Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Stories Behind the Pictures #3

Analyzing the Stories Behind this Year’s Caldecotts
Day 3—Extra Yarn

Extra Yarn
Written by Mac Barnett
Illustrated by Jon Klassen
Balzar + Bray and imprint of HarperCollins Publishers

I told you we’d see Jon Klassen’s name again among the Caldecott Honor Books, and here it is. You’ll be surprised at the completely different style of art he uses in Extra Yarn. The illustrations resemble block prints, and are mostly black and white—at least until the main character, Annabelle, puts her knitting needles to work. Then spots of variegated color begin to creep across the pages.

I think I’ll classify Extra Yarn as a fairy tale. No there’s no fairy godmother, but there is good versus evil and an ample supply of magic yarn.

Annabelle lives in a frozen village that is covered with white snow and black soot.
Thus, everything in her world is black and white. Then Annabelle finds a box filled with colorful yarn. She knits herself a sweater. Then she knits a sweater for her dog. There’s still more yarn. She knits a sweater for a friend and her classmates. Everyone is sure Annabelle will run out of yarn. But she doesn’t. She knits sweaters for her family, the townspeople, all the animals in town, and eventually for things that don’t even need sweaters. There’s still extra yarn in the box. 

An archduke (who happens to love fashionable clothes) hears about the magic yarn, travels to Annabelle’s village, and offers to buy the yarn. When she refuses to sell, the archduke has the box of yarn stolen and carried back to his home. When he finally opens the box, he finds it empty and places a curse on Annabelle. But the curse doesn’t work, and Annabelle’s knitting continues in a quiet, but surprising ending.

In a day when most picture books are geared to the youngest of the picture book market, this book is geared to a bit older crowd. The 566-word book has a reading level at the upper end of second grade/lower end of third grade. Sentences are more complex and the text includes more challenging vocabulary.

The structure of this book is interesting to me. We meet Annabelle and learn of her discovery of the magic box of yarn on the first page of the story. The next eighteen pages are all about her knitting. We are well over halfway through the book before we meet the archduke and the problem of the story is introduced. The problem—the attempt to buy, the theft, and the curse from the archduke—take ten pages. Annabelle does nothing to solve her own problem as in a traditional plot structure. Instead the box makes its way back to her and she continues to knit.

I’ve heard editors talk about quiet books. One of them told me that quiet really means nothing happens. Well, this is a quiet book and plenty happens. But it’s a gentle tale, told in a simple, straightforward manner, and illustrated with a touch of humor (and color). Like the other two books I’ve reviewed this week (This Is Not My Hat and Creepy Carrots), this is an event-driven story, not a character-driven story. Yes, Annabelle is a lovable, relateable, age-appropriate, active character. But this story is not about the character Annabelle solving a problem, this is a story about the event of Annabelle using the magic yarn. “So what?” you ask. So there’s room in the picture book market for lots of different kinds of stories. As long as they are well written, fresh, innovative stories.


Wendy said...

Love the message in your post today.

Unknown said...

Yet another PB breaking the rules!Fascinating post Rob. Thanks