Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Leaf-ing Through The Pages

When the summer season shifts to autumn, the world and its living residents seem ready.  It's as if there is a collective sigh of relief to be rid of the excess heat, drought, and high humidity.  Granted there are days of much-needed rain in the fall, but the days of crystal-clear air, startling blue and cloudless skies and a warming sun with dazzling sunrises and sunsets are worth those gray days.   

The adornment of golden yellow, ruby red, and brilliant orange on the trees has resulted in longer walks with my canine companion.  There are dazzling panoramic views and leaves along our pathway which appear to have been carefully placed in particular spaces for our enjoyment.  Two 2022 titles focus on the enchantment of leaves and autumn.  In the first title our imaginations are set free by the discovery of a leaf.  If You Find a Leaf (Random House Studio, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, July 12, 2022) written and illustrated by Aimee Sicuro is an opportunity to create with abandon.  It is a time to think and wonder without limits.

If you find a leaf

You could dream the day away.

You can use the leaf to make a fashion statement or a vessel to ride the waves.  This leaf may take you to new heights or gently return you to woodlands, fields, farms, and yards brimming with leaves.  Have you thought about using a leaf or a cluster of leaves to weave a place to relax and read?

Depending on your size and a leaf's size, it can be a part of a Halloween costume.  There is no end to the type of apparel a leaf can become.  It might be a cape that lifts a superhero away to save the day.

More than one leaf can transport you and your friends to autumn activities.  Held aloft leaves can act as balloons in a sunny day parade for you and those same friends.  As darkness falls, you can pretend a large leaf is a glowing fire around which you all can continue to have fall fun.

Could a leaf be a cozy comforter?  All too soon it seems winds blow and leaves drift down from branches and boughs.  Then, we, like the world, wait.  We wait for one season to shift into another until we spy the first new green herald.

Author Aimee Sicuro opens her narrative with the title text and uses it throughout the book to bind sections together making for a flawless flow.  A rhythm as subtle as a leaf soaring on a gentle gust is made by the final word in sentences rhyming.  Her sentences are more like possibilities than declarations, inviting readers into the story.  Here are four contiguous sentences.

You could float high above the trees.
Parachuting down to see all the other leaves.

If you find a leaf, it could be a hammock.
A place for you to rest and sway in a gentle breeze.

The visual we see on the right side of the open dust jacket, the front, continues on the other side of the spine.  There, other children ride the watery swells in boats propelled by leaf sails.  On a grassy knoll on the far left, smoke comes from the chimney of a small cottage.  Other people there wave in greeting at the boaters.  You have to wonder if the other boaters are trying to catch up to our protagonist and her loyal canine companion.  The sky is filled with the light of a new day.

On the book case, from the left side to the right side is a single continuous illustration.  The golden orb, the sun, is rising over colorful autumn tree tops along the bottom on the left side.  The sky is awash in hues of blue and yellow.  On the left side, three birds fly upward.  On the right side, a large basswood leaf is a hot air balloon.  Riding in the basket is the girl and her dog.  She is focused on the autumn display beneath them.  Her dog is watching the birds.

On the opening and closing endpapers is a crisp white canvas.  There twenty-nine autumn leaves have been placed in rows.  They are labeled so all naturalists can use them to identify any leaves they encounter.

The crisp white background is used for the verso and title pages.  The text on the verso is shaped like a leaf.  A rough black line along the bottom of the two pages joins them together.  On the title page the girl has her arms raised toward a yellow maple leaf escaping through the title text.

These illustrations were rendered with

ink, watercolor, charcoal, photographs, and collage.

Readers will be fully captivated by the blend of mediums and the details included in each scene, especially the girl's bedroom.  Aimee Sicuro gives us vast landscapes to view and intimate portraits of captured moments.  Most of her visuals span two pages unless she wishes to highlight special creations.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a two-page picture.  Covering most of the right side is a rolling hill.  At the top of the hill is the children's destination, a barn.  The left side is a large roadway, tapering as it goes up the hill.  On this roadway are five cars formed from five different kinds of leaves.  Some of these vehicles have a single driver and others have a driver and a passenger behind them.  The dog is riding behind his girl, mouth open and tongue flapping in the breeze.  The leaves here and throughout the book are real leaves.  Other autumn leaves, painted, are blowing in the air.

This book, If You Find a Leaf written and illustrated by Aimee Sicuro, will have readers racing outside to find their own leaves or stopping more often to look as they are outside in autumn.  Can you envision all the other things that will be dreamed into existence?  At the close of the book, Aimee Sicuro has dedicated two pages to describing How to create your own (collage) world with fall leaves.  I highly recommend you add this title to your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Aimee Sicuro and her other work, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  Aimee Sicuro has accounts on Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter.  At the publisher's website, you can view interior images, including the endpapers.  Aimee Sicuro and Uma Krishnaswami visit Cynsationsthe site of author Cynthia Leitich Smith to talk about Aimee's work.

If You Find a Leaf by Aimee Sicuro from Let's Talk Picture Books on Vimeo.

For members of the leaf world, the cycle of tiny buds on a branch to completely unfurled and fully-grown leaves is quite an accomplishment, a marvel.  This second title, A Very BIG Fall (Clarion Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, August 2, 2022) written and illustrated by Emmy Kastner is about the change three leaves are about to experience.  Each of them will approach the transformation with a different attitude; much like humans.

All the leaves had ever known
was the sway and stretch and
green of the trees.

Then one day, the wind blew colder . . .

Each of the leaves, optimistic Birch, worry-wart Oak, and grumpy Maple, knew something was about to happen.  Two squirrels decided to tell the leaves that fall was coming.  Birch couldn't wait to change colors.  Oak was totally satisfied to stay green.  Maple was in denial.

"Oh, squirrels think they know everything."
Maple rolled her eyes.

Oak was soon golden and Birch was orange.  Maple was still green.  Waiting was intolerable.  Despite their current situation, the leaves were shocked further when one of the squirrels told them they were going to fall on the ground.

As you might surmise, the leaves burst into conversations loaded with questions.  Then, the wind began to blow.  Birch loved falling.  Oak cautiously proceeded.  Maple was still green.  She tried to hurry the process until another squirrel told her about all the bad things on the ground, things like boot bottoms and rakes.

Maple, now red from green, fell.  Chatting with Birch and Oak, she tried to warn them but more wind swirled around the leaves, carrying them away.  Then, the trio heard something new.  Change could be the best thing in the world in the right hands guided by a charming heart.

Through the words of Emmy Kastner, readers realize each of us embraces transitions dictated by our personalities.  For every event the trio shares, their views are clearly expressed.  This is how we come to understand no way is better than the other.  This technique brings readers into the story with the cadence of three, even when green seems to be stuck green.  The squirrels' commentary heightens the slight tension and comedy.  Here is a passage.

The wind blew harder yet.
And then it started to happen.

For Birch, it was a joyous leap
through the windy sky.

Oak had more of a hesitant trip downward.
"Am I close?" 

"Not really.  Keep going!"
said Birch.

Created using

acrylic gouache, colored pencil, and collage, with digital editing,

the images for this book are colorful and highly animated as we note initially from looking at the right side, the front, of the open dust jacket.  Each of the leaves has a distinguishing characteristic, boots, a floral pin, an acorn cap and a caterpillar companion.  Notice the facial expressions on all the other smaller leaves.  On the front the text and portions of the leaves are raised to the touch.  The colors here and on the back, to the left of the spine, are varnished.

On the back, a furry brown squirrel reaches out to touch the ISBN, as if it is a nut to be hidden for winter.  Around him red, orange, and yellow leaves fall from tree branches.  Gray brush strokes signify wind in both scenes.

On the book case, matte-finished, readers get a hint of the conclusion to this story.  Here is a collage of artwork, a combination of crayons, construction paper, and imagination.  This is certain to inspire even the most timid artists.

The opening and closing endpapers are a vibrant green.  On the title page, three trees represent each of the three leaves.  The verso and dedication pages follow with the tops of green trees bordering the bottom of both in a continuous line.  A robin flies left to right on the left side.  

Each page turn reveals a variety of illustration sizes, some double-page pictures, other smaller images grouped together and single-page pictures.  We are happily surprised by a two-page vertical picture.  Sometimes Emmy Kastner will have more than one perspective within a single visual.  We might be looking down on a setting or close among the leaves.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture.  The background is a wash of red, orange, and yellow.  Maple, still green, is seated on a pale brown branch with her knees up.  She is grumpy and frowning.  Each of her hands is placed on a knee.  Around her are branches from at least eight trees.  On them are all kinds of leaves in various moods.  There are red, orange, yellow, and brown leaves.  Most of them are happy.  One is wearing glasses.

Whether you are a one of those people who receive autumn with happiness or not, this book, A Very BIG Fall written and illustrated by Emmy Kastner, will have you smiling by the first page turn.  Readers will find themselves in the individual personalities of Birch, Oak, or Maple.  Use this title for a storytime on the seasons, autumn, change or the life cycle of leaves.  I know you will want to have a copy on your professional and personal bookshelves.

To learn more about Emmy Kastner and her other work, please access her website by following the link attached to her name.  You will want to watch the book trailer there for this book.  Emmy Kastner has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Travis Jonker, at School Library Journal, 100 Scope Notes, interviews Emmy Kastner about this title, her other work, and her process artwork is discussed and shown.

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