“Sparkle it up, boys… The Leaf Peepers are coming.” A little boy’s father drives a green bus for tourists to see the autumn colors around New England. His sons have to help wash the bus and conduct the tours. They’re reluctant passengers — but gradually discover that the bright-colored trees still look spectacular.
Eve Bunting wrote the text for The Leaf Peepers, and even the names of the trees sound attractive. There’s bright red sugar maples and shagbark hickory trees. Aspens shower gold in the water of a pond. It’s surrounded by speckled alder and red-feathered sumac. A beaver pops up, making a circle of ripples, which even impresses the boys, “because beavers don’t pop up that often…”
The tour visits an old cemetery, with headstones from 1772. (“Beeches and quaking aspens bend above the gravestones…”) The boys play leapfrog over the headstone markers. Their father scolds them, and says show some respect. And the tour rambles along, along with the boys’ own adventure…
James Ransome drew some great illustrations of the fall colors. There’s bright orange pumpkins on the title page – matching the orange of the autumn leaves. On the next page there’s more colorful trees around an orange covered bridge. He always seems to find the perfect pallet for his illustrations, using rich maize yellows and a bright orange-red.
Bunting dedicates the book to her son Sloan, “who loves nature,” and she does a good job of making the little boys seem believable. They see a pile of leaves on the water which they playfully call “Leaf Island ,” but they know that you can’t stand on it. “We’ve tried.” Yet the leaves still look pretty in the corner of Ransome’s illustration – which show the two looking down into the water. At one point, one of the boys even pretends to be a moose.
My favorite illustration shows an overhead view of a field where pumpkins grow. “They’re the color of leaves,” says one of the tourists. “Or else the leaves are the color of the pumpkins.” But the words appear in the sky over a tree-covered mountain. At its base are the houses of town, surrounded by trees, and an old-fashioned steeple.
And there’s another breath-taking illustration of the family’s house in the white autumn sky. It looks like an Edward Hopper painting, with rich angles and a stark light with shadows. Most of the leaves have fallen from its trees. On the doorstep, there’s a tiny pumpkin, and their mother has put up some dried corn stalks.
And by the end of the book the boys have realized that the night sky…is very beautiful.