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Extra Yarn

"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. White

Extra YarnI 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 side.

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 and soot.

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

The Book
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.

Browse Inside this book

The 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 Spring.

Authored by

Michelle Edwards is the author/illustrator of A KNITTER'S HOME COMPANION and many award-winning children's books including CHICKEN MAN and STINKY STERN FOREVER. In her spare time, Michelle enjoys talking about books in schools throughout the US and beyond. Her newest book, Room for the Baby, will be available from Random House in Fall 2012. Visit Michelle Edwards at her website or on Facebook.
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