The stack of books stares at me. Where to start? So, I did what I always do when struck with the paradox of too many choices: close my eyes and grab. So I will start this year’s discussion with a book I have admired for a long time. As a knitter, it was natural that I would be attracted to this story of knitting and giving. But would everyone? When the Boston Globe-Horn Book Committee announced it as their picture book winner, it was clear that this story had more universal appeal.
The Caldecott Committee will look at each book through the lens of the criteria. Here are the key words that each committee member will commit to memory before the process is over:
“In identifying a ‘distinguished American picture book for children,’ defined as illustration, committee members need to consider:
- Excellence of execution in the artistic technique employed;
- Excellence of pictorial interpretation of story, theme, or concept;
- Appropriateness of style of illustration to the story, theme or concept;
- Delineation of plot, theme, characters, setting, mood or information through the pictures;
- Excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.”
Each committee member will write formal nominations of his or her favorite books and the nominations will be written with the criteria in mind.
Starting right with the cover, Extra Yarn is a stunner. The title is made of stockinette knitting, each letter carefully connected by yarn and painted by the illustrator. Klassen creates his art by hand and then digitally manipulates it. Hints of Things To Come are right there in that mysterious box sitting quietly on the lower left. When Annabelle finds that box filled with yarn of every color, she commences knitting. Here the grey/brown palette adds color as Annabelle begins to knit. Soon, she has knitted something for everyone, every animal and even every building. And still she keeps knitting, enjoying the act of creating and giving. One day, an archduke arrives, hellbent on getting that endless box of yarn for himself. Annabelle won’t sell it, so the cad steals it and finds out that the magic does not transfer and he throws the box into the sea, where it floats back to its rightful owner. The quiet story is told in few words and the illustrations gently extend the text without unnecessary duplication. Colors set the mood both of the little town, so nicely knit together, and the closed-eye archduke, forever bathed in sepia tones, even his overdone scarf.
There is something of Tomi Ungerer here, and it’s not just the three robbers reference. Repeated shapes (triangles for the iceberg, the round full moon, the homey rectangles of the houses and churches) hold the illustrations together and set the mood. The final spreads, with the girl happily sitting in a tree, are free of these shapes, a signal to the reader that something big has happened.
Is the message there? Yes. Is it heavy handed? I think not. What do you think?