Willow and Twig by Jean Little;
Viking: New York, 2000; $15.99
Most people can relate to having an annoying little brother that is "Velcro-ed" to you wherever you go, or to counting on your grandma for love. But Willow doesn't only need to count on her grandma for love, she and her brother, nicknamed Twig, need to count on her to survive!
Willow and her four-year-old brother, whom everyone thinks is stupid because he can't talk yet, are living with an elderly caretaker, Maisie, in a cramped one-room apartment. The children's mother, a drug addict, is out in the world seemingly unaware that she has just broken yet another promise that means everything to her kids. This time, the kids know she is never coming back, never.
In daycare or kindergarten, most kids worry that their parents won't come to pick them up, but that usually never happens. Only Willow and Twig's mom obviously has no idea how much coming back means to a kid.
After about four months, Maisie dies. Willow and Twig are forced to turn to the police for help. After the threat of being sent off to two separate foster homes, Willow decides to call her long-lost grandma who supposedly never wants to see her again, or so her mother has told her. Until that telephone call, Grandma doesn't even know Twig exists! Even though their grandma is happy to take them in, Willow is still scared that she will get angry at disruptive Twig and send them away. Once they seem to be settled in with blind Uncle Hum and kind Gram, other people come along who could spell trouble. Willow is at first happy to discover a neighbor her own age, until Sabrina Marr lies to her and runs off in a huff. And then Aunt Con, her grandmother's wretched sister who absolutely hates children, decides to move in with them.
At this point in the book, I didn't know what would happen to Willow and Twig. Would Aunt Con convince Gram and Uncle Hum to get rid of them? Would Twig push too many buttons and get them both in trouble? Willow's only hope now was to pray. Pray that Aunt Con would find love in her heart to let them stay. Pray that she and Twig would be loved. Pray that Sabrina would turn out to be nice. Pray.
When I read this book I placed myself in Willow's position and learned how other children might feel. How other children in our world struggle for food and water while we take it for granted. How others long to be loved, to have friends, to just sit down and laugh with their family members, while that is built into our daily lives.
This book really made me think about what else is happening in the world while we sit down to play a game or to watch TV. Not everybody has the same privileges, and not everybody's family looks the same. When you read this book you might get the same message I did, or you might have a different point of view. No matter what, though, I will bet you will find Willow and Twig to be a fascinating story about two children who overcome lots of obstacles and help to create a family they can count on to be safe and happy.