In the backyard of an ordinary house on an ordinary street in an ordinary town, there was once a most extraordinary tree. It was an enormous willow tree. In the middle of its trunk there was a hole. And if you found yourself near that willow tree with a certain wonder stirring in your heart, you might notice a colorful sparkle coming from that hole. And what was that sparkle? An invitation to go somewhere long ago and far far away.
Follow the stories of Willowbee children – ordinary children who take some not-so-ordinary adventures through the powers of their extraordinary willow tree.
ABOUT THE STORIES
This is a collection of 13 autumn stories, for the 13 weeks of autumn.
The Cattle Drive
Clancy does not want to go on the first-grade hike. He thinks it will be long and hard, and he simply won't make it up the mountain. When the willow tree takes them to South Texas to meet a melancholic longhorn steer, Clancy is able to inspire him to re-join the herd — and inspire himself in the process.
The Silly Seals
Piper thinks that some of the girls in her new school don't like her. They smile and whisper and she is sure they are talking about her. Later, the willow tree takes her to an island off the coast of Ireland where she meets some puffins and a group of seals that have similar worries about a new resident of the island — a fisherman.
Plenty for All
Little Ty does not want to share his blocks with his older brother, and when Clancy leaves to play something else, he folds his arms and wonders why he is suddenly all by himself. Later, when all three children travel to an oasis in the Sahara desert, they learn from a desert fox, an antelope, and a gazelle how generosity brings new friends.
The Corn Children
At a local corn maze, older sister Piper leaves her younger brothers behind to get to the middle faster. She can't understand why everyone gets upset until later, when the willow tree takes them to the Yucatan and a mother jaguar teaches her the importance of keeping your word.
Pushing the Sun
Little Ty has been feeling particularly small lately. If he could have one wish, it would be to be taller. But then the willow tree takes him to the Nile River of Ancient Egypt, where the smallest creature of all pushes the powerful sun across the sky with its tiny legs and tiny steps. He and his brother and sister return home with a new appreciation for the powers of being small.
It is Mrs. Willowbee's birthday, and all she wants is for the family to attend the local harvest festival. She says "No gifts! No cake! I simply want to have fun at the festival with you." Piper and Little Ty make their mother a gift anyway, but Clancy is confused: What is a birthday without birthday cake? And what can he make his mother so he has a gift to offer too? He gets a great idea, however, after The willow tree transports the children to the coast of Iceland, where they encounter dolphins and a clear-eyed gyrfalcon.
While enjoying the joys of autumn, Clancy and Piper see small flurries of snowfall. This is exciting for Piper, but startling for Clancy. He is not ready for snow — the thought makes him want to go inside and climb into bed. But when the Willow Tree takes them to Alaska, where it is colder and snowier, they meet some animals that meet the winter weather in very different ways.
Stillness and Quiet
Clancy has chicken pox and has to stay home for up to two weeks! At first, he likes the idea of reading books in his bed and eating snacks on the couch, but it doesn't take long for him to feel antsy and itchy and even a little bored. When the willow tree offers him an adventure to the mountains of Japan, he jumps at the chance — but is surprised at the wisdom he receives from a group of macaques peacefully bathing in the hot spring baths.
The Angry Elephant
Piper, the oldest Willowbee child, has a bit of a temper. She can get very frustrated when others do not work or play in the way she thinks is best or at the pace she thinks is appropriate. And after she accidentally breaks something of Clancy's while having a bit of tantrum, the willow tree invites her to go to the west coast of India, where she meets an elephant with a similar temper.
The Wild Ponies
Clancy misses his old school. He wonders what first grade is like back in the city where he used to live. As he recalls all the differences, the willow tree beckons him and his sister on an adventure. They land on Chincoteague Island off the coast of Virginia, where a group of wild ponies imagines what life would be like back in the land where their great-grandparents once lived. They all discover that life is really quite good just where they are.
Defeat the Goats
The Willowbee children climb out of an ancient olive tree to meet a gathering of wild boars who are gearing up for a battle. The boars talk of the goats — their bitter enemies — and describe how weak, mean, and silly they are. Upon further investigation, however, the Willowbees learn that none of the boars have ever actually met a goat. Everything they know about goats comes from stories and tall tales. Piper, drawing on a similar experience she was having at school, encourages them to meet a goat and see for themselves.
A Gift in the Thin Times
Little Ty is a picky eater. He often eats only one thing on his plate and refuses the rest. When the Willowbee children are taken to the far north of Norway, they encounter a pair of reindeer and an arctic hare that reveal the blessings of light, warmth, and food during a season where all of three are scarce. After that, food never tasted quite so good.
The Secret of the Source
The Willowbee family has a winter holiday tradition where they are visited by the house gnome who brings them gifts. This year, Piper is determined to see the house gnome and concocts a plan to catch a glimpse before it disappears into the snow. But when the willow tree takes them to visit a group of curious rhesus monkeys who want to find the secret source of the Ganges river in India, Piper learns the value of mystery and how one question often leads to more questions.