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The Picture Book Buzz

Dance Like a Leaf - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

I loved spending time with my grandparents. Painting or hunting for shells and special rocks on the beach with my grandma or yelling at the football games and working in the woodshop with my grandpa. I still miss them, even though they've been gone for many years. But I still can't build anything or pick up seashells or a paintbrush without feeling they are there beside me watching and smiling.

Perhaps this is why I was so attracted to this book. The love and sheer joy between the grandma and young girl just radiates off the cover. Unfortunately, this year may make this book very relevant to many people. It is a tender, beautiful tribute to a special intergenerational friendship and a celebration of nature and resilience.

Dance Like a Leaf

Author: A.J. Irving

Illustrator: Claudia Navarro

Publisher: Barefoot Books (2020)

Ages: 4-7



Grandparents, love, death, nature, and resilience.


As her grandmother’s health declines, a young girl begins to lovingly take the lead in their cozy shared autumn traditions. Poetic prose paired with evocative illustrations by Mexican illustrator Claudia Navarro make for a beautiful celebration of life and a gentle introduction to the death of a loved one.

Opening lines:


Green goes to sleep.

Yellow sings a sweet melody.

Grandma loves autumn.

We sip our tea.

“Tea makes your tummy toasty,” Grandma says.

What I LOVED about this book:

In a beautiful pairing of succinct, lyrical text and bold, vibrant autumn colors AJ Irving and Claudia Navarro pull us into the intergenerational autumn traditions of sipping toasty tea, wrapping up in lots of warm scarves, waving to the trees, and dancing with the leaves. In the opening image, I was immediately drawn to the grandma and her easel, with a little pang.

Text © AJ Irving, 2020. Image © Claudia Navarro, 2020.

As the book progresses toward winter, grandma's memory and health steadily declines. At first, the little girl determinedly brings her grandma tea, wraps her in scarves, and tries to interest her in singing & dancing. Until, with a bit of foreshadowing, "Burgundy leaves . . . Crisp and fragile, they hang by a thread. Grandma stays in bed."

Text © AJ Irving, 2020. Image © Claudia Navarro, 2020.

Worry (and fear) grows more pronounced as the girl watches her grandmother sleep and hopes she's dreaming of them dancing with the leaves. When the trees shed their last leaves, the girl sits alone on the bed, sadly seeing teacups stacked on the floor and a rainbow of scarves.

In beautiful mini triptych Claudia shifts softly from winter to autumn. After musing about her grandmother's love of autumn, the girl bundles up and heads out to celebrate in their unique and special way. I hope you read AJ's interview on Monday because we both share a favorite illustration. A beautiful wordless spread full of joy, love, and the special eternal relationship of children and their grandparents. You'll have to get the book (or check out her interview) to see this stunning, emotional image.

Craft note: Check out how much room AJ left in the text for Claudia to expand and enlarge the story. Such as making Grandma an artist, interpreting what dancing with the leaves means, creating the vibrant, textured clothing and scarves, and most importantly, the little girls emotions. Nowhere in the text are the little girl's emotions mentioned. They exist, and pull at your heart, strictly in the illustrations.

This amazing book is a beautiful ode to autumn, special family relationships, and accepting and surviving the circle of life both in nature and with our loved ones. Showing how, with time, we can celebrate those we've lost by continuing special traditions and shared loves. It is a wonderful addition to the cannon of picture books on loss and healing.


- draw a picture, or write a story, of a special thing you do with your grandparents, or maybe and aunt or uncle.

- go outside and dance in the falling leaves or make your own leaves of paper and dance as you throw them into the air.

- collect some various colored leaves and create picture with them (

© Anisha Nair 2018.

- read The Remember Balloons by Jessie Oliveros, Ida, Always by Caron Levis, and The Rough Patch by Brian Lies how are they similar and how do those characters show resilience?

If you missed it, check out my interview with AJ Irving on Monday (here).

This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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