Pilu of the Woods by Mai K. Nguyen, 157 pp, RL 4
Pilu of the Woods by Mai K. Nguyen
Purchased from The Strand Book Store
Pilu of the Woods begins with a sweet memory of a mother and daughter walking in the woods then moves to a fight between sisters. Linnea is upset with Willow for fighting at school again, especially the day before their mother's birthday. Furious, Willow stomps off into the woods with her dog Chicory. Soon, she is distracted from her dark thoughts by a sound, a crying. It'a Pilu, a wood sprite who has also run away, convinced that her mother won't miss her. Willow assures her she is wrong, very wrong, and insists on helping Pilu find her way home. Pilu agrees, but as they travel, Willow teaching Pilu all the things she learned about nature from her mother, Pilu seems distracted and uninterested in finding her way home. Eventually, Pilu explodes, telling Willow that she has no idea what it's like to be lonely, to have a mother who doesn't pay attention to you.
Emotions roil throughout the story, appearing as amoeba-like creatures. Willow refers to them as "Little Monsters," saying, "They live in your head and they're louder than your heart. The smallest things seem to set them off . . . they always start as a whisper . . . then a never ending chatter." Willow keeps these creatures locked away to keep them from growing, from taking over. But, as she listens to Pilu talk about having a mother who doesn't care about her, Willow's creatures grow larger as her grief at losing her own mother is finally set free. In a climactic scene, a storm thrashing through the forest, it seems as if the Little Monsters, now looming, are devouring Willow. But, their presence finally helps Willow to see the mistake she has been making. She thought that being strong meant not crying, not being sad, but she realized that this hurt the Little Monsters, that it hurt her. Nguyen sends both Pilu and Willow to home with a satisfying ending. Nguyen's illustrations are delicate and filled with emotion, from Willow and Pilu's expressions to the Little Monsters. Changes in palette reflect memories of the past and events in the present while her depictions of the forest itself make you almost feel the bark of the trees, the moss on the stones. Nguyen's brilliant representation of difficult emotions is one young readers will immediately grasp, and the friendship between Willow and Pilu, with it's challenges, will also resonate. Friendship, feelings, forests all come together for an unforgettable graphic novel.