Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Little Yellow Leaf by Carin Berger (2008)

Another Goodreads recommendation, and a dead on recommendation too.  What a thoughtful picture book, about a little yellow leaf who, as all the other leaves fall, refuses to give up, until the very end, when he discovers a scarlet leaf above him, and the two break free and fly off in the wind together.  "Into the wind they danced... off and away and away and away.  Together."  I was immediately reminded of the chapter in Bambi - about the autumn leaves, which I've written about previously.  The two aren't the same - the Bambi leaf chapter is more bitter, the leaves more scared.  And the Bambi leaf isn't resilient like the little yellow leaf.  Also in Bambi, the leaves don't have a choice; in The Little Yellow Leaf the two leaves choose to leave the tree.

All that said, what exactly is this about?  On it's face value, perhaps the story we would tell children, it's about autumn, the turning of the year, the colder nights, apples and pumpkins.  But leaves falling from trees and autumn - those are metaphors for old age approaching death, right?  So is this book about death?  And if it's about death, the two leaves at the end jump off the tree together - they choose their time to die, rather than having it be chosen for them.  So they commit suicide together?  Or maybe this is a metaphor for leaving home; perhaps these two leaves have been living at "home" and now decided, together (married?) to make a journey into life.  Maybe it's not a metaphor for anything, and it's just two leaves -but come on!  Even if Carin Berger didn't mean for that metaphor to rise up, how could the reader avoid it?

There is a note on the copyright page from Berger:  "To the Little Yellow Leaf in all of us and to the Little Scarlet Leaves that help us find our courage."  So that sheds some light on the meaning of this book, although I still think the metaphor would (rather creepily) stand.

Illustration-wise, quite beautiful and unique.  I don't know what media Berger used, but the illustrations are either collages with paint, or some sort of digital mash-up made to look like that.  

The Little Yellow LeafThe Little Yellow Leaf by Carin Berger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What an beautifully odd book.  Autumn and falling leaves are metaphors for old age, death and dying - or at least to me. So is that what this book is about?  And is the ending of this about assisted suicide then? (yes, I went there).  Or is autumn and falling leaves like taking a new journey, and leaves at the end do this together... or maybe, to paraphrase Freud, sometimes a leaf is just a leaf.  Regardless, a thoughtful picture book is a good thing, particularly for grown up readers.  Wee folk can read this and think of autumn and pumpkins and apple and winter fun to come. Grown up folk, particularly those partnered up, can think of comfortable old age and how nice it is to take that journey with someone you love.  The illustrations are lovely too - some sort of collage and painting mash-up, elegantly done.

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