Like other counting books, One Leaf does not really have a central plot. It’s filled with the simple descriptions of a Japanese girl in a garden, and all of the things she encounters there. All of the text is written as haiku, making more meaningful both symbolically as well as in introducing children to haiku. The text will be very different for children used to Western picture books, and will surely make them ask questions about it. If kids are old enough to understand counting syllables, you might want to try having them create their own haiku after reading the book.
The book counts various things in the Japanese garden, from a single leaf to a pair of temple dogs to tea ceremony treats. Many of these concepts, from koi fish to the pagoda, will be brand new to children. They will surely get excited over the gorgeous pictures and Siamese cat. Maybe they’ll want to look up lotus blossoms, or ask why you take your shoes off before entering the teahouse. For such a simple book, it really does introduce many different concepts in a fitting way for children to understand.
What’s even better is that at the bottom of each page, there is a description of what the haiku either means or is related to. For example, children probably don’t know what temple dogs are. In fact, many adults—including yours truly—don’t know, either! So beneath the haiku about the temple dogs that guard the garden, at the bottom of the page there is a little description about how Buddhist monks used to train shih tzu dogs to guard their temples. That was very interesting to my daughter and me—as are the rest of the tidbits about Japan in the book. So many of these concepts differ from Western life, yet they are so simple and elegant that we’d love to have them in our lives just the same.
At the end of the book, all of the different elements introduced meet together in one large picture, along with the beginning text that is repeated, completing the circle. It really is a beautiful and thoughtful way to wrap up the book—something that most counting books fail to do. At the very end of the book, there is a bit more text explaining about the restful nature of the Japanese garden, as well as a bit of history and information about haiku poetry. For another brilliant haiku picture book, by the way, you might want to check out Zen Ties by Jon J. Muth, it is one of my five-year-old’s favorites.