Written by: Denise Brennan-Nelson and Rosemarie Brennan

Illustrated by: Cyd Moore

Before Reading

Explore Illustrations

Willow's free spirit and wild imagination constantly get her into trouble in art class, but things change when she touches the heart of her seemingly cold and unyielding teacher, Miss Hawthorn. Talk to your child about what s/he sees on the cover and in the illustrations, and allow him/her to make predictions and observations.

Make Observations

What do you notice on the cover?

Make Predictions

{Flip to an illustration} What do you think is happening in this illustration?

Ask About Art Class

Do you take art? If so, what are some of your favorite drawings/projects that you've done?

Do you like your art teacher? Why or why not?

As You Read

Help your child point out interesting elements in the illustrations as you go through the story. Consider the characters' facial expressions, as well as small details. Illustrators leave a great deal to be discovered in the pictures, so allow your child to appreciate them. Ask questions like "How do you think _____ feels in this picture? What makes you think that? Willow is surrounded by lots of her paintings. What did she paint?"

Also be sure to encourage your child to make predictions. When the students come back from break their break and arrive at their classroom, ask, "What do you think they will find?"

Vocabulary Building:

While reading, encourage your child to stop and identify words that they are not familiar with. Allow him/her to discover a word’s meaning by using the words and illustrations surrounding it. Examples of new words in Willow include:


If s/he is having difficulties, ask your child to describe the scene and use synonyms to get to the definition. Ask questions like, "When the custodian looked into the classroom, what did he find? How do you think he felt? Surprised? Astonished means 'really surprised'."

Making Connections:

Miss Hawthorn seems to be quite mean in the beginning of the story but later readers discover that she is just incredibly lonely. When all of the students leave for break, ask "How do you think Miss Hawthorn feels? Have you ever felt really lonely? Why? What do you think Willow gave her?"

After Reading

Summarize and Interpret

Ensure comprehension by asking questions about the story, as well as what lessons your child may have learned. 

Talk About The Plot

How was Willow different from her classmates? 

What was Miss Hawthorn like in the beginning of the story? How did she change?

Why do you think Willow left Miss Hawthorn her art book?

Why did Willow's gift make Miss Hawthorn change?

Ask About Real Life Applications

Do you like your teachers? What would you do if there was a teacher that you didn't like? 

Look At Front and Back Cover

Many of Willow's doodles are featured on the front and back cover of this book, so explore the various illustrations with your child and talk about what Willow could have been thinking when drawing them.

Activity: Paint Like Willow

Supplies: pen/pencil, paint, paintbrush, and paper


Have your child close his/her eyes and imagine a tree. Not just any old boring tree, but a colorful, crazy tree like one of Willow's paintings. Once s/he has the image in mind, let your child create it. 

Once s/he is done, talk about the kind of tree that s/he painted. Why did s/he use those colors? Where would this tree exist? Would things grow on it? Let your child's imagination run wild and ask him/her to write these characteristics as you talk. If your child is younger, write it down for him/her.

STEM Extension

Check out this great activity guide written by Rosemarie Brennan. Be sure to try the Math+Art activity, and feel free to adjust the problems as necessary, depending on your child's abilities. Draw out the math problems to give younger children a visual aid to help them solve the problems. Some of these activities may be difficult for younger readers, but they are all wonderful supplementary activities for the story.