By Mac Barnett
Illustrated by Jon Klassen
Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins)
I’ve never knitted anything in my life (or is it just “knit”?). Not a thing. The extent of my self-crafted wardrobe is limited to ironing letters on a t-shirt, which I promptly threw on stage at a concert (don’t worry, I had another shirt underneath). But I would imagine there’s a lot of satisfaction in creating an item of clothing out of nothing and a ball of yarn. Of fabricating something, however minor. This concept of making an impact on the world, one small piece at a time is at the core of Extra Yarn. Full of beauty and humor, it’s a book that will likely stick with you after the story is done.
When Annabelle finds a box filled with multicolored yarn, she does what you might expect – she knits a sweater. But there is extra yarn, so she knits sweaters for others – classmates and teachers and even animals. Still: more yarn. She begins to cover her entire cold, drab town in rainbow knitwear – including buildings and trees. The change is dramatic. Before long, an archduke arrives and offers Annabelle riches in exchange for the box. When she refuses, the archduke has it stolen. But it is for naught – he finds the box empty and angrily tosses it in the sea, where it eventually returns to Annabelle.
The conclusion will have kids asking the question – why was the box empty for the archduke? Camp #1 will say “well, the yarn just happened to run out”, while Camp #2 will likely infer that the box was empty because it needs Annabelle for the magic to happen. Count me a member of the latter group.
Some subtle humor comes into play, particularly when Annabelle begins knitting for the benefit of inanimate objects, covering mailboxes, houses, and pickup trucks in sweaters. This sort of absurdity fits with Barnett and Klassen’s previous work.
The ink, gouache, and digital illustrations (which bring to mind Alice and Martin Provensen’s work in Caldecott-winner A Glorious Flight) are understated and gorgeous. Klassen’s previous book I Want My Hat Back garnered wide acclaim with stark illustrations (and a wicked ending). Here the starkness is contrasted by the technicolor yarn. I understand Klassen created the distinctive sweater texture by scanning an actual sweater and digitally tweaking it – an inventive, and visually rewarding touch.
This isn’t a book solely for fans of the off-beat – it’s a story everyone can savor.
Review copy purchased.