I have in the recent past poked (gentle) (I hope) fun at Jon Klassen's illustration style, saying that in the future, people will be able to pull a book illustrated by him off the shelf and say, "Oh yeah... 2011! Remember that, with the slightly spattery browny-gray inks and deadpan expressions? I Want My Hat Back! I loved that!"
Totally. I have worn that rich but drab palette for the past five years. I've wanted a skirt with his blocky animal figures on it ever since Cats' Night Out. His cover for The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place almost made me want to read that book.
But now, reading Extra Yarn, we learn about his color, too. It's good color.
This is my theory about the lovely beautiful warm colors that dress up this petite fable about a never-ending box of yarn and the generous girl who uses it to knit her whole town a sweater: I think that Jon Klassen got out his powder pigments and some big sheets of paper and made a bunch of big beautiful mottled pages of color.
(You know how Jules at 7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast interviews artists and researches their work and charms them into sending her really cool process drawings and sketches and stuff? Because she's very charming and a bit of a scholar? Me, I just make stuff up. It's so much less time-consuming!) (#spiritoftheInternet)
And then after he had these big beautiful pages of earthy, washy, mellow colors - in-betweeny colors that to me seem inspired by vegetable dyes, as if Jon Klassen sampled all the racks of hand-dyed wool at the Sheep and Wool Festival - he drew the book, and used a paintbrush to make a page of knitted texture, and scanned it, and layered it with the colors, and digitally zip-a-toned it in various shapes and scales to make all the sweaters that sweet Annabelle knits for the people, pets, houses, and pickup trucks in her formerly cold little town.
Does it matter? It sure doesn't. I just felt like staring at these illustrations long enough to make something up about how he made them. You might too: look at this...
And now we move on to the other person responsible for the creation of this book - a person who would name a dog in a picture book Mars without comment, without saying "her dog, Mars." Everybody in this book arrives the same unannounced way: Nate, who makes fun of her but who really just wants a sweater; Little Louis, whom Klassen interprets as a little man with a full beard and a cane; and Mr. Crabtree, who doesn't want a sweater because he's that guy who wears shorts all year and so he gets a hat instead; until we meet "an archduke, who was very fond of clothes."
It's our old pal Mac Barnett, of course. The author is Mac Barnett, I mean. The archduke is more like John Cleese. Barnett is a guy whose respect for young readers is so deep and wide that he doesn't mind tricking them, challenging them with genuinely puzzling mysteries, and expecting them to fill in major narrative and consequential blanks. Sound familiar? Sound anything like a certain book in which the significant action occurs offscreen - and is moreover denied by the actor? "I would never eat an archduke. Don't ask me any more questions." No wonder these two were matched up.
Because... let's look at this box of yarn. Until Annabelle finds it, it's just a box - but in the hands of a sharing individual, the raw material is transformed into something warm, cheerful, and colorful. And after the box is stolen from her by the archduke, who wants it all to himself, it becomes an empty box. Can't be a coincidence that it's yarn. As in story, which is also a thing that is better when shared. Although 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.
And get out my own yarn. I am a sucker for those variegated skeins of hand-dyed yarn at the Sheep and Wool Festival, and I always find myself buying one or two, even though I am no Annabelle. My knitting is 100% restricted to scarves, and even those are knotty, uneven, curling, and stretched-out. But like Annabelle, I like making them and then giving them away.
Extra Yarn has gotten all the best stars already (PW, Horn Book, Booklist, SLJ), and has been reviewed by One Sheepish Girl, Wendy Knits, and Tamson Weston, who also posts a very cute trailer for some forthcoming drivel from Barnett and frequent collaborator (slash bitter enemy) Adam Rex. Should I just rename this review blog The Adam Rex / Mac Barnett / Anyone Who Collaborates With Either of Them Fan Club Home Page? Sometimes it seems like I should!