The Magic of Fall
October 23, 2014 § 4 Comments
The other evening, after cleaning up from dinner, I walked into the living room to find JP sticking his nose out the mail slot of our front door. “Mommy, I can smell winter coming! I forgot how delicious it smells! I thought I wanted summer to stay, but now I want winter to come!”
Perhaps because of my children’s innate excitement around seasonal transformations, or perhaps because of wanting to sway my own ambivalence about the onset of winter towards something more positive—either way, I have always had a special place in my heart for stories about fall (remember Fletcher and the Falling Leaves?). This year, I have discovered my most favorite presentation to date. It’s not a story. There are no frantic animals preparing for hibernation (see Bear Has a Story to Tell), or children frolicking in pumpkin patches (although you should still read Otis and the Scarecrow). Rather, there is a simple phrase on each page, accompanied by a stunning picture, and the meaning lies in the intersection between the two.
Fall Leaves (Ages 4-8), by Loretta Holland, with illustrations by Elly MacKay, is one of those picture books that can be enjoyed on multiple levels. At its simplest, it reads as a kind of lyrical, free verse poem, with one line per page. But each phrase is also a kind of headline, with a smaller-print paragraph below, containing detailed and carefully chosen information about a unique aspect of fall, like the migration of birds, the hibernation of perennials, or the heavy downpours (am I the only one who is consistently blind-sided by these rainy days, assuming every morning is going to bring a bright cloudless sky against which to pick apples and pumpkins?).
On the “Leaves Fall” page, children are privy to an especially well-articulated explanation of why leaves turn colors: how the green chlorophyll, which has taken up residence in the leaves all spring and summer, but is no longer needed for winter’s slumber, now drains away to reveal the leaves’ “true colors.” As if the chilly October nights didn’t feel mysterious enough, now the leaves are revealing secrets, too!
I can’t think of a book that better demonstrates for children the versatility of language—specifically, how the meaning of words can change in context, can transform before your eyes (I am waiting until this year’s Holiday Gift Guide to tell you about Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet’s interpretation of Roget’s invention of the thesaurus in The Right Word). In Fall Leaves, the word “fall” or “leaves” is on every page, in every headline (“Birds Leave,” “Leaves Twist,” “Apples Fall,” “Sun Leaves,” etc.). JP was immensely pleased with himself when he discovered that “fall” and “leaves” were being used alternately as nouns and verbs (and adjectives)—and that “fall leaves” and “leaves fall” mean two (actually, three!) different things simply by reversing their order.
But the power of this beautifully crafted book likes in its illustrations—in pictures that transport, evoke, and envelop us in the magic of fall. As we move from early fall to the dawn of winter, the light transforms from deep gold to a wispy grey; the landscape, once crowded with rich colors and skipping children, begins to betray a hint of melancholy in its starkness. And yet, the children—the same boy and girl on each page—never stop observing and interacting with their natural surroundings.
All this is achieved through watercolor and cut-paper, which have been set up in miniature theaters and then photographed. Unlike most picture book illustrations that arise out of miniatures (see last week’s post on I Am a Witch’s Cat), here photographer Elly MacKay plays liberally with the depth of field in each shot. Most of the time, the foreground and background of each picture are blurred—an effect which not only gives our eye a specific point of focus, but also gives the landscapes an ethereal quality that we instantly recognize as fall. It’s the difference between standing in front of a tree admiring its different shades, and then walking away to watch all the colors melt together. It’s the way fog looks on a chilly fall morning, or the way the first snow flurries obscure our children’s figures outside our window. It’s the fistfuls of leaves that my children bring into the house—waxy, damp, and vibrant one day; and crinkly, dry, and dull the next. Blink and it’s gone.
Like clockwork, winter is approaching. For now, let’s embrace the magic of fall.
Other Favorite Non-Fiction Presentations of Fall:
Winter is Coming, by Tony Johnston & Jim LaMarche (Ages 4-8; also new this fall and absolutely wonderful!)
In November, by Cynthia Rylant (Ages 4-8)
Hello, Harvest Moon, by Ralph Fletcher (Ages 4-8)