Next Year by Ruth Vander Zee and Gary Kelley (9781568462820)
A gripping look at the Dust Bowl from the point of view of a child growing up in the 1930s, this picture book combines strong imagery with a poetic prose. The book takes no time in becoming dramatic, showing a dust cloud coming towards the boy: “Like midnight in the middle of the day, without moon and stars.” When he reaches home after crawling for two miles because he can’t stand in the dust and the wind, he discovers his parents despairing and desperate. While they may have been hopeful at one time, the boy knows that he has to help and learns about alternative ways to farm. As the days pass, the rain returns but it’s too late for his parents’ hope to return. Powerful and fascinating, this picture book look at the Dust Bowl is exceptional. (Reviewed from library copy.)
Stolen Words by Melanie Florence, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard (9781772600377)
A little girl asks her grandfather how to say grandfather in Cree. Her grandfather pauses for a long moment and then explains that he lost his words a long time ago. He then explains to his granddaughter about being taken away from home and put into a boarding school. He wasn’t allowed to speak Cree there at all, only English. The next day, the little girl comes out of school with a book, an introduction to Cree for them to learn together. The author of this picture book is half Cree and never got to speak with her own grandfather about his language and his history. The book is filled with beautiful language, capturing the harshness of the boarding schools and the love of close family as contrasts of cold and warm, hard and soft. Grimard’s illustrations also show the contrasts through images, turning black and white for memories rather than the soft colors used in the modern parts of the book. An introduction to the importance of language, families and identity that is appropriate for small children. (Reviewed from library copy.)
Three Balls of Wool (Can Change the World) by Henriqueta Cristina, illustrated by Yara Kono (9781592702206)
Published in partnership with Amnesty International, this picture book uses colors of wool to speak to the conformity required under Communist regimes. The book focuses on a family who flees their home country in the hopes of finding a better, kinder place to live. At first their new country is good. The children can go to school and the parents are less worried. But steadily things change and soon there are only three colors of sweaters for the children to wear. The mother of the family though, realizes that she can make a difference and sews the yarn from the different sweaters into new patterns that incorporate all three. Soon the new designs spread and things begin to change for the better. Cristina has written this picture book analogy from her own experiences as a child. There is a straightforward nature to the writing that allows the analogy to really work, giving it a strong foundation. The art is graphic and strong, leaping off of the page and yet also paying homage to Communist buildings and structures. This is a clever and intelligent book worth discussing in classrooms and families. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Review copy provided by Enchanted Lion.)
A Hat for Mrs. Goldman by Michelle Edwards, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (InfoSoup)
Sophie first got a hat knit by Mrs. Goldman when she was a tiny baby. Now Sophie helps by making pom-poms for Mrs. Goldman’s hats. She learns about doing good deeds or “mitzvahs” for people. When Mrs. Goldman and Sophie head outside into the blustery weather to walk her dog Fifi, everyone has something knit to keep them warm except for Mrs. Goldman. So Sophie decides to knit a hat for Mrs. Goldman. It takes some time to knit and meanwhile there are more cold walks. When it’s done though, the hat isn’t perfect. It is lumpy and has holes where there shouldn’t be any. Sophie though has a plan that will make this a hat worthy of Mrs. Goldman.
This picture book is pure bliss. Edwards has created a vivid friendship between a grandmotherly neighbor and a young girl. There is kindness throughout, both in terms of the knitting but also the small kindnesses done for one another. Little details bring the world fully alive, like Sophie’s knitting that she started with Mrs. Goldman smelling of chicken soup, such a warm and homey smell.
The illustrations by Karas are lovely. They show the hard work that Sophie puts in, her frustrations and her successes. They show the cold walks and the fierce winds, the attempts at wearing scarves. They show the joy of completion and then the dismay at seeing that the hat is not perfect. And finally, they show the real hat that is glorious and unique.
A lovely book sure to warm up your own chilly fall and winter days. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Leave Me Alone by Vera Brosgol (InfoSoup)
A grandmother is all set to start knitting for her very big family, but they just keep on interrupting her. The children love to play with her balls of yarn and she can’t seem to find a quiet place to work. So she packs up her knitting things and heads out the door, shouting “Leave me alone!” She finds a quiet place in the woods to knit, but soon she catches the interest of some hungry bears. She again has to pack up and leave, shouting “Leave me alone!” It doesn’t get any better when she climbs a mountain and finds a cave to work in. The mountain goats find her yarn delicious and even eat her scarf too. So the grandmother climbs up the mountain and onto the moon. Even there, the aliens won’t leave her alone. Where can one grumpy grandma go to knit? You will be surprised by the answer!
I applaud a picture book willing to take something that has a traditional folklore theme hearkening back to The Old Woman in the Shoe and then twists it into a modern and wild picture book that you never ever realized was even headed your way. It’s an impressive shift that happens in the story, leading back ultimately to an ended that restores the folkloric tradition but along the way takes it in a scientific and funny direction. Children will love the twist, adults will enjoy the surprise making this a great book to share aloud.
Brosgol’s illustrations are a hoot. With every new area that the grandmother attempts to quietly knit in, it seems like the perfect choice at first. Then slowly and with great pacing, the interruptions appear and then devolve into wild abandon. There are very clever moments in the illustrations: a goat perched on the mountain of yarn, the hungry bear who doesn’t scare the grandmother a whit, and the goat that wanders up to the moon too.
An outstanding read aloud with a very surprising twist, this picture book is a great example of mixing folklore and science. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Mitten String by Jennifer Rosner, illustrated by Kristina Swarner
Released October 28, 2014.
Ruthie’s family was known for their wool and the mittens they created from it. They sheared their own sheep, prepared their own wool, spun their own yarn. At night, Ruthie and her mother knitted together, with Ruthie in particular making mittens. On market days, they traveled to town to sell their fabric and knitting. One day, they found a woman on the road with her baby where their wagon had broken down. The woman wrote on a slate to communicate, because she was deaf. She used sign language with her little son. Ruthie’s family offered her a place to stay for the night and Ruthie noticed a deep blue piece of yarn around the woman’s wrist. That night, she saw how the women used the yarn to tie herself gently to her baby so that she would know if he needed anything in the night. Ruthie had a great idea and quickly went to work creating a mitten on a string with one sized for an adult and the other for a baby. In return for her kindness, the woman gave Ruthie her string of yarn of the deepest blue and then also showed Ruthie what plant to use to create the blue dye.
As Rosner says in her author’s note, this book is inspired by her great-great-aunt Bayla who was deaf and used the trick of tying a string to her baby’s wrist from her own. She also offers a knitting glossary at the end along with some knitting-related sign language signs. I appreciate that while this book is about a woman who is deaf, she is also a very capable person. The family may offer her help, but it is more about her circumstances than about her deafness. It is a pleasure to have a book about a disability address it in such a positive way.
Swarner’s art has the softness of yarn. Done in the same rich, deep colors that Ruthie knits her mittens out of, the entire world is soft and warm. There are small touches throughout that add details of homeliness and kindness. From the different sizes of mittens around the home to the flowers all over the grass.
This is a picture book about kindness and caring for one another with a brilliant blue thread of love woven throughout. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Random House Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.
Red Hat by Lita Judge
This picture book is a companion to Red Sled. It features that same red hat that was in the first book, but here it is no longer winter and the hat is washed and hung up to dry on the line. That’s when it is spotted by an eager bear, who snatches it off the line and runs off with it. But he is not alone, as he dashes, other animals pull and tug, freeing the white pompom and unraveling the bright red yarn as they play. They leave the mass of yarn hung on the line in place of the hat! But don’t worry, a happy ending can be knit from the most tangled yarn.
Told almost entirely in sounds rather than words, this book is filled with a wonderful silliness that makes it hard not to giggle from the first longing glance of the bear to the final pages where the animals are pretending innocence at what happened. The center of the book is a wild chase scene as the hat unravels, adding a great rush of fast pacing into the story.
A great book, even better when read with the first one too. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters by K. G. Campbell
When Cousin Clara’s cottage was eaten by a crocodile, she moved in with Lester and his family. No one knows quite whether she is actually their relative, but she stayed with them anyway. She brought her knitting along with her. She just sat and knitted all the time, until one morning she announced that she had made Lester a sweater. It was horrible, an ugly yellow with one arm far too long and purple pom-poms dotted all over it. Lester was made to wear it to school where the others made fun of him, of course. That sweater mysteriously shrunk in the laundry. But the next morning, there was another sweater. This one was pink with strange upside down pockets. That one got caught in the mower. Every time Lester did away with one awful sweater, another appeared to take its place, until one morning he awoke to a mountain of sweaters. He did what anyone would do, and murdered them quietly with a scissors. But even then, there was one left intact. There doesn’t seem to be anything Lester can do to end the parade of awful sweaters, but there just may be a solution in a most unlikely place!
This is a dynamite picture book that has a fabulous strangeness about it that works particularly well. There is the oddness that Lester has already. He keeps lists of dangerous things that start with the letter C and collects items for the Lost & Found he has. He is particular about his socks being even and keeping his hair tidy. He could be an unlikeable character, but those little oddities as set aside when the horrible sweaters start coming. One immediately understands Lester’s desperation to get rid of the sweaters without confrontation and as the story unravels, it gets more and more fun to read.
Campbell’s art adds to the strangeness of the book. She has strange objects set around the house: a pickaxe near the front door, a Viking helmet in the Lost & Found. The pages are done in a matte finish that adds to the vintage feel, the Victorian feel of the book. And yet, there is that unwavering sense of humor, that lifts everything to feel modern too.
For slightly older children than most picture books, this would make a great read aloud for elementary classrooms. There is plenty of humor, moments of surprise, and a great ending that I refuse to even hint at. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
In the bleakness of winter when the town was all white from snow and black from chimney soot, Annabelle found a box that contained yarn of every color. She knit herself a sweater and still had more yarn, so she knit a sweater for her dog too. There was still yarn, so she started knitting sweaters for everyone or hats for those who didn’t want sweaters. Still there was more yarn, so she knit sweaters for all of the animals around. She still had not run out of yarn, so she started knitting for objects that don’t wear sweaters, covering houses and mail boxes with yarn. That’s when Annabelle attracted the attention of a vain archduke who wanted the unending box of yarn for himself. When she refused to sell it to him at any price, he stole it from her. But we all know the rules about magic things, and soon the box was back in Annabelle’s hands.
This book is filled with magic and not just in the form of the unending yarn. Barnett’s storyline is a combination of gentle storytelling and subtle humor. It manages to be both fresh and also pay homage to traditional tales.
Klassen’s art has the starkness of his previous book, I Want My Hat Back, but the brightness of the yarn adds an entirely new dimension. It glows in all of its color and texture against the rest of the illustrations, bringing not only color but also a robust life into the images. His use of digitally scanned textures to create the knit effect is ingenious.
A delight of a picture book that references the traditional while creating something completely new and magical. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.