This book has been on my mind ever since it came out last year, so I figured it needed a proper review. This is Extra Yarn, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by the amazing Jon Klassen, 2012.
This is the story of a girl named Annabelle who discovers a box filled with yarn of every color. Being the highly proficient knitter that she is, she makes a sweater for herself, and then one for her faithful dog. But there is still extra yarn.
So on she continues, creating sweaters and brightening winter days for her fellow townsmen. The fame of this gorgeous yarn and her creations spreads and a greedy archduke approaches to offer her a great sum of money for the yarn. Kindly refused, the duke is furious and concocts a plan to steal the yarn and the child’s generous happiness.
And with this, we have a clever tale full of generosity, craftiness (of several kinds), and perhaps a bit of moral about the true meaning of happiness.
I admit that I was hesitant to love this book. Perhaps a bit tired of being instantly in love with every illustration Jon Klassen touched; I decided to harden my heart to the stunning creation that this is. But, it has won me over.
The story is simple, but lovely. And the illustrations, of course, match that perfectly. There is a stunning flow to the images that is subtle and yet incredibly effective. The book begins by being very monochromatic, cold looking, and with lots of harsh lines and edges. As Annabelle knits, not only does the color of the thread brighten everything; but the edges are softened and you can feel the winter blahs being snuggled into oblivion. Then, with the arrival of the archduke and his monochromatic and harsh-looking ship, the pages and illustrations go dark. Lots of moody blues and browns and the sharp edges reappear. This is marvelous illustration.
Upon first read, I honestly thought the end was a bit abrupt. But as this book invites rereads, I have now concluded that it works rather well. It is meant to be read slowly. There is a lot more text in the first half than in the second and it is important to read it with great dramatic pause as you go. I am now a fan of this story with its unassuming text and so-beautiful-you-want-to-throw-a-fit illustrations. Seriously, can Klassen do anything wrong with a brush?
Speaking of, I must mention that this book is rumored to be a major Caldecott contender (I’ll be discussing this more next week as we get closer to the 2013 award announcement!). I wouldn’t be surprised at all and would cheer along with the rest of the children’s book community if it does take it all. But, I must also share the detail that some are saying will take it out of the running. Apparently, Annabelle holds her needles wrong (see comments in this post).
There is much outrage about this one illustration that shows her knitting with those poor unsuspecting needles going up instead down. New to the knitting scene myself, I honestly didn’t notice. It is a small detail to pick out when you are being swept away by the story. So, it remains to be seen what will become of the errant needles.
The author, Mac Barnett, is not overly familiar to me. He has several books to his name and I’m impressed with the lovely story he has penned here; but what really has endeared him to me is this acceptance speech he gave at the Boston Globe-Horn Book awards. That’s an author I’d like to know, with a fun sense of humor to boot. Seriously, it is worth a read; as well as Jon Klassen’s which nearly made me shed a tear or two. Not to mention that Barnett and Klassen are buddies and Barnett wrote this story specifically for Klassen to illustrate. No wonder they go together so well!
And now to end this long post for a book that I was determined not to love. Read it for yourself. I think it will warm your gloomy winter days too.