both Willard's words and GrandPré's art strongly express a feeling of "anything is possible"—even that a man could fall in love with a broom discovered in a grocery store. At first, he rapturously treats it as a decorative piece only, but when it begins to pine away, he takes a doctor's advice to use it; soon he and broom are sweeping gracefully about the house—and it isn't long before the broom begins dancing on its own. This naturally draws a group of admirers until one day a stranger steals the broom away. Using colored pencil and oil washes, GrandPré casts her lovers in stylish poses amid swirling lines and puffs of golden dust; the broom, with its red straws and crooked handle, has as much presence and character as any of the human figures. Recovered at last, the broom stands inert until the man allows it to sail out to sweep away "all the stars from the floor of the night"—save one, which he leaves in the window "to light her way when she wants to come home." Readers inclined to look for the metaphor will not be disappointed—but neither will those willing to take this sweet, if unlikely romance at face value. (Picture book. 7-9)Read full book review >
THE TALE OF PARADISE LOST by Nancy Willard
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 1, 2004

High marks for ambition: Willard recasts Milton's epic poem into measured, often powerful prose, preserving the original's plot and themes, and at least a sense of its grand vision, but condensing or excising its long speeches, wordy descriptive passages, and sermons. Satan's beguiling (to some) pride and courage still come through clearly ("Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven. Hail Horrors! Receive your new ruler"), as, later, does Eve's culpability—"What if I'm banished? Adam will marry another Eve and live happily in Eden with her. No, Adam must share my fate"—and the Archangel Michael's concluding recitation of Old Testament events and New Testament redemption. Tiny figures act out the story's central moments with elfin grace in Daly's small, occasional, delicately detailed paintings, adding a sort of distant elegance. Willard retraces Milton's narrative arc, though she divides it into 17 chapters, rather than the original's 10 (later 12), and closes with a biographical note. Readers expecting a radical or modernized retelling may be disappointed, but even in this reduced form, it's still a huge and moving story. (Fiction. 11-13, adult)Read full book review >
CINDERELLA’S DRESS by Nancy Willard
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 1, 2003

Willard, who previously shed new light on everyone from Blake (A Visit to William Blake's Inn, 1981) to Bosch (Pish, Posh, Said Hieronymus Bosch, 1991), now turns her lens on Cinderella. While in other versions the young heroine's ball dress comes by way of mice and godmothers, in this case the dressmakers are none other than two hard-working magpies with a nest full of cast-offs that they turn into everything from wreaths to shoes. Told from the sympathetic birds' point of view, the traditional story (with a fairy godmother still saving the day) is played out in verse and illustration. Dyer's art, in a soft translucent wash, fills the pages and children will enjoy seeking out the two magpies and other animals on each page, each in a piece of human clothing. This simply told version, with its rich details of shimmery things will be a lovely addition to any fairytale collection. (Picture book. 4-10)Read full book review >
THE MOUSE, THE CAT, AND GRANDMOTHER’S HAT by Nancy Willard
ANIMALS
Released: April 1, 2003

Drawing rhythm from "The House That Jack Built," and part of the plot from Gingerbread Boy, Willard (The Moon & Riddles Diner and the Sunnyside Café, 2001, etc.) sends a surprise birthday party hilariously awry. Just as everyone's ready to sing, out leaps the mouse from beneath Grandma's bonnet, followed by the cat, and in the confusion, her huge birthday cake topples. But it springs to the door and rolls away, with the partygoers in hot pursuit. In her strong, stylish debut, Mattheson supplies soft-focus scenes in warm browns and luminous purples that add both a feeling of intimacy and sidesplitting details, including a wonderfully insouciant cake that is last seen sailing gaily downhill ahead of its would-be devourers. "The cake's run away! Things couldn't be worse!" wails the young narrator, but she might be about to change her mind at the end: "I hear a bee in Grandmother's purse." Rib-tickling reading, at party time, or any time. (Picture book. 6-8)Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 2001

More magical, mystical nonsense verse from one of children's literature's great maverick talents, coupled with astonishing, accomplished paper sculptures from a newcomer. Ageless young traveler Shoefly Sally introduces herself in the first poem, praising the Moon & Riddles Diner and the Sunnyside Café, where she "learned to bake from a talking cake." "It's there the hoppelpoppels dance / and the emerald antelope sing. / My dog's as welcome as myself. / His name is Everything." Further on, the Great Bear adds an accolade, a Pampel Moose escapes, in a bluesy lyric "The Teapot Pours Out Her Story," and a Chuggamonga Frog defeats the Riddling Ghost (with the help of 800 confederates). Readers meet a thread spider, the Queen of Chickens (unfortunately depicted as a rooster), and a stove with peculiar properties. Butler is equal to this quirky cast, fashioning from cut and scored bristol board—dramatically backlit to bring out strong lines and three-dimensionality—a series of leafy-framed tableaux featuring everything from kitchenware to a herd of heifers rock-and-rolling across a moonlit sky. Loosely linked, both to one another and to a set of playful recipes aimed at chefs of diverse expertise, the poems are sometimes haunting, sometimes laugh-out-loud hilarious, always surprising—and Butler's picture-book debut is nothing short of brilliant. (Picture book/poetry. 6+)Read full book review >
SHADOW STORY by Nancy Willard
Released: Oct. 1, 1999

From Willard (The Tale I Told Sasha, p. 539, etc.) and Diaz (Margaret Wise Brown's The Little Scarecrow Boy, 1998, etc.), the story of how orphaned Holly Go Lolly, with her nimble fingers and quick thinking, gets the best of the wicked Ooboo. Gifted with the ability to create animals, scenery, and people by manipulating her hands to make magical shadows, she tricks the evil ogre by appealing to his voracious appetite. Diaz based the drawings for the Ooboo on a character from a 19th-century French play. Reminiscent of Sumatran shadow puppets, his whimsically surrealistic illustrations are the highlight for a story that, for all the special effects, is a conventional tale of brain beating brawn. (Picture book. 5-10) Read full book review >
THE TALE I TOLD SASHA by Nancy Willard
Released: April 1, 1999

With this imaginary journey, Willard (Step Lightly, 1998, etc.) turns away from the self-indulgence of her recent work towards the vision and beguiling language of A Visit to William Blake's Inn (1981). When a door opens in the shadows of her "plain and small" living room, a latter-day Alice chases a golden ball through "an older space/ . . . over the Bridge of Butterflies,/across the Field of Lesser Beasts," and into more magic realms. Christiana observes and expands on the hint of the psychedelic that runs through the incantatory text; the underside of a bed becomes a wide space through which fly the "snails and numbers, stars and sheep/my mother counts to fall asleep," while elsewhere great half-seen constructions and familiar creatures made marvelous blend into shimmering backgrounds. Guided home in the end by a mysterious King of Keys, the young traveler offers readers a key of her own: "A hundred pencils, swift as rain,/writing on sheets of beaten gold/would not be quick enough to hold/the strange adventures/shadows hold." Bon voyage. (Picture book. 7-10) Read full book review >
THE TORTILLA CAT by Nancy Willard
ANIMALS
Released: March 1, 1998

When each of the five Romero kids come down with the same fever that killed their mother and many people in the community, their father, a doctor, fears for their lives. Each sick child has a vision of a cat who speaks a catchy rhyming refrain and bears a tray with a tortilla. The children become well, and claim it was the Tortilla Cat who cured them. Dr. Romero believes the cat is more fever dream than real, but when he becomes ill, the cat appears to him, leaving five kittens—one for each child—as a remembrance. The connection or significance of the kittens is never really clear, which turns an enjoyable read into a rather abstract adventure, but the Latin American flavor of Winter's surreal illustrations restores much of the magic. (Fiction. 6-10) Read full book review >
CRACKED CORN AND SNOW ICE CREAM by Nancy Willard
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 1997

Cracked Corn And Snow Ice Cream (64 pp. $18.00; Sept. 1997; 0-15- 227250-X): An elegantly designed collection of birthdates, folk wisdom, garden tips, recipes, old photos, and family reminiscences that conjure up country life and bygone times. To anecdotes from their oldest Iowa, Wisconsin, and Kansas relatives, dubbed ``The Voices,'' Willard and Dyer add items ``Worth Knowing,'' from historical curiosities to a list of edible flowers, food ``Worth Cooking,'' a scattering of ``Dates and Festivals,'' plus an ongoing ``Farmer's Calendar,'' decorated with epigrams, garlands of verse, small, sharp black-and-white photos, carefully lettered titles, and tiny, exact depictions of flowers, farm animals, and people in rustic dress. Casual browsers drawn by the pictures' visual appeal or the play of colors on the page will linger to savor the homespun recollections. (Anthology. 9-12) Read full book review >
THE MAGIC CORNFIELD by Nancy Willard
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 1, 1997

Willard (The Good-Night Blessing Book, 1996, etc.), in something of a creative risk, combines assemblages of US postage stamps with photographed tableaux of dolls, angels, and ``sculptures and other oddities'' (according to the copyright page) to illustrate this epistolary tale of a wildly errant traveler. When his car breaks down, Tottem Perhaps wanders into a trackless cornfield, precipitating a series of odd adventures and encounters—all of which he reports to his cousin Bottom on hand- written, appropriately stamped-and-canceled post cards. Eventually arrested in ``Hat Creek, CA'' for not wearing a hat, and jailed in ``Truth Or Consequences, NM,'' Tottem floats to ``Wise River, MT,'' then passes through other actual towns before finding the cornfield's edge at last near ``Happy, TX.'' Sharp-eyed readers will chuckle over the Ethel Waters stamp among the Wise River note's waterfowl, Babe Ruth and a fishing fly called ``Lefty's Deceiver'' used to post the card from ``Left Hand, WV,'' and a squad of smiling faces from Happy. This witty travelogue makes a natural companion to Vera B. Williams's Stringbean's Trip to the Shining Sea (1988). (Picture book. 6-8) Read full book review >
THE GOOD-NIGHT BLESSING BOOK by Nancy Willard
RELIGION
Released: Sept. 1, 1996

Willard follows up her Alphabet of Angels (1994) with this litany of random, quirky benedictions: ``Bless cups and pitchers,/pots and spoons,/candles and keys,/the bride and groom./Bless open windows,/doors that sing,/rooms that invite/the forest in.'' Each line captions a large full-color photo of one or two figurines, mostly angels, richly dressed and placed in an appropriate setting (amid hosta leaves for the ``forest,'' for example) with assorted small objects. Though several startling juxtapositions—one angel reaching into a refrigerator, another leaning over an ironing board—lighten the reverent tone, concretist readers will shrug; those with an appreciation for the abstract may find some meaning here. (Picture book. 5+) Read full book review >
NONFICTION
Released: Oct. 8, 1993

In a luminous collection of essays, prolific children's author, poet, and novelist Willard (Sister Water, 1993) speaks of the magic and craft of writing. Many of these 13 pieces describe the power of poems in their ancient role as incantations that call us to see the objects and beings of the world anew—and of the power of stories as parables. The truth nestles hidden inside a good story, contends Willard, who quotes Eudora Welty: ``Fiction is a lie...Never in its inside thoughts, always in its outside dress.'' One of the most vivid lessons Willard ever got on the importance of giving truth some ``outside dress'' came from a University of Michigan student who briefly rented a room in her parents' rambling house. Willard relates that, according to young Danny Weinstein, Truth used to go around stark-naked, scandalizing everybody until he happened to meet Parable, who dressed him up: ``Truth put on a white linen suit, a pink shirt, and a black tie, and what do you know? People invited him here, they invited him there, they shook his hand when they met him in the street. Since that time Truth and Parable are great friends.'' Inspired by Weinstein's story, Willard weaves a series of delightful parables that dramatize basic writing principles like ``show, don't tell.'' The best stories, says the author, pull the reader into a special, ceremonial time and space in which past and present coexist. A writer must learn to wait actively for such tales, for they always seem to come through chance, as though delivered by angels. These are the stories that preserve the inner truth of beloved ancestors and places, that resonate—even if not explicitly—with the timeless human incantation, ``Once upon a time.'' Willard strings together insight after insight, creating a celebration of, as well as a guide to, the writing life. Read full book review >
THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE by Nancy Willard
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 1, 1993

In the spirit of Pish, Posh, Said Hieronymus Bosch (1991, ALA Notable), a reworking of a tale popularized, as explained here, by the poet Goethe as well as by Dukas, whose music fueled the Disney version. The apprentice Sylvia's task is to make garments for the Boschian menagerie of fantastical animals that live in the magician Tottibo's castle; the enchanted tool that erupts out of her control is a sewing machine. Willard's narrative is such an undisciplined cascade of verse that it rivals earlier versions' floods; though the language is musical, and the detail frequently witty, it's an outpouring in need of more judicious channeling. Still, the Dillons have good fun visualizing this torrent of description, slyly tucking faces into architectural details and creating an amusing gallery of mischievous grotesques; the gold-bordered art is rendered with their usual taste and skill. Not a landmark, despite the creators' credentials, but fun. (Picture book. 5-10)Read full book review >
A STARLIT SOMERSAULT DOWNHILL by Nancy Willard
Released: Sept. 1, 1993

In gossamer lyric verse, delicate as early snow, a whimsical tale of a reluctant rabbit who's persuaded to join his friend the bear in a long, safe winter sleep, only to find himself tossing and turning alone: " 'O prudent friend! O sleeping stone!'/The rabbit poked his silent back./'How I should love a little snack,/a tuft of grass, a bunch of bark,/a star to tame the lonely dark' "—and he escapes to dance "in starlit somersaults downhill," through the snow. Pinkney's watercolors are lusciously tactile, the monumental, somnolent bear wedged into generous double spreads while his ever-alert friend springs from clover to stream and almost off the page on a marvelous final foldout spread. Delectable. (Picture book. 4+)Read full book review >
SISTER WATER by Nancy Willard
Released: May 12, 1993

Willard, a poet, essayist, and well-known children's author, floats her second novel for adults (Things Invisible to See, 1985) down a stream that is both real and only imagined, a place where water can sustain you—or let you sink like a stone. Jessie Woolman grew up in Drowning Bear, Wisconsin, and settled in Ann Arbor to marry Henry—a man who owned a museum of natural artifacts, gemstones, fossils, and an indoor stream where fish could swim into view and then vanish, hidden by the floor. Henry is gone now. The museum is gathering dust. And Jessie's two daughters, Martha and Ellen, wonder how best to care for their aging mother, whose memory works like those museum fish—there one minute, gone the next. Martha is inclined toward accepting the offer of local businessman Harvey Mack, who wants to buy the museum property for a tidy sum and develop a shopping mall. Ellen, still recovering from her own husband's recent death, just wants to hang on. Enter Sam Theopolis, a waiter and unlikely savior with a red ponytail. Sam moves in to help care for Jessie and soon has plans to reopen the museum. It all seems too good to be true and, naturally, it is. Sam is taken to jail, charged with an unthinkable crime. Ellen is desolate. Jessie grows further confused. All seems lost—until the truth prevails, clear as water. Willard does for her Michigan setting what Alice Hoffman did for Florida in Turtle Moon, making the natural world loom larger—and more magical—than life. Every toad in the rushes has a secret. Any fossil might bear the footprint of a ghost. At times, too many symbols and portents distract from the story, but, ultimately, Willard's good-hearted, quirky characters win the show. Life and death, water and wings—what Willard conjures nicely here is a tale about family survival, the riskiest kind of magic. Read full book review >
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST by Nancy Willard
FAIRY TALES, FOLKTALES AND MYTHS
Released: Oct. 1, 1992

In a briefer recasting of Leprince Beaumont's beloved tale than McKinley's fine novelization (1978), Willard grounds the story in the opulent materialism of the late 19th century, with Beauty's father as a wealthy New York merchant; their country retreat is in the Hudson Valley, where the Beast's magical Victorian mansion fits right in with a region renowned for supernatural happenings. Willard's telling is brisk but lyrical, of course, the lovely romantic touches delicately balanced with wry humor. There are but two sisters here, as self-serving as Cinderella's; in an abruptly vengeful conclusion, they become a pair of andirons. Otherwise, the tone is gentle, with much of the interest in the enchanting details of the Beast's magical home and garden. Moser provides 14 wood engravings, handsome but rather austere for attracting much of the book's natural audience. There are telling (but distancing) portraits of Beauty and her sisters; a poignant take on the beast—deformed face, haunted eyes; the brooding mansion; and, representing the denouement, a chaste pair of hands, not quite clasped. A felicitous retelling, in an elegant format that leaves plenty of ``scope for the imagination.'' (Fiction. 6+) Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1991

Bosch, the late-medieval Dutch artist, painted extraordinary surreal scenes, their whimsical details meticulously depicted. Willard imagines that Bosch's house is crowded with his own fantastical creatures, driving his housekeeper wild with :three- legged thistles asleep in my wash" and a dragon to "wrestle...to get to my sink"; meanwhile, the insouciant Hieronymus gazes abstractedly at the mayhem, palette in hand. The housekeeper flees, only to find that she misses the excitement; fortunately, her trunk contains some of the weird creations, including a "pickle-winged fish" on which she rides home to a loving welcome and the promise of more help—''till death do us part'' (a mellower feminist message than that in Anthony Browne's Piggybook, 1986, and even more imaginative). Willard wraps this gossamer plot in enchantingly musical, comical verse ("In this vale of tears we must take what we're sent,/Feathery, leathery, lovely, or bent"). The Dillons now include son Lee, who provides an elaborate frame sculpted in silver, brass, and bronze for the paintings, to which he also contributed. His bronze figures peer in astonishment at the marvelous action within the frame, painted with a Bosch-like precision and irrepressible invention; additional drawings and a beautifully hand-lettered text also contribute to the lovely, spacious format. Like Bosch's menage, this may not suit quite everyone; but, for those with minds and hearts open to its wit, artistry, and merriment, a rare delight. (Picture book. 4+)Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 8, 1981

Unquestionably a labor of love, this is set in an inn presided over by William Blake. There, dragons bake the bread, angels shake the featherbeds, a tiger, a rabbit, a bear, and other animals fill the rooms, sunflowers request "a room with a view," and the only human guests we're introduced to are the little-boy narrator and "the man in the marmalade hat"—who arrives "equipped with a bottle of starch / to straighten the bends in the road," then proceeds to ask for "a room at the top." The first of Willard's 16 verses begins, "This inn belongs to William Blake / and many are the beasts he's tamed / and many are the stars he's named / and many those who stop and take / their joyful rest with William Blake." The verses are laced with fancies but formally tidy, as are the Provensens' charming period illustrations, which give a quaint prim cast to such dreamlike phenomena as a flying carriage, a breakfast table balanced on a rooftop (breakfast is "on the house"), and a parade of animals through the milky way, led by Blake, with the little boy astride the tiger. It's just as well that the Provensens' manner is poles apart from the visionary intensity of Blake's, but one wonders how Blake's work would inspire Willard to invoke his image and meter to such whimsical purpose. Still, the book is a visual pleasure, even beyond the illustrations, and the poetry accomplished, perhaps enchanting—as in " 'Where did you sleep last night, Wise Cow? / Where did you lay your head?' / / 'I caught my horn on a rolling cloud / and made myself a bed, / / and in the morning, ate it raw / on freshly buttered bread.' " It's a question of sensibility. Read full book review >