I recently received a book for the purposes of review that I’d like to share with you today. Leaflets Three, Let it Be! is a picture book for children about identifying poison ivy. But it also shows the many uses of the plant through the seasons. It is written by Anita Sanchez and illustrated by Robin Brickman. Thankfully we don’t have poison ivy here in the Pacific Northwest, though we do have to contend with poison oak in some areas of Washington and Oregon. We did think we saw lots of poison ivy during our trip to Massachusetts last fall. But it would have been nice to have had this book to help us be sure what we were looking at.
Leaflets Three, Let it Be! gives many identification hints for people as the plant changes throughout the season. Poetic warning phrases pepper the book, to help children and adults remember what to look for. But the author goes beyond just identifying a troublesome plant; Sanchez also tells how the plant is used in many ways by creatures of the forest. Birds, mammals, insects – all use parts of the plant in various ways through the year. I’m amazed that so many creatures are immune to the itchy oils.
The artwork in this book captivated my attention. Illustrator Robin Brickman used watercolors and acrylic paints on paper, cutting and layering to create richly textured scenes of poison ivy in the forest. Surprises await on each page, and young children will enjoy taking time to explore the realistic details and search for insects and other creatures.
I highly recommend this book for families who live in or are traveling to poison ivy country. I think you’ll find Leaflets Three, Let it Be! to be a useful, entertaining and artistic guide to avoiding yet appreciating this interesting plant.
Anita Sanchez was kind enough to answer a few questions for me about the book.
Hiker Mama: How did you get inspired to research and write about poison ivy? Do you have a favorite aspect of the plant? (It seems you have some fondness for it, based on your writing…)
Anita Sanchez: I spend a lot of time leading school groups on nature walks, and I notice that many kids are terrified of the outdoors–partly because they know that there’s a “poison” plant lurking out there. So I wrote the book to encourage kids to learn what poison ivy looks like so they can relax and enjoy themselves safely outdoors.
I am indeed very fond of poison ivy (although the feeling isn’t mutual, as it gives me a rash). I appreciate it for its ability to feed birds–especially in winter, when there’s not much else out there to eat. Poison ivy is an important survival food for robins, bluebirds, mockingbirds–lots of my favorites.
HM: What are some good basic tips for families to protect themselves as they venture out into areas that might have poison ivy (or poison oak, in our area)? How can children identify the plant compared to other plants they might encounter?
AS: Wear long pants, avoid flip-flops and sandals, and keep an eye out. Once you know what it looks like, you can relax a bit–there’s nothing worse than wondering if every plant out there is going to make you itch.
Poison ivy is tough to ID, no question. It isn’t always reddish and shiny. I tell kids to look for three leaflets on a stalk–the middle one has a long stem, and the side ones have short stems. It looks a little like a long-necked-person with short, fat arms.
HM: Are there any other under-appreciated plants or creatures you’d like to write about?
AS: So many! I wrote a book on dandelions (Teeth of the Lion: The Story of the Beloved and Despised Dandelion), trying to encourage people to enjoy dandelions instead of dousing them with herbicides. I’m currently working on a book called ITCH: Everything you Didn’t Want to Know About What Makes You Scratch, about mosquitoes, bed bugs, and (I’m sorry) head lice. I must admit I don’t like mosquitoes, but they’re certainly interesting creatures–masters of survival.
HM: Thank you so much for your time, Anita!