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An Except from Chapter 7 of the Willow’s Tree Gift: The Old Ewe with the Copper Bell

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Bells clanged. The doll was in a pen that fenced hundreds of sheep, all with bells. The sheepdog sat just beyond the fence and watched the sheep. His daughter, the sheepdog pup with the green bow, was at his side. She rolled in the grass and chased her tail. Her papa ignored her.

Nearby, a sheep nibbled at some short grass next to his purple bowtie.

“Please don’t eat my bowtie!” The doll squeaked and popped to his feet.

She was an old ewe with a dented and tarnished copper bell. Her wool hadn’t been sheered in a while and she looked much rounder than her elderly form. Her bug-eyed gaze stared neither at the herd nor the grass she ate. It was hard to tell if she saw the bowtie or if she bothered to care.

Although the doll wasn’t as nimble as he would like, especially since his purple bowtie was about to be eaten, he scooted through the short grass as quickly as his wobbly limbs allowed. He tumbled to grasp it, his feather in one cloth arm, his purple bowtie now in the other, and he bumped into the ewe’s snout.

The ewe jerked her head. Although a gentle tap, for the doll was plush, it took her a moment to gather her senses. The doll didn’t see her surprise. He was figuring how to tie his purple bowtie.

He fumbled with the fabric, unable to weave it into a knot, or wrap it around his neck, because his cloth arms had no paws or thumbs for such things. Nor did he realize he needed paws or thumbs to do what he tried. Although what he attempted was impossible he had yet to learn what impossible was. So he blundered with the bowtie, all the while the ewe finally saw what tapped her snout. She stared at the doll and didn’t understand what he was. She was so distracted at the sight that she chewed an empty mouth, having already swallowed her grass and hadn’t thought enough to bite at some more.

“Excuse me, do you know how to tie a bow?” The doll asked the ewe.

She didn’t respond. She stared at him and chewed at nothing.

“My bowtie has become unraveled.” He showed it to her. “I don’t know how to tie it.”

Still, she didn’t respond. Her bugling eyes didn’t seem to be looking at him, but they were.

“It’s important to me,” the doll said. “I’m not sure why. I’m glad you didn’t eat it.”

And still, the ewe said nothing. The doll didn’t seem to mind.

“I think I know,” he said. “When I woke underneath the willow tree it was with me. We came from the same place and that must be why it’s important to me. It’s a part of me, like the pup said.”
“So that’s what you are,” she spoke slowly, her voice sounded tired. “Are you a sheepdog pup?”

The doll wasn’t entirely paying attention. He still worked the bowtie, having noticed the ewe’s hooves, which were far less dexterous than his clumsy fabric limbs. It was then he learned how to wrap his purple bowtie around his arm. His stitched mouth curled to smile.

“Are you a sheepdog pup?” The ewe asked again.

The doll tried to match the ewe’s bug-eyed look, but couldn’t. “I don’t know what I am, but the pup and I have things in common, like our laugh. I really like her laugh.”

“How can you not know what you are?” The ewe asked, even slower. “Everyone knows what they are. It’s something you’re born with.”

“Like my bowtie?” The doll perked.

“You cannot be a bowtie,” the ewe shook her head and her bell clanged.

“Why not?” The doll asked.

“A bowtie isn’t alive,” she took a long time to say. “A sheepdog pup is alive, so it’s something you can be. Are you sure you’re not a sheepdog pup? You don’t look like her and are much smaller, but you both have a kindness about you. I am going to miss that when you both become cruel.”

“What?” This upset the doll.

“The farmer’s will makes the sheepdog cruel,” the ewe said.

“Cruel?” The doll was no less upset.

“That’s what a sheepdog is meant to do,” the ewe said. “To bully, bark and bite at us if we don’t follow the farmer. It doesn’t matter if we’re old. It’s his will or his affliction.”

“Why?” The doll squeaked.

“We don’t ask,” the ewe’s voice cracked. “Asking invites pain. It’s better to avoid it.”

“I don’t understand,” the doll said. “A storm can scare and hurt you. But you can’t control a storm. Why would someone act like thunder and lightning? Why would—“

“—Because it’s the farmer’s will.”

The doll thought about a storm without rain or darkness, but with as much terror. He didn’t like how the sheepdog could hurt the sheep and how the sheep could do nothing to stop it. It made him feel small, and the farm and the forest so large. Then a new feeling stirred within his cloth body. It warmed him like the happiness he felt with the pup, shook him like the feeling he shared with Scarlet, and comforted him like the willow tree. From that feeling came a whisper only the doll could hear. It was one so faint he questioned whether he heard anything at all. It said: This is not how the story goes.

“Let’s go.” The doll stood, flung his feather over his shoulder and walked to the pen door.

To find out what happens next, please explore all the wonderful options to purchase the book, Willow Tree’s Gift.

An Excerpt Willow Tree’s Gift, Chapter 3: The Tabby Cat with the Blue Scarf

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“Ouch!” The little mouse doll squeaked. The cat’s fangs bit into his cloth head.

The cat dropped him. The doll rolled in the dirt. He was somewhat muddied from the scuffle, but his fabric didn’t tear. The doll stood and leaned against the tall grass. The cat studied the doll. He sat and curled his tail around his furry body and played with his blue scarf. A cold wind blew between them, brushing the cat’s fur and shaking the doll’s wobbled stance. It came from far beyond the meadow with the willow tree where there was darkness. A white flash crossed the black sky and was followed by faint thunder.

“You don’t taste like a field mouse,” the cat said, licking his paw and stroking his ear.

“What do I taste like?” The doll asked, mimicking the cat’s gestures.

“Nothing at all,” he answered. “And you don’t look much like a field mouse either.”

“Do I want to be a field mouse?” The doll asked.

The wind blew colder and harder. The doll tried to hold on to the tall grass, but fell with a soft thud. He tilted his fluffy nose to the cat.

“It’s best if you weren’t.” The cat yawned. “If you were I’d eat you.”

“What does that mean?” The doll tried to yawn, but couldn’t. His mouth was stitches.

The thunder grew louder, and the cat glanced at the approaching storm.

“It’s hard to explain,” he said, “but it would be a bad thing for you.”

“Why do you want to do something bad?” The doll asked.

The cat stared at the doll, but wasn’t certain if he stared back. His eyes were buttons, after all.

“Because that’s what a cat does to a field mouse.” The cat looked away.

“Can I be a field mouse later,” the doll looked away too, “so I don’t get eaten now?”

Thunder boomed. The doll squeaked. The cat was unmoved.

“Where did you come from?” The cat asked.

“What?” The doll was shaken by the thunder. “What was that sound?”

“Where did you come from?” The cat asked again.

“Oh.” The doll gestured behind the cat. “From the willow tree.”

“Where did you come from before that?” The cat asked.

“There was no before.” The doll shook his cloth head and his fabric ears flopped.

“Of course there was a before.”

“Not for me,” the doll said.

Rain fell on the meadow with the willow tree.

“You’re a curious field mouse.” The cat stood and stretched.

“Are you going to eat me now?” The doll asked as he stood and stretched too.

“Perhaps later.” The cat turned to the tall grass and disappeared into it.

“Don’t go!” The doll squeaked.

He ran, following the cat, and his cloth body shook. It was the quickest he had moved, but it wasn’t fast. The doll ran into the cat and fell. The cat had stopped when he heard the doll.

“Go back to the willow tree,” said the cat. “It’s starting to rain and I don’t want to get wet.”

“Is rain unpleasant for cats, like cats are unpleasant for field mice because you eat them?”

“I’m not sure what you are.” The cat shook his head.

“Why do I have to be anything?” The doll shook his head too.

The rain fell harder, and the cold wind blew stronger. The cat ran out of the meadow. Lightning struck and thunder roared. Dark clouds eclipsed the moon. The storm had arrived.

The doll shrieked, but pouring rain masked his cries. He shuffled through the tall grass, but it was too thick, and he couldn’t find his way. His cloth body was soaked and caked in mud. His yarn tail dragged behind him like a rock. He could barely move.

The doll bawled and covered his fabric ears at a deafening thunderclap. He fell, rolled out of the tall grass and into a puddle, near the willow tree’s roots. He struggled to climb out, but couldn’t. Not far beyond it, barely visible through the rain’s veil, was a cabin with a stone chimney and dim lights glowing from its windows. But the doll wasn’t looking at that. His polished button eyes were wet from rain. They would’ve been wet from tears too, if polished button eyes could cry. And although he didn’t understand what crying was the storm was beginning to teach him.

The willow tree’s drooping leaves waved madly in the wind. Its limp branches swung chaotically, whipping and lashing at the dark. But amidst the icy wind, torrential rain and earsplitting thunder, the doll stopped crying. The willow tree’s unmoving trunk, and the heart that was carved into it, despite the pandemonium that raged all around, calmed him.

Then lightning struck the willow tree.

To find out what happens next, please explore all the wonderful options to purchase the book, Willow Tree’s Gift.

Willow Tree’s Gift, Now in Hardcover and Color!

You can now enjoy the Little Mouse Doll’s adventure into kindness with the hardcover book from Barnes and Noble!

Enjoy the 20 full-color illustrations of the child’s toy that comes to life one night beneath a willow tree, before a storm. Read how we learns about community, how we treat others because of our differences, and how we learns about kindness and cruelty through the eyes of farm and forest animals.

Why do the mice fear the cat, and why must the cat hurt them?
Why does the sheepdog bark at the sheep, and why do the sheep live in torment?
Why is the farmer cruel, and why has he faced so much hardship?
Why is the little boy sick, and why don’t the farm animals talk about it?
Why are the forest animals so mysterious, and why do they terrorize the farm?
And what secrets do the forest hide, and will the little mouse doll discovery them?

Find out the answers to all of these questions and more!


Willow Tree’s Gift is IndieReader Approved!

Willow Tree’s Gift, by Sebastian A. Barnes has been reviewed by IndieReader!

IndieReader is a powerful community for independently published authors to promote and share their work. I am grateful to write that my novel for young adults, Willow Tree’s Gift, has been rated 4 out of 5 Stars. With a final verdict from the reviewer:

Not since Orwell’s ANIMAL FARM has a supposed animal “fairy tale” so clearly and effectively imparted a message for all.

To see the full review, check out the IndieReader website.
IR Sticker Approved Sticker

Kindness Prologue

The story behind the story of the Willow Tree’s Gift…
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The Willow Tree’s Gift is a story about kindness. This topic is personal to me, and I learned through my research on kindness in history, religion, philosophy and sociology that more unites us than divides us. However today it feels there is more divisiveness than ever. This divisiveness can feel scary, so we retreat to places where we feel safe, like our communities. There we are comforted, so much so that we also sometimes shun or even fear other communities, simply because they are different than our own.

It doesn’t have to be this way. I believe the barriers we create by our communities are imaginary. I believe almost everyone is good, but not everyone knows how to be kind. This is because kindness is taught and is a conscious act to help end others’ suffering, regardless of the community we belong. And if that isn’t possible, at least do no harm. This was the book’s genesis. It isn’t intended to be an instruction on kindness, but by better understanding how our attachments influence us, it hopefully instills a lesson.

The protagonist, the little mouse doll, woke one night beneath a willow tree before a storm. The willow tree is in a meadow between two communities: the forest and the farm. Yet, the doll is neither living nor inanimate, a forest or a farm animal: he can never belong to these communities, or anywhere, simply for being what he is. And yet, there is magic to him, like a sunrise or the infinite starry night. It is the kind of magic that makes us accept our place amongst all things; wonders colossal and insignificant, impossible and practical, alive and not. His magic is kindness.

This story is about belonging, differences and why they matter at all. It is about loving ourselves and knowing we’ll always belong when we do. It is about falling in love when it seems impossible, making friends when we least expect it, and standing up for what is right no matter how frightening it may seem.

This story lets us view the world through the polished button eyes of the little mouse doll, challenges our preconceived notions, does so with awe, and sees each moment as a gift when we cherish kindness. I hope you enjoy the story as much as I enjoyed sharing it.

Sebastian A. Barnes
Author of the Willow Tree’s Gift
Discover it now

Willow Tree’s Gift, Chapter Two: Wonder

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An excerpt from Willow Tree’s Gift, Chapter Two: Wonder. In this chapter you are introduced to the novel’s protagonist. Enjoy…

His button eyes came to life. They didn’t blink or flutter as they looked at the dark meadow. They couldn’t. They were polished buttons sown to a cloth head. They could only gaze at the bright full moon and the twinkling lights of the infinite starry night.

“How?” He asked the stars. They didn’t answer.

He looked above and saw a dark green canopy of drooping leaves. They slowly swayed. His polished button eyes watched their gentle rhythm. Carved into the trunk far above him was a heart. He leaned back and bumped his soft, cloth head against the coarse bark of the willow tree.

“Ouch,” he squeaked at the willow tree although it didn’t hurt much.

He lifted his small cloth arm to rub the back of his head, , instead caught it on a large, fabric ear. His ears were too large to stand on their own. When he touched them, they came to life too, and he heard crickets chirping, frogs calling and the wind rustling through tall grass.

“Wow,” he said to the crickets and the frogs and the wind.

He twitched his fluffy nose at the sounds and it also came to life. He smelled the dewy grass and the faint blossoms. His polished button eyes scanned the meadow to match sight and smell. His stitched mouth curled to smile. He then sensed a new smell. It smelled like fur and dirt, but he couldn’t find it.

“What is this?” He asked the phantom smell. It didn’t answer.

His cloth legs stirred and he stood. His limbs wobbled. They were almost too small to lift his round cloth body. As he stammered a thistle caught onto his yarn tail.

“Stop it,” he said to the thistle.

He grabbed his yarn tail to fling the thistle away, but it was latched tight. He pawed it only to catch it on his cloth arm. He pawed at it with his other arm, but it only got caught again. It clung to his ears, limbs and nose until it became loosely fastened to his purple bowtie and finally rolled to the ground. He looked at the thistle.

“Oh, how pleasant,” he said to his purple bowtie and walked into the tall grass.

He found a lake and its water was dark and still. He stopped at its edge to look at his reflection. He was a little mouse doll, larger than a child’s hand, but small enough to fit in a child’s pocket.

“Why?” He asked the lake. It didn’t answer.

He must’ve stared at his reflection for a long time, for the moon slowly drifted across the sky. The little mouse doll didn’t think about anything in particular, only the thought of being able to think at all, and what it meant, if anything, that he could. He was interrupted by a low growl and the smell of fur and dirt. He turned and saw a tabby cat. The cat was crouched, his pale eyes squinted at the doll, and a blue scarf was tied around his neck.

“Hello,” the doll said. The tabby cat with the blue scarf pounced.

Novel: Willow Tree’s Gift, Available End of July!

I am pleased to announce a project that has been sixteen months in the making: the upcoming release of my next novel, “Willow Tree’s Gift.” It is a story about kindness, belonging, differences and why they matter. It is a story about communities, and how they influence us to see the world as a kind or a cruel place. And it is a story about a little mouse doll who wakes one night beneath a willow tree before a storm.
Enjoy the full synopsis. The book will be released on Amazon end of July…

Is this world cruel or kind? Does your community shape this belief? Do you fear other communities?

The little mouse doll woke one night beneath a willow tree before a storm. The willow tree is in a meadow between two communities, and the little mouse doll doesn’t belong to either. One community is the farm that is controlled by the farmer. The farmer suffers because his child is terminally ill, and the farm animals suffer because of the farmer’s will. The other community is the forest, which is full of fright and a place of mystery and peril. It is home to monstrous beasts like owls, foxes and snakes. And within the forest is a hidden secret. These two communities fear each other.

But the little mouse doll doesn’t understand this fear, not because he can’t get scared, but because fear never taught him to stop being who he is.

This is a story about kindness, belonging, differences and why they matter at all. The little mouse doll makes friends, some enemies, falls in love, and vows to help the dying farmer’s child. But to do that he needs to learn the forest’s secret. And to learn it he must discover how truly kind or cruel the world is.