The Scourge of Upside Down Knitting
When you grow up with a mother who is a knitter, there are certain facts in life that you simply have to accept. Knitting all the time, everywhere, is the norm. A bookshelf full of different kinds of yarn is not weird. Fiber Fests are de rigeur and knowing the difference between a gossip wheel and a walking wheel (when talking spinning wheels) is par for the course. Don’t even get me started on drop spindles and dying wool with Kool-Aid. Not that I ever took to the craft myself. Maybe it was just so prevalent in my home that I never felt the necessity to learn. Also, why learn to knit when my children are amply provided for, not just by my always knitting mama, but by her friends and my knit-worthy co-workers as well (Alison Hendon shout out!)?
My mom, as it happens, is heavily involved in the knitting blogger community as a commenter. I have honest-to-gosh had people say to me, “I saw that someone called Rams commented on your blog. Is that the same Rams as the one on Ravelry?” Mom be famous. And like all knitters, she pays attention to how they are portrayed in children’s literature.
In a recent Harper Collins post the comment section suddenly got very interested in the subject of books in which knitting is accurately represented. The talk started bring up book after book, so that I suddenly had the idea for this post. You see, the portrayal of knitting by illustrators is very touch and go. Artists are not particularly thrilled by the notion of the ends of knitting needles going down, in spite of the fact that that’s how one actually knits. So as often as not you’ll see an image like this with the ends up:
Rather than this:
Here then, are a couple of our favorite artists, answering the “Does the illustrator care how to hold knitting needles?” question. The answers may surprise you.
DOES THE ILLUSTRATOR CARE HOW ONE HOLDS KNITTING NEEDLES?
Penguin in Love by Salina Yoon – YES!
You’ll find that for some of these books I don’t have images of the knitters knitting, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. A penguin is naturally going to have some difficulty knitting since it is without phalanges, but in spite of this impediment Yoon’s flightless waterfowl still knows the proper way to hold its needles.
Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, ill. Jon Klassen – NO
When the Caldecott committee sat down and considered Barnett and Klassen’s fabulous book for an Honor, did the fact that its heroine didn’t know how to hold knitting needles ever come up? Was there a knitter on the committee? Or did they feel that in light of the lovely art and great storytelling that this wasn’t an issue? It’s surprising, certainly, to find that for all his talent and charms, Mr. Barnett is unaware of how one knits. However, knowing knitters I suspect he has been informed of this misdeed more than once, and shall continue to be told for years to come.
Swamp Angel by Anne Isaacs, ill. Paul O. Zelinsky – YES!
Interesting, is it not, that I can find images of people knitting incorrectly but never correctly? What does that say, I wonder, about the state of knitting today? If you know Zelinsky then you know he is meticulous in his research. If someone is, say, spinning straw into gold as in his Rumpelstiltskin, then doggone it he’s going to create the world’s most accurate spinning wheel. And if Swamp Angel is going to knit something gigantic using (as I recall) trees for needles then you can BET Paul will make that image as correct as he can. Other award winning artists take note.
The Hueys in the New Sweater by Oliver Jeffers -NO
Nope. Not even close. Repeated several times over in the same book, too.
Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo – YES!
This one’s not out yet, but when it is you’ll have a chance to see some truly keen knitting on the part of Nana here. Castillo, one suspects, actually knows from whence she draws. Well done!
Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters by K.G. Campbell – NO
This one breaks my heart because I was a BIG fan of this book when it came out. It’s delightful. It just doesn’t know how to portray the act of knitting. Doggone it.
Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch – YES!
A rare graphic novel where knitting is not only important but the climax of the book hinges on it. And you can BET that when it came to knitting, Barry studied precisely where the fingers are supposed to go.
This raises the question: Is it possible to knit with the ends of the needles pointed high to the sky? I leave that to the knitters to answer. In the meantime, what are some of your favorite knitting books for the kiddos? How did those needles fare? High to the sky or low and proud?
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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