A Leaf Can Be
Signed, personalized copies available
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Awards & Honors

  • Bank Street Best Books
  • IRA Teachers’ Choice
  • NCTE Notable Children’s Book
  • Minnesota Book Award Finalist
  • Scholastic Book Club selection
  • Riverby Award for Nature Books for Young Readers
  • SCBWI Golden Kite Honor Book
  • Finalist for KRA’s Bill Martin, Jr. Picture Book Award
  • Nebraska Agriculture Foundation’s Book of the Month May 2018

A Leaf Can Be...

Written by Laura Purdie Salas
Illustrated by Violeta Dabija
Publisher: Millbrook Press, 2012
ISBN: 978-0761362036 32 pages


Leaves and trees feed us, shade us, and heal our planet. They can also shelter tiny bats, paint the hills gold in autumn, and be umbrellas for wildlife. Find out about some of the roles leaves play in this brief, poetic exploration of leaves throughout the year.
A leaf can be a…
Shade spiller.
Mouth filler.

Tree topper.
Rain stopper.

Journal Reviews

Grown-up readers may be a bit in awe too.
—The New York Times
A lovely observation about nature, suitable for a variety of science units or individual sharing.
—School Library Journal
Salas explores the many functions a leaf can serve with simple grace.
—Publishers Weekly
Simple and pleasing, with classroom-discussion and read-aloud appeal.
—Kirkus Reviews

Reader Reactions

My young daughter first opened your book, A Leaf Can Be, while waiting with me in a very long line at the post office at 4:30 p.m. (Yikes!) She started reading it aloud, and it wasn't long before you could hear a pin drop. She and your story held the full house at standing attention. Beautiful!

—Cheryl Wilke

With a beautiful lyrical text this picture book shows readers of all ages how precious leaves are.

—Through the Looking Glass Book Review: Marya Jansen-Gruber

This would be a great read for a preschool class, an excellent introduction to nature, leaves and trees.

—Bookshelf: What We're Reading: SueBE

Wow, this book is so beautiful it hurts a little; the good kind of course. The vocabulary and information that comes out of this brilliantly simple text will definitely get you ooing and aahing out loud!

—Teaching Young Writers: Betsy

We used this inspiring book to write about our own topic of choice. We put our words in poetry format. One poem came out like this:

Owls in the Forest
by Fiona

Owls can be
      cool like a panda
             amazing like a unicorn
                     eating fruit like a zebra
                               living in trees like a monkey

A few students even created inferences for their poems! We are working hard on learning and applying strategies to our writing!

—Mrs. Sharkey's 1st Grade

I would use this as a nice read-aloud to K - 2nd grade, and maybe even for 3rd & older if used with higher level nonfiction books.  This picture book could be used as a 'relief' book, not as much information thrown at you, but you have to stop and think a little about what the author means, a good book to get you 'thinking'.

—Picture Book Palooza

I love the language in this book - it's excellent for phonological awareness and helping to build vocabulary. Additionally, this book is simply a joy to look at - I have been eagerly awaiting my chance to share this title in a storytime.

—Librarian of Snark

The words she chooses are delightful, imaginative, and downright fun to say; for instance, she describes a leaf as a “soft cradle” paired with a “water ladle,” and a “frost catcher” paired with a “moth matcher.” An appendix includes explanations of each of the phrases used to describe leaves in the body. There are also a glossary and suggestions for further reading. The illustrations pulse with life on every page, giving off an almost ethereal glow.

—Minnesota Book Awards

The Association hopes that the list will encourage writers, artists, and publishers to produce books that invite young readers to explore the natural world for themselves.

The 2012 Riverby Awardees are:

A Leaf Can Be, Laura Purdie Salas, author, and Violeta Dabija, illustrator

Moonbird, Phillip Hoose

Rachael Carson and Her Book That Changed the World, Laurie Lawlor, author, and Laura Beingessner, Illustrator

Ocean Sunlight: How Tiny Plants Feed The Seas, Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm, authors, Molly Bang, illustrator

Wild Horse Scientists, Kay Frydenborg

—Riverby Awards

Given that it is, really, a poem, the text isn’t too long (a relief for parents, since most toddlers and younger preschoolers don’t have a great attention span), but it touches on lots of different ideas, from a leaf as a “water ladle,” holding rainwater for animals to drink from, to the leaf as a “fine healer”—suggesting the more sophisticated uses of plants in medicines.


Life is not an either/or proposition. Day goes with night. Love goes with pain. And science goes with poetry.

Nature inspires both poetry and science, and Nature is at the heart of Laura Purdie Salas‘s A Leaf Can Be . . . . Beginning, like a leaf itself, in Spring, the book shows a leaf’s many purposes in four-word, rhyming couplets.

How lovely to be reminded of the complexity of simple things—and the simplicity of complex things.

—Diana Star Helmer, Children’s Literature Network

It is a delightful way to help children begin paying attention to the natural world.

—Pamela Mitchell Legg

We've been using My Father's World for our Kindergarten curriculum and reading not only the recommended books on each topic (sun, moon, leaf and apples thus far), but also just about anything we can find at our libraries on the subject.

My favorite leaf book came out this year. It's called A Leaf Can Be by Laura Purdie Salas with illustrations by Violeta Dabija. This is one I hope to add to our home library because it is beautiful, creative, poetic, informative and concise. Who would have thought that God made leaves so multi-functional?!

  • Help your child think of words that rhyme with “leaf”. Use words like “chief”, “beef”, and “reef”. Make up silly rhymes with these words.
  • Gather fallen leaves outside with your child. Sort them by shape, color, and size. Noticing these differences helps in learning the different shapes of letters and numbers.
  • Learn the names of the trees and other plants in your yard, at the park, in your neighborhood. Learning these names is a great way to expand your child’s vocabulary!
—--North Mankato Taylor Library Storytime blog

This book is sure to open a child's eyes to the wonder of the natural world.

—Children's Literature Comprehensive Database

It isn't very often that I request to read a book more frequently than L, but this has totally been the case this week with "A Leaf Can Be..." by Laura Purdie Salas and Violetta Dabija. The sparse rhymes and sweet illustrations make this one a hit with kids and adults a like - and really, did you know how many things a leaf can be?

—Play Through the Day

Craft idea: Using brown paint on hand and wrist make a tree trunk and branch print, then using q-tips dipped in red, orange and yellow paint add leaves for an autumn tree like the one I found below at learningaswearegrowing.blogspot.com

—Plant a Seed…Read a Book

Why I Like This Book: The quietness of this book encourages children to really think about all the different things leaves can be and in turn encourages children to stretch their imaginations about how other everyday objects might be used in different ways. The poetry is gentle with pretty images. The information in the back adds a lot to the learning potential of the book. And the art in this book is absolutely luminous. It just glows. It is the perfect art for the text making for an altogether magical reading experience.

—--Susanna Leonard Hill, Perfect Picture Book Friday

Activities to do with Leaves:
Make collage pictures with them.
Have races with leaves down a stream (think the Pooh Bear stick races).
Lay down on the grass. Put a leaf over your mouth and see if you can blow it off your face.
Do a crayon rubbing with leaves.
Build a fairy house with leaves.
Play a counting game where you count all the leaves on one tree that you can.


If you’re an imaginative nature lover, then you will want to leaf through this book!

—Kirkwood Public Library

The language itself is often unexpected. The illustrations are different and lovely, as well, with two smiling foxes and a cast of birds and other animals adding interest to the green-soaked spreads. When the seasons and the weather turns, the pages take on new colors and still more surprising lines from Salas.

I recommend pairing this book with Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger.

—Book Aunt

This would be a great read for a preschool class, an excellent introduction to nature, leaves and trees.  The spare text gives young readers information to play with and whets their appetites for more.  The rhyming words also allow for fun word play.  This gentle text paired with dreamy illustrations are also quiet enough to make an excellent bed time book.

—Bookshelf: What We’re Reading

Salas closes the book with notes about her poetic choices. (If you’re, say, baffled about what “Moth matcher” means, no worries. She explains with the aid of science, even providing recommendations for further reading.) Violeta Dabija illustrates this one with lots of round, comforting lines and lush (mostly) green palettes. I find the font distracting, but all in all, this one is an excellent choice for elementary classrooms, particularly as a poetry-writing prompt.

—Julie Danielson, Kirkus Book Reviews

Between the lyrical text and the luminous, magical illustrations, children will beg to return to this book again and again.

—Terrell A. Young, IRA Today

I would think about doing a before, during, and after reading circle map with young readers. I would write this question above the circle: "What can you do with a leaf?". You can have students suggest ideas for the map as a whole class and with turn-and-talk partners.

—NC Teacher Stuff

Poetry, science and gorgeous art all wrapped together. This book is sure to inspire and enthrall many young readers (and adults as well.)

—Wrapped in Foil

Take a leaf walk. Each time you see a different kind of leaf, have one child collect one. Back inside, draw outlines of each leaf. Then decide on a way to organize the leaves by finding similar characteristics. Post and label your collection with the categories.

—Simply Science

There is nothing better than lilting poetry packaged in an "eye-candy" picture book that immerses the reader in color and joy, except an "eye-candy" poetry book that also doubles as a teaching tool and makes science fun and approachable for reluctant tween readers.

—Minding the Middle

Whether or not your child is a burgeoning botanist, this book is sure to become a bedtime favorite.

—Holly Connors for Feathered Quill Book Reviews

I just got a letter (left) from my niece's oldest daughter, who is five. She got stationery for Christmas and was eager to use it to thank me for sending her some leaf art we had done together earlier this winter so she could put it in the picture book I gave her for Christmas.

Which picture book, you ask? None other than Laura Purdie Salas's new book with Millbrook, A Leaf Can Be....

—Domenica Di Piazza, Lerner blog

The team of Laura Purdie Salas and Violeta Dabjija has created a beautiful book. With the simple phrase "A leaf can be...", Salas explores all of the roles a leaf can play from a water ladle to food maker to frost catcher and more. Dabjija's gentle and whimsical illustrations are a perfect match to Salas' sparse text making the book completely accessible for younger readers. The end of the book takes each of the descriptors used in the book and explains them with more details. There is also a glossary and some further reading which can both be useful resources for a teacher.

—Kid Lit Frenzy

I want to pair this book with A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes by Liz Scanlon and have students compare and contrast the way these poets crafted their metaphors.

—Mary Lee Hahn, A Year of Reading


Downloadable Activities

A Leaf Can Be... thumbnail
Teaching Guide
Literature Guide from Nebraska Agriculture in the Classroom
Write a Can Be… book–lesson plan and templates for students!
43 ELA worksheets for K-2

Photo Gallery

Laura wearing Leaf Shirt
Korean edition!
vase by Annabelle
Vase made by my daughter, Annabelle
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Wow--Leaf Can Be... writing thoughts
lerner letter
Lerner letter
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leaf art
Scholastic Flyer_Leaf
Scholastic Book Club

How this Book Got Started

I was searching for a topic to write a rhyming nonfiction picture book about. I came across a poem I wrote for Chatter, Sing, Roar, Buzz: Poems About the Rain Forest. It was about Honduran tent bats, tiny bats that huddle along the spine of a giant leaf, which folds down and shelters them from rain and predators. How cool! That made me wonder what else leaves do, and it was fun to research that question--and even more fun to write about leaves in rhyming couplets!

Poems I've Written

These poems connect to this book in topic, theme, or form—great for text-to-text connections!


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