Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
Every now and again, I come across a picture book that has such a classic feel that I have to flip back to the copyright page and double-check to make sure I couldn’t possibly have read it as a child. The most recent book to send me into such warm and glorious bouts of nostalgia is Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. Like so many favorite picture books of my own youth, this one has a story that is simple, yet full and rich. It’s the kind of plot you could retell at a bedtime years later, even if you couldn’t find your old copy of the book. It’s the kind of fable that, despite being completely fresh and unique, feels like it has been told and retold for generations. Not stale, not clichéd – just timeless.
It’s the story of a young girl who finds a box of never-ending yarn and sets about knitting sweaters for everybody and everything in town. Her spirit of generosity is tested (as is the magic of the yarn itself) when a greedy archduke comes calling. The paintings by Jon Klassen (who is fast becoming one of my favorite illustrators ever) could not be more perfect. With a bright array of changing colors for the yarn and muted earth tones for everything else, his sweet and comical pictures help tell the tale in just the right way.
Together, the story and art scream “Instant Classic.” No, scream isn’t the right word. There’s nothing screamy about this book. It’s got a much quieter, more nuanced power. It put me in mind of Leo Lionni with a slier sense of humor, or Tomi Ungerer on one of his brighter, happier days. But Extra Yarn feels most like a classic Barnett/Klassen book, which is how I expect people will be complimenting other picture books a few decades from now.
Best for: Picture book lovers of all kinds; fans of wry fables; people who liked I Want My Hat Back, but were hoping for something a bit gentler.