Mac Barnett is a favorite of mine (which means I can't write about him without mentioning all his work...) especially when he teams up with Adam Rex. Happily, the duo have a new book, Chloe and the Lion, coming out in April. But after reading Barnett's newest picture book Extra Yarn I think there is room in this world for more than one favorite pairing. After all, I love chocolate and peanut butter together but I also enjoy chocolate and mint. Makes perfect sense, though. Barnett's newest partner Jon Klassen is the author and illustrator of the brilliant (and slightly subversive) picture book I Want My Hat Back so of course these two would make a great team. Oh, I just remembered. I also like chocolate and chiles (Chuau Chocolatier makes the best) and can't forget the superb pairing of Barnett (click his name for all my reviews of all his work) and the super-awesome Dan Santat. The two joined forces for the fantastic OH NO! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World) and will be back this summer with OH NO NOT! AGAIN! (Or How I Built a Time Machine to Save History)(Or at Least My History Grade).
Now that I have almost exhausted my list of superlatives, I'll tell you about Extra Yarn. Barnett masterfully creates a story that has a fairy-tale-fable feel to it. Believe me, this is NOT easily (or satisfyingly) done by most picture book authors but Barnett does it. Extra Yarn begins, "One afternoon, in a cold little town, where everywhere you looked was either the white of snow or the black of soot from chimneys, Annabelle found a box filled with yarn of every color." Klassen's illustrations are as bleak and stark as Barnett's writing. That is, until Annabelle begins to knit with that yarn. First, a sweater for herself and her dog Mars, which bring the ridicule of neighbor Nate. With her extra yarn, Annabelle knits sweaters for Nate and his dog. When her sweater causes a disturbance in school, she uses up some more of her extra yarn to knit sweaters for the whole class. The texture and colors of the sweaters that Klassen illustrates are perfect and the gradual spread of color over the drab little town is a delight to see.
Since there is always extra yarn, Annabelle is able to knit sweaters for everyone in town and eventually begins knitting sweaters for things that might not necessarily need them, like mailboxes and pick-up trucks and buildings and at times you can see the yarn connecting everyone and everything, as in the picture below. As Travis Jonker aptly notes in his review of the book at 100 Scope Notes, "This sort of absurdity fits with Barnett and Klassen's previous work," and indeed this kind of silliness is welcome.
Just as the town is transformed, happiness (and warmth) are threatened by a fanciful archduke who arrives from across the sea. When Annabelle refuses to sell him the box of extra yarn at any price, the archduke sends his minions to steal it in the dark of night. I think I will not give away the ending of the book but I can tell you that it is simple and sweet in a satisfying way and I guarantee that when you finish this book you (and the listeners you might be reading it to) will want you to go back to the beginning and read it all over again! As succinctly stated over at Pink Me (a fantastic resource for children's book reviews that is also run by a semi-raving Barnett and Rex fan) after making the scholarly note that yarn, as in story, and yarn, as in fiber, are both better when shared, "I think writing even these four sentences of analysis just sucked some of the happiness out of this book, so I'm going to stop." Me too. Extra Yarn is best enjoyed in it's original form and over and over.
For a really cool viewing of Extra Yarn, check out this series of pictures (by scrolling right) that Jon Klassen posted on his website with the great name, Burst of Beaden.