CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 23 . . . . February 20, 2015
Fall Leaves is part picture book, part science lesson. Each double page spread has two sides: one features a large title announcing the next step in nature's change from Fall to Winter. Smaller text under the titles explains the scientific reason as to what is happening in nature, explaining concepts like perennial plants and animal hibernation. On its facing page is an illustration of the titled event. The large titles use repetition and wordplay to great effect, with titles like "Leaves Fall", "Fall Stays", "Leaves Leave." Each page adds to the rhythm, reminding the reader that everything follows a pattern in nature as well. It was the secondary text that I had trouble matching to the illustrations and general mood created by Elly MacKay's lightbox illustrations. I wasn't sure what its purpose was. It didn't match the wordless narrative unfolding on each complementary page through the actions. Some explanations were very scientific and almost dense, and others seem to reach for a poetic, descriptive feel for the steps to the changing season, which was confusing.
On a second read through, I tried to think of how I would interpret Fall Leaves as a text. In that sense, this book would be great to use as a read aloud in early grade classrooms, allowing for a lot of time to talk about the seasons and the changes outside. Kids can share their own autumn stories, and the final page of the book provides the instructions on making leaf prints as a culmination to the unit. For very young children, parents can read just the titles aloud, skipping explanation, and focus on the vivid images depicting the slow change from autumn to winter.
And it's easy to focus on these illustrations. Each full bleed illustrated page by Elly MacKay is its own lightbox illustration, beautifully capturing colour and detail. The illustrations of Fall Leaves have an amazing amount of depth to them, playing with perspective and, due to the process of creating a tiny theatre for each page, giving focus to the bright sun and light. Our two protagonists are a redheaded boy and girl, and their story is told solely through MacKay's illustrations. My favourite detail is the way MacKay is so adept at portraying the wind in her pieces, playing with the little girl's hair, kicking up leaves or blowing about the snow on the page. It's these small details that give action to the page and bring the book to life, far away from the very straightforward and scientific text.
Fall Leaves offers many options for its readers: as a science book and the beginning of a lesson plan, as a short poem full of homonyms and wordplay in a read aloud for very young readers, and as a meditation on the subtlety of the shifting seasons for everyone.
Stacey Matson is a writer living in Vancouver, BC. She recently finished her MA in children's literature at the University of British Columbia, and her first children's novel, A Year in the Life of a Total and Complete Genius, came out in September 2014.
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