Leo Buscaglia's The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story of Life for All Ages
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
Let me start with the bottom line: I do not recommend this book.
If that's all you need to hear, please visit the dealing with death page for some worthier picks.
(For an opinion very different from mine, read what a young reader who was truly comforted by this book had to say.)
If you'd like to hear my objections, here they are.
1) The jacket flap. Talk about puffery! We're informed the book is "wonderfully wise" and that "both children and adults will be deeply touched by this inspiring, thought-provoking treatment of so sensitive a facet of true life."
Blah, blah. If a reviewer or
another author wants to heap such praise on my book, great. But not my
publisher's marketing department.
2) Inspiring allegory. That same flap informs us that this book is an "inspiring allegory." An allegory is a symbolic representation. In the case of The Fall of Freddie the Leaf, leaves dying in the fall are said to be representative of humans.
bad choice of symbols. Humans come in all ages and die at different
times, while leaves are all born in the Spring and die in the Fall. This
is one reason why little of what the book contains strikes a chord.
3) Freddie the leaf?
Sorry, but it doesn't take a writer to realize that isn't a very
appealing name. Wouldn't a name that started with the letter L sound a
little better? Aren't there some L names? Like, maybe, Leo?
4) Photos. Lots of children's books contain sentient characters that aren't human but act human. Typically, they're represented fancifully - rather than photographically - with human-like features, making it easier for young minds to imagine the characters having human thoughts.
The illustrations in this book are photos of real leaves. There's nothing human-like about them, and there is little to distinguish one leaf from the thousands around it. If I can't make the leap to thinking of these leaves as aware, I doubt a child could. A talented illustrator could have taken care of this problem and made Freddie the Leaf an appealing character at least.
5) Overwritten. The text overwhelms the pictures. Better children's books about death make
their points economically enough that children aren't apt to fall
asleep. Then again, Buscaglia tells us in the final pages that death is sleep. Maybe he's just helping us experience a little bit of it!
I need to confess that this is the first book I've read by the famous Mr. Buscaglia. I know that he has many fans, and I won't make a final judgment of him based on this work.
But just because you can get everything you write published, doesn't mean you should. Unless you love everything Leo Buscaglia has to say, I recommend steering clear of The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story of Life for All Ages.
While the majority of reviews on the Web seem to be positive, I was struck by comments from a couple of adults who were given The Fall of Freddie the Leaf when they were children, in response to the passing of a close family member.
They were upset! Still! Since the viewpoint character is the one dying, their childlike grief was compounded by a new worry: that they themselves were at risk of death!
This is an important reminder about the use of bibliotherapy. It's not a replacement for parental involvement! A book from the viewpoint of a dying person is probably NOT the right book for a child with a parent who has died.
This is why I've tried to label all the books on my children's books about dying page so that you can pick ones that are appropriate to the circumstance. Please make that extra effort!
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