If books like this keep being published, I may just have to permanently change my mind about disliking historical fiction. Previews of this book continually caught my eye and after finally getting my hands on it this weekend, I have to say it has me hooked. And how could it not with a winning combination of elements – WWI, boys, soldiers, competition, and… knitting? Add to that surprising theme twist some excellent cartoon illustrations and you have a stellar, and very touching book. Here is Knit Your Bit by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Steven Guarnaccia, 2013.
The story is based on a real event held at Central Park in 1918. It is narrated from the perspective of a young boy named Mikey right after his Pop has left to be a soldier. Wanting to do something big to help with the war, Mikey scoffs at his mother’s, sister’s and teacher’s encouragement to knit something to warm the soldiers during the upcoming winter.
Mikey holds a fairly common opinion that knitting is for girls, something I think that just about every current young male reader will also argue. His sister attempts to persuade him differently showing him newspaper stories of various people taking up the needles for the cause. Nothing seems to sway him.
Nothing, except a challenge from the girls in his class. Despite a lack of enthusiasm from his friends, the boys take on the competition with the girls at the upcoming 3 day knitting event in Central Park. With help from Mikey’s mom, the boys are well on their way to competing with one boy being the “major of mufflers,” Mikey as the “sergeant of socks,” and the other just attempting to get his yarn untangled.
At the start of the event, the boys are still a bit leery of being the only ones involved, but they cast on fearlessly. In an amazing feat of persistence, the kids knit all afternoon, the next day, and into the pressure of the third day. Mikey is feeling good about things, having knit his best yet, and hopes to at least finish with a prize at the end of the day. As every good book must though, the story comes with its own bit of drama and near disaster. In the end, and with some moments that may choke you up (that is if you are like me), Mikey learns a great lesson about not giving up and how often doing something you think is little, can matter a great deal to someone.
This is an excellent book, one I recommend and heavily encourage boys to read. I felt it really nailed the feelings of childhood with boys vs. girls and the always prevalent gender stereotyping of activities was powerful and entertaining. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect from the book, although I was incredibly excited by the cover art. Not knowing anything about the WWI campaign to “Knit Your Bit” for the soldiers, I was very intrigued at the historical facts alluded to in the story as well as the great author’s note in the back. Another special feature is the end papers that include copies of real images from that time of boys and classrooms knitting and even the sheep that President Wilson kept on the White House lawn. Who knew!
Author Deborah Hopkinson is a name to contend with in the historical fiction genre of children’s picture books. With over 40 books to her name and numerous awards, she is a pro at bringing history to life. I’ve peeked at a few of her other works occasionally and will continue to expand my historical fiction scope, but Knit Your Bit is definitely top of my list so far this year. There is a great interview with Ms. Hopkinson at Laurie Ann Thompson’s blog where you can read some of this book’s backstory as well as about her research process. One of my favorite links is Ms. Hopkinson’s Pinterest board for Knit Your Bit where you can view some of the research photos that details and illustrations are based on in the book! I seriously love old photos. And one more link for this great author, an interview series with her on Reading Rockets. Great stuff.
Steven Guarnaccia knocked it out of the park with this one. The illustrations were created with pen and ink and then painted with watercolors. It is probably a coincidence, but the illustration style reminded me a lot of the things I love about the 1929 Tintin comics. I’d be curious to know if that was an influence or just my imagination drawing a correlation. Nevertheless, the era is wonderfully depicted with slight patterns, unique clothing, and humorous hairstyles. Guarnaccia has a really cool Moleskine sketchbook and has also created some great modern takes on fairy tales like Goldilocks and the Three Bears and The Three Little Pigs that include mid-century references, pieces, and characters. Can’t wait to get my hands on those!
Thanks to this duo’s beautiful creation I am once again inspired to learn more about history and even continue my efforts at learning to knit. Want to join me?