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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Two Wonderfully Imaginative Picture Books

Barnett, Mac; Klassen, Jon (2012) Extra Yarn New York:  HarperCollins

Opening Line:  "On a cold afternoon, in a cold little town, where everywhere you looked was either the white of snow of the black of soot from chimneys, Annabelle found a box filled with yarn of every color."

Annabelle loves to knit.  When she finds a box of yarn, she knits herself a sweater, then one for her dog, her friend Nate, Nate's dog, her entire class, including the teacher, her mom and dad, Mr and Mrs Pendleton, Dr. Palmer, dogs, cats, birds, and pretty much everyone and everything in town.  Her bottomless box of yarn is bringing color to the town and its inhabitants.  Then an archduke who is really into fancy clothing shows up, tries to buy the yarn for ten million dollars, and, when Annabelle refuses to sell, the archduke and his men steal the box and sail away over the sea.  There is a wonderful ending to the book as well.

Klaasen's art combines dark and dreary line drawings with remarkably textured yarn, which, although it is of subdued color, stands in strong contrast to the bleakness of the rest of the people and scenery.

This is an excellent and magical book.  It would make a splendid read-aloud book for pretty much any grade from K to 12.  The theme of the book is a little elusive, but seems to involve the power of imagination and creativity over acquisitiveness and greed.  But as soon as I write that sentence, it seems to kill the charm and wonderment of the book.  So actually, I take that sentence back.  Forget you ever read it.  just know that it is a good book with an excellent (if somewhat elusive) message.  Buy it.

Tan, Shaun  (2013) Rules of Summer.  New York:  Arthur A. Levine

Opening line:  This is what I learned last summer: never leave a red sock on the clothesline.

The thing I love most about Shaun Tan's work is the way he builds a believable world with profoundly unbelievable elements, which he then helps you believe in.  This ability was exemplified in his masterful picture book, The Arrival.  That book used his ability to depict alien elements in an everyday way to show how disconcerting the immigration experience can be.

This book is just fun.  Tan makes the most out of text lines which seem utterly mundane and images which are colossally imaginative.  For example, the text line "Never ruin a perfect plan"  goes with an image of what appear to be two armored, horned, and tailed guards carrying a huge strawberry past two other similarly clad guards.  Unfortunately, however, one of the guards with the strawberry has stepped on the tail of the guard walking ahead of him and that guard's tail has come off.  A closer look reveals that the guards with the giant strawberry and smaller than the other two guards,and that their armor seems to be held together with scotch tape.  The reader slowly realizes that the main character and his older brother are in the costumes and are trying to steal the strawberry from some kind of enchanted stronghold.

Like Chris Van Alsberg's excellent picture book, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, each page reveals only a very interesting part of a story.  The reader is free to fill in the gaps as he or she pleases. On other pages, the unnamed main character plays a racket game with robots, stares in from outside his own house as a giant cat watches television with his brother, is imprisoned and rescued from an Antarctic fortress, and has other adventures.

Adults may have a hard time with this book, because they may not have the imagination to just enjoy it.  Little kids, however (maybe first grade and up?) who have a reasonable tolerance for silliness and a love for adventure will find it a delightful voyage of a book.  Get this one too, as soon as you can.

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