Pilu of the Woods by Mai K. Nguyen
Nguyen, Mai K. (2019). Pilu of the Woods. Oni Press.
Pilu of the Woods is a young reader’s graphic novel, written and illistrated by Mai K. Nguyen. The protagonist Willow is grieving the (indirectly hinted) loss of her mother and being teased by classmates. When she gets home, her feelings, personified as little monsters she keeps in jars to contain her emotions, erupt as her older sister, Linnea, asks what’s going on at school. Willow storms out the door, followed closely by her dog Chicory, and into her beloved woods, where she knows how to id many of the flowers and plants thanks to spending time there with both her mom and dad. From here, the main arc of the graphic novel takes us through the woods to where she stumbles upon Pilu, who has also run away from home, convinced that her mother (some sort of tree spirit) doesn’t care. As Willow leads Pilu home, to her mother’s favorite magnolia grove, the two exchange knowledge of the flora around them, and discuss the sensation of over-consuming feelings of anguish and anger, loneliness and in Willow’s case grief.
I love the representation of emotions as little monsters, and the discussion if whether it’s best to contain them or feel your way thru. The illustrations of the woods and characters balance light and dark as Will struggles with her emotions. With heartfelt moments of new friendship, tough themes are addressed as storms and darkness loom, forcing Willow to finally confront her grief, and the monsters, head on. The whimsy of the flowers and mushrooms, and a hint of fairy lore is intriguing and accessible to kids who might likewise be learning about the wild around them. At the end, the author includes space for readers to journal about local wildlife and their own curiosities. The text could be used as an introduction to exploring science and the outside as well as to address social emotional learning and to help kids give voice to and work through tough emotions that might feel like they’re taking over.
Check out the publisher’s website here.