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Kim's Book Reviews
| Home | Picture Books | Traditional Literature | Poetry | Nonfiction | Historical Fiction | Fantasy & Young Adult Fiction | Author Study: Lois Ehlert


An Analysis


Ehlert, Lois. RED LEAF, YELLOW LEAF. San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1991. ISBN 0152661972.

In RED LEAF, YELLOW LEAF, a child describes the growth of a maple tree from seed, to sapling, to mature tree.


Ehlert uses watercolor collage and a variety of other materials -  including ribbons, seeds, wire, and roots - to tell the story of a sugar maple’s life. According to Eve Larkin of the Chicago Public Library, “Each spread is a masterpiece; Ehlert has added elements … that lend sophistication and diversity to her ever-evolving style.” The illustrations are lush and vivid with pages  full of  the rich reds of autumn and the fresh, vibrant greens of spring. Each illustration is an amazing combination of color and texture which moves the story through a tree’s journey from forest, to nursery, to home. Ehlert includes details which give depth to the scenes portrayed on each page: in one she places twigs, maple tree seeds, and a hungry squirrel on a background of crumpled paper autumn leaves; in another, she attaches a nursery tag, complete with correct botanical name, of a sugar  maple to the narrow trunk emerging from a burlap-covered root ball. The inclusion of these details help the reader gain an understanding of Ehlert’s personal interests. BOOKLIST reviewer Kathryn LaBarbera observes, “…the heart of the book is the care of the tree and the animals it houses… Ehlert’s reverential tone reflects her awe of the natural world.” 


The story is told through the eyes and words of the young child who plants the tree in her yard. The simplicity of language used is appropriate for the young narrator. The story line linking the tree to the narrator is a little weak; the child is never actually seen. This may be confusing for young children.


 The text print is oversized, which makes it accessible to new readers. In addition to the main text, most pages also include labels for objects associated with gardening, such as “garden gloves” and “root ball.” There are also several varieties of birds identified. These labels are in much smaller type, and are for the benefit of older readers. There is also an appendix, beautifully illustrated in collage, which gives details on the biology and care of trees. Ehlert has even included a recipe for making bird treats to hang on the branch of a tree during winter. This would be a wonderful book to share in the classroom during fall and could be the inspiration for art projects involving collage.


Ehlert, Lois. WAITING FOR WINGS. San Diego: Harcourt, Inc., 2001. ISBN 0152026088.


WAITING FOR WINGS tells about the life cycle of a butterfly. 


Lisa Gangemi Krapp, writing for SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL, states that WAITING FOR WINGS is “a beautifully woven blend of information about caterpillars, butterflies, and the gardens that attract them. Vibrant colors jump off of white backgrounds to show realistic-looking butterflies and flowers in Ehlert’s signature cut-paper-collage style.” In this beautiful book, she also uses variation of paper size to add interest and help advance the story. Upon opening the book, the reader sees a lush spring garden and a smaller book within the book. These smaller pages, which represent extensions of the larger garden scene, present the egg, caterpillar, and chrysalis  phases of the butterfly’s life cycle. When the new butterflies emerge, the pages return to full size and show brilliantly colored butterflies flitting among vivid blossoms.


Ehlert’s  bright, rhyming text explains how butterflies begin as tiny eggs “hidden from view,/clinging to leaves with butterfly glue” and hatch as caterpillars that “creep and chew” and then “make a case in which to grow” before “each case is torn - wings unfold; new butterflies are born.” Several pages at the end of the book provide information on butterfly and flower identification, as well as advice on growing a butterfly garden. The illustrations in this section are presented in accurate detail (Ehlert includes a list of  sources on the end page of the book) at twice their actual size.


Ehlert has provided an informative introduction to the life cycle of butterflies for  young children without resorting to anthropomorphism. The book flows from one phase in the life cycle to the next, and completes the cycle by concluding with the full-grown butterflies ready to lay eggs again. The type is large for young readers, and the rhyme makes this a superb read-aloud book in the classroom.




One of the major similarities between these books is that the purpose of each is to provide information to young children about the world around them. However, there are differences in how Ehlert chooses to present the information. In RED LEAF, YELLOW LEAF, she attempts to tell the reader about sugar maple trees in the context of a story. The book is narrated by an unseen child. In WAITING FOR WINGS, there is no story line beyond the rhyming verse which presents the butterfly’s life cycle. Because of the difference in approach, the books are classified differently at the library. RED LEAF, YELLOW LEAF is designated a picture book, while WAITING FOR WINGS is designated as nonfiction.  As I stated earlier, I think the inclusion of an unseen child in RED LEAF, YELLOW LEAF may be confusing for some young  readers. I think the straightforward presentation of WAITING FOR WINGS is much more effective.

Both of the books are illustrated in the beautiful collage style that Lois Ehlert is known for, but in RED LEAF, YELLOW LEAF  she includes a wider variety of materials to create  much more textural collages. In this book she uses items such as roots, seeds, fabric, and wire in addition to painted paper. All of the collages in  WAITING FOR WINGS are created solely from brightly painted paper. Both material choices seem appropriate for their respective subjects. RED LEAF, YELLOW LEAF is a very earthy story and the texture compliments this; the rhyming verse in WAITING FOR WINGS is bright and airy,  and the simple use of  paper in the collage continues this feeling.

Both books provide a simple, easy to read and understandable text for young children, along with additional information to extend learning for older readers. Ehlert researches and documents the information presented and invites youngsters to take an active role in learning, from planting a butterfly garden or sugar maple tree to making treats for birds. These books would be good additions to any primary grade classroom library.



Krapp, Lisa Gangemi. review of WAITING FOR WINGS, by Lois Ehlert. SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL 47 (4) (April 2001) : 129.


LaBarbera, Kathryn. review of RED LEAF, YELLOW LEAF, by Lois Ehlert. BOOKLIST 88 (October 1991) : 329.


Larkin, Eve. review of RED LEAF, YELLOW LEAF, by Lois Ehlert. SCHOOL  LIBRARY JOURNAL 37 (November 1991): 94.