Overview of Leaf ManLeaf Man by Lois Ehlert is a delightful children's book that celebrates autumn and the beautiful fall leaves. The picture book features large and stunning collages and the story of a leaf man formed as the wind blows autumn leaves hither and yon. There is much to enjoy in this book, whether you simply read it aloud to your children or combine it with a family walk to gather your own autumn leaves, so you all can make your own leaf men and other collages. I recommend the book for ages 3 to 8.
The Story and the IllustrationsThe story is quite simple. Leaf Man is the brief account of the travels of a leaf man as the wind blows him over the countryside. At a little over 11" x 12," with stunning double-page illustrations twice that size, Leaf Man is a good size to share with a group, as well as with just one or two children.
In writing and illustrating her books, Ehlert says she starts with the art. The die-cut pages and the vibrant leaf collages are what make the art so dramatic in Leaf Man. According to Lois Ehlert, "In Leaf Man, I designed die cutting along the top of every page to show the perspective as the leaf man is flying over the landscape, As you turn the pages, the perspective changes." (Source: Teachingbooks.net Interview with Lois Ehlert)
Each of Ehlert's leaf collages illustrates the words on the double-page spread. For example, on the double-page spread with the words, "The last time I saw him, he was headed east, past the chickens," there are two brightly colored chickens made out of fall leaves, set on a bright green background beneath the colorful rolling hills formed by the stacked die cut pages of varying heights.
In the Author's Note at the end of Leaf Man, Ehlert describes how she created her collages. She collected brightly colored fall leaves as she traveled across the country. Ehlert then made color copies before the colors started to fade. She cut out and used the color copies of the leaves, which she describes as "among the most beautiful art supplies in the world," to create the book's illustrations.
The book's endpapers feature the autumn leaves Lois Ehlert used in her illustrations, each labeled with its name. Included are oak, sweet gum, ginkgo, honey locust, maple, horse chestnut, beech, poplar, fig, birch, elm, hawthorn, linden and cottonwood leaves as well as acorns, sweet gum fruit and maple seeds.
Lois EhlertLois Ehlert grew up in a family in which creativity flourished. From an early age, she had her own work table for her art projects. Her mother, who loved to sew, kept her supplied with fabric scraps while her father, who enjoyed woodworking, shared wood scraps and related items wit her. Ehlert's picture book Hands celebrates her parents and the creativity they shared with her. Lois Ehlert received her formal art education at the Layton School of Art (now the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design), which she attended on scholarship.
Lois Ehlert is known for her collages and for her love of nature. Besides her many cut-paper collages, Ehlert has also done some children's book illustrations that mix 2- and 3-dimensional objects, such as those in her book Snowballs. Two of Ehlert's picture books that are illustrated with cut-paper collages are on my list of the Top Children's Picture Books About Gardens and Gardening. The books are Planting a Rainbow and Growing Vegetable Soup.
Lois Ehlert’s Color Zoo was designated a Caldecott Honor Book for excellence in picture book illustration. Some of the children’s books she’s illustrated for others include Crocodile Smile by Sarah Weeks, A Pair of Socks by Stuart J. Murphy and one of my favorites, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault.
My RecommendationLeaf Man is a book the entire family can enjoy together. Children from 3 to 8, as well as adults, will delight in the idea of a leaf man and enjoy the illustrations that so cleverly and colorfully tell the story of his travels. The fact that all the leaves used in the illustrations are identified by name provides an additional learning experience for your children. The collages may also inspire your children to collect fall leaves and make their own creatures and collages. (Harcourt, Inc., 2005. ISBN: 9780152053048)
Other Notable Children's Picture Books
- For more books about autumn, see my Top Picks list of recommended Children's Picture Books About Fall.
- If you are particularly interested in picture books with outstanding illustrations, you'll want to know about the Randolph Caldecott Medal for picture book illustration and the current Caldecott award winners.
- If you are specifically interested picture book illustrations done in mixed media and collages, see Isabella's Garden, illustrated by Rebecca Cool and written by Glenda Millard, The Snowy Day, written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle and I Am Too Absolutely Small For School, written and illustrated by Lauren Child.