Fair warning: I have not yet read this book to either of my children. No, my good friend and colleague S. pointed it out to me on the shelf waiting for the head children’s librarian’s attention. It has not yet been stickered and is not yet available to the public in my library. Since that librarian isn’t in today, I snuck it off the shelf to read and put it back before she noticed its absence.
Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett. Illustrated by Jon Klassen. “On a cold afternoon in a cold little town, where everywhere you looked was either the white of snow or the black of soot from chimneys, Annabelle found a box filled with yarn of every color.” She starts to knit. She knits a bright sweater for herself and for her dog. People start finding her brightness distracting, so she knits sweaters for them, too. When she’s knit sweaters for every person and animal in town, she starts knitting cozies for the buildings. The illustrations show the change in the town as it gradually fills with color and warmth. All the while, the box stays full of its beautiful yarn, which seems to be magic both in never running out of yarn and in allowing Annabelle to knit with amazing speed (that last isn’t commented on in the book, but really… she knits a cathedral cozy.) Then, an evil Archduke comes from across the sea to take the box for himself. Annabelle says no. The Archduke is powerful and used to getting his way. What will happen to the box?
The story is told in simple, direct language, with little enough text to the page that my two-year-old would likely be able to sit for it. But there’s enough meat to the feeling of it that it holds up for older readers, too. The art fits and expands on the text perfectly, showing a kind of 1960s minimalism. It starts on white pages with buildings and figures in shades of brown and grey. The constantly falling snow shows brown in the sky and white against the brown buildings. They look to me like watercolor with especially crisp edges, as if they were first painted, then cut out, then had details like the snow added. Aside from a tiny bit of pink on the noses and cheeks of the people, the yarn is the only color throughout, with bulky variegated watercolor stitches covering first Annabelle and then of course nearly everything in the town. I’m fascinated by the technique. It looks like Klassen (who also illustrates The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Placefirst painted sheets of mixed colors with watercolor, then – maybe digitally – overlaid that with the knit stitch pattern. Those pieces are then, by my guess, cut out to make the required. This is a book about the joy and peace that hand-knitted love can bring, and it’s a forceful peace. Annabelle may not do anything but knit, but that knitting transforms her community and is powerful enough to withstand the evil plots of the outwardly more powerful Archduke. May it always be so.