October 06, 2005


Leaf Man. By Lois Ehlert. Harcourt. $16.

Jackalope. By Janet Stevens & Susan Stevens Crummel. Illustrated by Janet Stevens. Harcourt. $17.

     When summer ends and leaves turn, that is the season of the Leaf Man, a wholly endearing character who is seen blowing in the wind in Lois Ehlert’s latest charming book.  This is a wonderful cool-weather treat for the whole family – though intended for ages 4-8, it is actually a bit too delicate for little fingers, since the gorgeous die-cut pages are all different sizes (this is part of the book’s considerable charm) and their edges must be found and turned with some care.  The story is slight and utterly wonderful: Ehlert tells of finding a Leaf Man shaped from some of the leaves in a pile, but the wind blows him away, because – as her recurring refrain tells us – “a Leaf Man’s got to go where the wind blows.”  The fanciful Leaf Man shape, created by Ehlert from multicolored fall leaves with a couple of acorns and other bits of trees here and there, blows through the book, the leaves assuming other shapes of objects past which you can imagine Leaf Man blowing: a turkey, potatoes, a turtle, fish, butterflies and many more.  Ehlert, whose art is always marvelous, created it here from color copies of leaves she picked up around the United States.  The book’s inside covers show some of the leaves and identify the trees they came from, while the story pages show some of the many shapes leaves can assume as the wind whisks them hither and yon.  The result is a delightful odyssey and a great imagination booster.

     Jackalope is imagination of another sort.  Kids of all ages – that includes grown-ups – will laugh out loud at this absurd story of how the mythical jackalope of the American West “really” came to be.  A cowboy-booted armadillo sittin’ in a chair, wearin’ a 10-gallon hat, tells the tale in a mixture of rhyme and prose, and a delightful tale it is.  There’s this jackrabbit who’s unhappy ’cause he’s not scary enough, see, and he knows he’s not scary ‘cause he’s got a magic mirror tellin’ him so, but he’s also got a punnin’ fairy godrabbit who talks vegetable-like (“lettuce see,” “you butternut come any closer”) – and she checks her “first-time-in-paperback, step-by-step copy of Wishes for Wabbits,” and the next thing you know the jackrabbit’s got horns and lives happily ever after….NOT!  Nope, those horns cause a whole mess o’ trouble, and they’ve got a kind of Pinocchio thing ’sociated with ’em, and there’s this hungry coyote who thinks the horns make for a right good “jackrabbit kabob,” and the story gets more and more complicated and more and more outrageous ’til – but that would be tellin’.  No use doin’ that – you just gotta get this one and find out for yourself.  It’s sure-enough, down-home absurdity of the finest quality.

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