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Interview with Lois Ehlert,
creator of Leaf Man
Q: Leaf Man is filled with leaves from all over the United States—leaves that you color-copied to use later as art supplies. Can you describe how you created the artwork?
A: Whenever I see a beautiful leaf, I have to pick it up. I can't help myself; it's something I've done all my life. I used to press leaves in my phone book, only to find them later—dull, dry, and crumbling. When researching maple leaves for the illustrations in my book Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf, I made color copies of the leaves I collected for reference as soon as I found them so I could capture their magnificent colors before they faded. When I began thinking about making Leaf Man, I carried a plastic bag with me, picking up treasures wherever I went—sweet-gum fruit from Kansas City, oak leaves from Ithaca, fig leaves from Washington, D.C., maple leaves from my home state of Wisconsin—and color copying them as soon as possible. Then I created the Leaf Man art with my color copies of leaves, which I believe are among the most beautiful art supplies in the world.

Lois Ehlert

Lois Ehlert


Q: How did the idea for the character Leaf Man emerge?
A: I can't be sure. Creativity is sometimes unexplainable, but I can tell you a few things. When I was in grade school, we always made leaf men in the fall. My brother and sister had the same teacher, and they say that they made leaf men, too. My brother likes to tease me. He says that the teacher always used my leaf man as an example and that his leaf man was never as good, or so he says. The other influence is the beauty and diversity of the landscape of America. As I traveled both by plane and car, I was struck by the patterns and colors, and decided that this would be what Leaf Man would see when he took his journey.

Q: Your picture books give children a unique perspective and appreciation of nature. For instance, Leaf Man celebrates the beauty of leaves and the journey they might take; Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf (Harcourt, 1991) introduces the life of a tree; and Waiting for Wings (Harcourt, 2001) follows the life cycle of four butterflies. What do you hope children will discover with your books?
A: Each child will probably find different things to like, depending upon his or her age, but I hope all children will look more closely when they are outside. You know, you can't pick up fall leaves inside. Sometimes big people need to be reminded, too, to take the hand of a child and go for a walk.

Q: What triggered your fascination with nature?
A: The beauty, the colors, the gift that is given to all of us—there is no charge for a beautiful leaf or for watching the flight of a butterfly.

Q: You dedicated Hands: growing up to be an artist (Harcourt, 2004) to your mother and father. How did your parents influence you as a budding writer and artist?
A: First of all, they both made things. They would laugh if I called them artists, but I think they were. It was my parents who allowed me to have a work space—a folding table. They gave me scraps from whatever they were working on. They could see that I was interested in making art. They never discouraged me. If you have a child who likes to make things, please give that child a little space of his or her own. Plant the seed. See what flowers!

Q: For a parent, teacher, or librarian who's just discovering your work, which book would you recommend they start with?
A: Perhaps they might try Leaf Man. I try to make each book unique, so they can choose the books that appeal to them.

Q: You published your first picture book, Growing Vegetable Soup, with Harcourt in 1987. Since then, what have you discovered that children love most about your work?
A: I get lots of letters, and you know what? No one agrees on what they love the most or which book is the best one. I like that. I know what I like best—color!

Q: When you're not busy collecting leaves and creating children's books, how do you like to spend your time?
A: I enjoy going to art museums and antique shows. I collect folk art and primitive art. I love to garden, cook, go to farmers markets, read, attend concerts, and walk along Lake Michigan shores.

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Illustrations copyright © 2005 by Lois Ehlert. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

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