"I know one thing that has happened:
the willow by the brook has slipped into her yellow dress,
lending, along with the faded pink of the snow fences, a spot of
color to the vast gray-and- white world."
- E.B. White, Essays of E. B.
have knit myself and others an oasis of color through many a
seemingly endless and "vast gray-and-white" winter. But all my
piles of mittens and hats and scarves and socks and shawls and
whatnots, even those I knit with my own fruit-scented Kool-Aid
dyed stash, can't compare to the wondrous work of the miraculous
and amazing Annabelle, the star of the new picture book, Extra Yarn, written by
Mac Barnett and exquisitely illustrated by Jon Klassen. With true
grit and astounding productivity, the newest knitter on our
bookshelf knits away the dreary icy grim that grips her world. And
it all begins with a box.
"On a cold afternoon, in a little
cold town, where everywhere you looked was either white of snow or
black of soot from chimneys, Annabelle found a box filled with
yarn of every color."
Or maybe the box finds
Annabelle. No matter, because once she picks it up, she's never
without it. The box is small enough for her to carry under her
arm, her pair of straight knitting needles sticking out of one
There's magic in that box. A knitter's dream, it never empties.
Annabelle begins her knitting journey by knitting herself a long
bulky knit tunic-like sweater, which becomes her signature
pattern. Still "she had some extra yarn." She knits her dog, Mars,
a snappy sweater. Their creations, variegated with yellows, reds,
hints of green, and a bold dash of robin's egg blue, bring the
first bit of color to their town bleakness and set this quirky and
highly original folktale into motion. Their colorful sweaters
invite contempt. Annabelle is ridiculed and criticized.
Does that stop her from knitting more?
Of course not. She wisely understands petty jealousy. Annabelle
knits on and on, making sweaters for her foes. One by one, turning
them into allies. And for all she knits, and she's a miraculously
prodigious knitter, there's always extra yarn in magical stash.
Annabelle's sweaters lighten up her classmates, family, neighbors,
crusty town folks and their homes, creatures both domesticated and
woodland. She sweaters the likely and unlikely with wooly color.
Annabelle's unprecedented knitterly reach does not go unnoticed.
It transforms. Word of her knitting glories spread far and wide,
and as to be expected in tales of this sort, a villain appears,
testing Annabelle's knitting resolve once again. Wheedling and
needling, he makes extravagant offers for her small dark box.
Annabelle is an unshakable, committed knitter. She and her
magical box of never-ending colors of wool can't be bought. Even
when the offer is very good - let's says, ten million dollars
good. Evil, being what it is, doesn't take "no" for an answer.
Even thieves in the night, three of them plus their shady boss, an
archduke fond of fashion, cannot change this knitter's destiny.
"She's a knitting hero. Her knits bring positive change to her
gritty and cheerless town," I tell my husband Rody, who favors the
orange hat I made him. He likes to read the Wall St. Journal with
his morning coffee and discuss the current state of economic
affairs whenever possible.
"What's more, she is generous with what she makes. She knits
even for those who don't usually need knits," I add. Just in case,
as a non-knitter, he didn't grasp the scope of her efforts.
"She's good character for these hard times," Rody tells me. And
he's right. Annabelle's sweaters aren't just about battling winter
Of course, Annabelle is a fictional character. She knits
magically. Yet she's an inspiration to us for the challenges we
face. And when share her story with others, both young and old, we
share a knitterly hope for a wooly brightness and warmth for all.
Notes on Extra Yarn and Knitting your
own Color and Warmth
There's so much in Extra Yarn
that will delight a yarnplayer's eye and heart. As in the best of
picture books, Jon Klassen's illustrations, a delicate mix of
humor and tenderness, extend the story, handing out visual details
so that the text can be rich in its spareness. If you reading it
aloud to a group of children or young at heart knitters, don't be
surprised if you find a yourself a willing chorus for the repeated
refrain, extra yarn.
To experience Extra Yarn's
joy of multi-color knitting like, try some of variegated yarns
listed below. Take some sparks of Annabelle's generosity and fire
up a something special for yourself and those around you. Delight
a friend with a rainbow Valentine. Try new stitches in a Warm
Up America square. Go to town and make a bundle of preemie
hats. Share warmth and color.
For instructions on dying wool with Kool-Aid, check out my
graphic essay, Knitting