Open Sesame: 9 Picture Books Capture the Great Beauty of Fall

Autumn’s Paintbox: Picture Books That Feature Foliage

It’s that time of year when sweaters come out of hiding, and soup bubbles on the stove, when the cold descends and wood smoke rises, when morning fog gives way to crisp afternoons and long, star-filled nights. It’s that time of year when pumpkins smile from porches and apples pile up in the kitchen. It’s a time of change and preparation, of magic and mischief, of quiet and camaraderie. It’s fall in New England, and the signs of the season are abundant. Just look to the trees, the lure of leaves, where autumn’s paintbox hangs on every deciduous limb. This month’s selection of picture books, featuring one newly published book and a handful of perennial favorites, is an ode to autumn leaves, those fiery, smoldering, golden bursts of color before the landscape pales and freezes.

Fall Leaves, written by Loretta Holland and illustrated by Elly MacKay, is a brand new picture book celebrating the changing season. From the onset, the book pulls you right into its ethereal setting: an image of an autumnal forest with two children playing at the edge of a pond. While soft yellow and orange light filters through the trees, their reflection on the water shows a much different winter scene. Opening the book, readers find a multi-layered experience. The light-box illustrations were cut piece by piece from yapo (plastic) paper and set up in a three-dimensional mini theater, into which light was shone from different angles. The effect is stunning and luminescent, and captures that golden, autumnal light of the season. Throughout the scenes, the two children move in time with nature, playing, bird-watching, biking, and dancing, until fall itself leaves, and the orange, red, and umber turns to the gray, lavender, and blue of winter. Two-word lines in large print play on the meaning and usage of the words, fall and leaves, creating a poetic context for what is happening in the pictures, such as “Fall arrives/Birds leave/Leaves twist/Rain falls/”. Below these pieces of poetry, is a nonfiction component that explains what is happening in nature from a scientific standpoint. While these explanations may be too wordy for young enthusiasts, older naturalists will appreciate the information. A beautiful book to herald the season. — Published by HMH Books for Young Readers, 2014. ISBN: 978-0544106642.


Autumn Leaves by Ken Robbins is a photo essay and album featuring leaves from 13 types of trees. Common leaf species such as maple and elm, and the lesser known gingko and sassafras, are pictured in crisp, life size form and in various stages of color. Simple text accompanies the photos, and young leaf peepers will find an explanation of photosynthesis and the scientific reason for leaf colors at the end. — Published by Scholastic Press, 1998. ISBN: 978-0590298797.

Look What I Did With A Leaf by Morteza E. Sohi is a creative book filled with fun ideas for leafy art projects. Make delightful animals and nature scenes using collected leaves as your palette. Directions on choosing, arranging and preserving your creations are included, plus a mini field guide. — Published by Walker Childrens, 1995. ISBN: 978-0802774408.

Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf, written and illustrated by Lois Ehlert, is a simple introduction to the life of a sugar maple tree, from seed to sapling. Illustrations, made with brightly colored paper collage and a variety of real materials, are a feast for the eyes. Includes a glossary that explains root systems, photosynthesis, and sap production, and instructions for making a bird treat. — Published by Harcourt Children’s Books, 1991. ISBN: 0-15-266197-2.

Leaves by David Ezra Stein is a sweet story about a bear’s first year. Everything is going well until the first leaf falls. He tries to catch them and put them back on the trees, but it’s not quite the same. A long rest and a new season give him fresh perspective on change. The sparse text and bamboo pen and watercolor illustrations work together to create a story full of wonder and whimsy. — Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-399-24636-4.    

Fletcher and The Falling Leaves, written by Julia Rawlinson and illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke, portrays a little fox who becomes worried when his favorite tree begins losing leaves. But when Fletcher wakes one morning to find his tree sparkling like magic, Fletcher understands all is okay. Adorable watercolor illustrations paired with a sweet storyline make for a warm and fuzzy tale. — Published by Greenwillow Books, 2008. ISBN: 978-0061573972.

The Little Yellow Leaf by Carin Berger is a tender story about a leaf who is afraid to let go. Though other leaves float and swirl past, Little Yellow Leaf is just not ready. But with the encouragement of a scarlet leaf, Little Yellow overcomes fear of change and goes soaring into the sky. Lovely collage illustrations help set the tone of this story about transformation and trust. — Published by Greenwillow Books, 2008. ISBN: 978-0061452239. 

We’re Going on a Leaf Hunt written by Steve Metzger and illustrated by Miki Sakamoto, uses the structure of the classic “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” to unite three friends on a leaf finding expedition. Readers will enjoy chiming in as the trio tromps over the mountain and through the forest collecting leaves. A bouncy, fun read-a-loud with friendly, joyous illustration. — Published by Cartwheel Books, 2008. ISBN: 978-0439873772. 

Why Do Leaves Change Color, written by Betsy Maestro and illustrated by Loretta Krupinski, gives a simple, easy-to-understand explanation of what happens to leaves when they change color. With brightly colored illustrations and clear, concise text, this picture book will help young naturalists understand their changing landscape.  Creative leaf activities included. A perfect science guide for the primary grades. — Published by Harper Collins, 1994. ISBN: 978-0064451260.


Cheli Mennella

Cheli has been involved with creative arts and education for most of her life, and has taught many subjects from art and books to yoga and zoology. But she has a special fondness for kid’s books, and has worked in the field for more than 20 years. She is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Valley Kids and teaches a course for adults in “Writing for Children.” She writes from Colrain, where she lives with her musician-husband, three children, and shelves full of kid’s books.

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