I Am a Leaf
By Jean Marzollo
This book was read aloud to a crowd of adoring literary fans (my family) by an acclaimed new reader and kindergartner (my daughter).
Bright and cheery, looking like reliefs of construction-paper cutouts (perhaps an homage to Eric Carle?)
As the story opens, we are lured into believing that this will be a light tale of blissful simplicity in nature:
See the ladybug? She’s crawling on me. It tickles!Yet, this seemingly innocuous account foreshadows the work’s weighty underlying theme: contrasting proletariat transcendence of the establishment with bourgeois hubris of respectability teetering on a cesspool of mediocrity.
The hapless leaf intuitively grasps the transience of its plight:
We have a summer job. We make tree food.Reliant on an uncertain supply of raw materials (water, light, air), the worker-leaf sacrifices its own sense of self in the substance of chlorophyll (reckoned “KLOR-o-fill” in a transparent attempt at colloquialism to ensnare the trust of the largely illiterate leaf population) to the photosynthetic means of agrarian production:
Then I add something green…Chlorophyll is green. It makes me green.The leaf acknowledges its non-entity, an anonymous cog in the societal machine:
It [water] flows into my veins. My veins are like little pipes.
The leaf, flora’s embodiment of the biblical Job, is continuously marginalized by the bourgeoisie: A caterpillar eats a hole through our hero’s very substance, a spider be-webs it, and a squirrel tramples upon it. But the leaf transcends each humiliation with selfless virtue:
But I still did my job.Employment opportunities diminish with eroding raw material supply (sunlight) as production migrates to prey on the populace of a new, unsuspecting solar-emerging nation. The hapless leaf is abandoned to its eventual demise. Yet, the simple leaf does not despair. Just when we think the leaf could show no higher virtue, our hero defies defeat, choosing spiritual freedom as a symbolic victory despite the inevitability of death. Reveling in the magnificence of its autumnal shroud, the leaf hurls itself from its branchy bondage into an ultimate dance upon the wind, a final flight of liberty before returning to dust.
We are left with the image of a new leaf budding in Spring, both testimony to the noble sacrifice of its predecessor and demoralizing evidence of the perpetuity and desensitization of continued oppression. The leaf displays an innate form of arboreal Stockholm Syndrome:
Soon I'll get a job...Mm-m-m. That sun feels good.Thoroughly depressing. (This, of course, is the essence of high art.)
When synopses contain words like proletariat, oppression, and bourgeoisie and make reference to biblical characters, one feels obliged to applaud the intellectualism of the published work, while recognizing that it is probably a less-than-classic read. I Am a Leaf is no exception. It is, however, engaging enough material for reading practice, with a basic scientific theme thrown in as a bonus. As first readers go, The Mystery of the Missing Tooth by William H. Hooks is still the front-runner in our house.
And, yes, this synopsis has a higher word count than both books combined.
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