Friday, May 22, 2015

Leaflets three, let it be! Plus - author interview

Leaflets Three, Let it Be! The story of poison ivy
by Anita Sanchez; illus. by Robin Brickman
32 pages; ages 4 - 8
Boyds Mills Press, 2015

You've heard the warning: leaflets three, let it be. Poison ivy! Who wants to come back from a walk in the woods all itchy and scratchy? But poison ivy doesn't just grow in the woods. Around here, you can find it in people's back yards, and growing along roadsides.

Poison ivy. Yuck! Who needs it? Lots of animals, writes Anita Sanchez. Like a rabbit in springtime. He's thin and hungry, and there aren't many plants growing yet. But poison ivy leaflets are tender and tasty. But rabbits aren't the only ones who eat leaves.

In the summer, poison ivy flowers. Bees collect nectar to make honey and aphids suck plant juices. The petals fall off and fruit ripens for birds and squirrels. Are we the only ones bothered by the plant?

I love the way this book follows the plant through a yearful of seasons. I love the gorgeous art: painted paper (watercolors and acrylics) cut and shaped by hand. And I love the back matter where we learn what to do if we've come in contact with poison ivy and how to get rid of it in your back yard without harming animals and insects. There's a cool "poison ivy look-alike" challenge (hint: not all plants that have three leaflets are poison ivy).

Author Anita Sanchez worked for 25 years as a naturalist at a nature center. She's been noticing that kids are getting out into the woods less and less. So I asked her a bit about writing the book and she graciously answered Three Questions:

Archimedes: What inspired you to write about poison ivy - do you have it in your back yard?

Anita: One of the things kids are worried about is getting poison ivy, and they don't really know what it looks like. So I wrote the book as a way to help kids feel safe when they leave the sidewalk. Plus, yes, I have lots in my backyard. I get itchy every spring if I walk around without paying attention. Maybe that's poison ivy's purpose in this world: to get us to slow down and notice the green world around us. I read that when a Cherokee saw poison ivy in the woods, he or she would say, "Hello, my friend. I see you." Once you know what it looks like, you can stay out of it. (note: Anita wrote a wonderful post about poison ivy on her blog, Unmowed.)

Archimedes: What sort of research did you do?

Anita: My main reference was a book called American Wildlife and Plants: A guide to Wildlife Food Habits. It's just lists and lists of which animals eat different plants, and it was compiled over decades by hundreds of wildlife biologists who studied what animals eat by dissecting their poop. It's incredible how many animals use poison ivy for food and shelter. There are more than fifty different species of birds that eat the berries - including my favorite singers, mockingbirds.

Archimedes: Did you learn anything that surprised you?

Anita: Poison ivy affects lots of human victims, but the plant itself is the victim of relentless insect predation. There are hundreds of species of insects that eat or lay eggs on poison ivy. There's even an infinitesimal critter called the poison ivy leaf gall mite (Aculops rhois) which lays its eggs on the leaves, resulting in a horribly mottled red surface that looks - poetic justice! - exactly as though the poison ivy plant has contracted a nasty rash.

That sticky sap that oozes out of the plant evolved as a defense against insects. It's a mere accident of evolution that the sap happens to be a powerful allergen for most humans... we're just collateral damage.

Archimedes: OK, question 3 1/2. Got a project coming out soon?

Anita: Next year I have a picture book biography of Linnaeus coming out. It's called Karl, Get out of the Garden! Carolus Linnaeus and the naming of everything.

Today's review is part of the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources.  Review copy from publisher.


  1. I will be checking this book out. It sounds like a very interesting read and one from which I can learn a lot. Thanks for the post.

  2. Wow, congratulations to Anita for the new book. What a great topic!

    (BTW, the link coming here in your STEM Friday post is broken).