"Once there was a tree named Willow that had a lot of branches and leaves."
So begin the adventures of Willow the weeping willow tree in a book by C.K. Adas that teaches how essential trees are in this world of ours.
"Willow helps young children learn the importance trees have in our lives and the resources that they provide," said the author, Clarissa Adas, a San Ramon resident and second-grade teacher at Junction Avenue K-8 School in Livermore. "The tale is easy for young readers to understand and provides a lesson at the same time."
Adas began developing the plot about 15 years ago, she said, when the two oldest of her three sons were toddlers and she wanted to entertain them. The little boys were enthralled by the life of Willow as the tree witnessed lumberjacks cutting down nearby friends.
The plot stayed on the back burner through the ensuing years as Adas raised her boys -- now 18, 15 and 12 -- and pursued her career, 23 years of teaching pre-kindergarten to the fifth grade.
"My life was pretty hectic but I would always think of things I could use in the classroom," Adas recalled. "When my boys were young, I would try to keep the story simple and the pictures simple."
Over the years, she added ideas to the story that older children would enjoy and understand, and another theme became the importance of being yourself.
"The main story is taking care of nature and trees, and how we can plant seeds to grow more trees if we are chopping down too many," Adas explained. "But the other part is to be happy with who you are and make the most of who you are."
This ties in with the Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District's focus on mental health using the Choose Love program, which was founded by the mother of a Sandy Hook shooting victim.
Then when COVID hit, schools went online and people stayed home, including the Adas family.
"I had some empty time at spring break," Adas recalled. "Usually our family goes on road trips during spring break but we couldn't do any of that."
She finalized the story and drawings, searched online for publishing possibilities, and discovered direct publishing at KDP.amazon.com.
"It has all the tools you need so I could put my book online, and they help you a little bit," Adas said. "You really don't have to pay anything unless you want more services. You just put in the labor and that's it."
She published the book and also developed comprehensive lesson plans for kindergarten, first- and second-grade teachers to use with it.
"I wanted teachers to have a tool since I don't know if they see what I see in the story," Adas said.
Now the book is available on Amazon, in English and Spanish. Adas teaches dual immersion and wanted her students to hear the story in Spanish.
"I have grandparents from Mexico, my dad is half Mexican from San Antonio," she said. "My grandfather spoke Spanish with me as I grew up, which is how I have my job now."
She donated books to local schools and sent the lesson plan to teachers in Livermore, Dublin and San Ramon, where she lives.
And, of course, Adas included "Willow" in her own Earth Day activities.
"I asked my kids, 'What comes from trees?'" she said.
She teaches mornings in the classroom, where the students noticed the pencils in their hands, cabinets, desks and walls. The afternoon session is done online, and the children at home pointed out their furniture and hardwood floors, and also looked outside their windows at fences.
"One pulled out a drawer," Adas said. "They got really excited about this."
"They seem to really like it," she added. "The young ones sit and listen and want to know, 'Is he going to be OK? Why is he sad?' Little kids have a natural empathy for others."
Adas has an idea for another book and will somehow have to find time to develop it, she said. She doesn't expect the world to stop again to accommodate her, she noted with a laugh.
But for now, "Willow" has been given a life to help children understand the importance of trees -- and themselves.