The Scourge of Skyward Knitting Needles: Gettin’ Finicky With the Fiber Arts!
Folks, it’s like I always say. It takes so little research to get something as simple as knitting correct in a picture book. And yet, and yet, and yet, year after year we watch some of the best illustrators of our age consistently draw knitting in a comically incorrect manner. Which is to say, they can’t resist making the ends of the knitting needles stand straight up like the antennae on a television that’s hoping to catch the 1984 World Series.
Now my reaction to this “scourge” of inattention and (let’s face it) lack of caring on both the artist and the publisher’s part is petty. Of course it is. It is probably the silliest thing a person could object to in a book. But by gum, I won’t be satisfied until every picture book published in this country passes my rigorous knitting needle test.
Is there any improvement? Note my previous entries in this series:
And just for fun, here’s a listing of all the famous illustrators of yore that also got it wrong. A lot of the people I’m going to discuss today are in good company.
Now I usually like to begin by showing you what knitting actually is supposed to look like. And this year, I get to credit the YA graphic novel Needle & Thread by David Pinckney, Ennun Ana Iurov, and Micah Myers for providing the BEST possible example I could hope for. Observe:
Do you see that? Do you see how the fingers (so beautifully illustrated with the yarn looped around the forefinger to keep the slack from getting in the way) have to keep the ends of these needles down and the tips at the middle up? This is beautifully illustrated.
In alphabetical order then, here are the picture books published in 2021 and all their knitting triumphs and sins. At the end I’ll tally the results and see how we did:
Chicken Chickens by Valeri Gorbachev
If you want to get technical about it, this book by Gorbachev was originally released twenty years ago and was only just reprinted this year by North South. Still, when I spot knitting, I take note. Here’s how Gorbachev renders it:
Well… hm. This is interesting. On the one hand, the knitting needles are tipped downward, which is good. On the other hand, you could build a veritable suspension bridge between their tips. But you know what? Some basic effort went into this so I’m going to call it as a win for Gorbachev.
Don’t Call Me Fuzzybutt! by Robin Newman, ill. Susan Batori
Fuzzybutt is an interesting test case. You would think that the more cartoonish a book, the more likely it is to get knitting needle placement wrong, right? And yet lo and behold . . . .
Well done, bear! Well done!
Don’t Hug Doug: He Doesn’t Like It by Carrie Finison, ill. Daniel Wiseman
Lotta imperatives in titles these days, no? Well, as lessons go, the titular one in this book is good. Doug’s okay. It’s his Grandma that worries me.
It is my secret belief that Grandma McGinn is holding those knitting needles like that as a decoy, and then is secretly finger-knitting that scarf because she never actually learned to knit all those years ago. Now the lie that she’s a knitter has spun out of control and she has to keep up the charade or loose face with her grandchild. I love giving picture book side-characters inner lives. However, I’m afraid this falls into the poor-knitting-needle-stewardship category.
Fluffy McWhiskers: Cuteness Explosion by Stephen W. Martin, ill. Dan Tavis
Don’t let this little big-eyed fuzzball fool you. Fluffy provides us with a real head-scratcher when it comes to how she holds her needles:
It’s sort of neither here nor there. Apparently Fluffy successfully knits a sweater with that technique (thought she appears to be stirring the wool with her needles more than anything else). Because she’s gripping the needles midway through you could make a case for this actually working. Still, I just can’t get past the fact that the ends are tipping up. Sorry, sweet kitty. Don’t explode me. I just don’t think you know what you’re doing knitting-wise.
If You Go Down to the Woods Today: More Than 100 Things to Find by Rachel Piercey, ill. Freya Hartas
This next imagine is a little busy. Heck, this whole BOOK is a little busy (kinda the point). What you’re going to want to do here is keep your eye on the seated bird in the center:
As you can see, the needles in this image may look cool to illustrators that want to convey a general sense of “knitting” without getting into the details, but from a practical standpoint these needles make no sense. Then again, the horizontal lines on the red sock thing sort of make it look like this bird is weaving rather than knitting. I’ve yet to see a finger loom in a picture book, but surely it’s just a matter of time, right?
If You Want to Knit Some Mittens by Laura Purdie Salas, ill. Angela Matteson
Confession Time: You may have noticed that today’s post is coming out on November 30th. This is the last possible date in 2021 that I will allow myself to post anything that isn’t part of my 31 Days, 31 Lists or my podcast Fuse 8 n’ Kate. Which is to say, I delayed this post until the last possible second. And then, miracle of miracles, the book arrived in the mail yesterday! So why did I wait? Because, to be honest, with a title like this one I just HAD to make sure it was on the up-and-up. And as you can see by that cover, it went above and beyond the call of duty. NOT ONLY, I say, NOT ONLY is the girl on the book jacket knitting correctly, but she’s wearing a knit green sweater over a knit red and pink sweater. Now we could go back and forth all day about whether it’s possible to make something with stitches that small from the raw roving from a sheep’s head, but let me show you some of these interior shots as well:
I sincerely regret, with all my heart, that I cut off the image of proper knitting stitches on the right-hand side of this picture. Still, look at the care with which those tiny fingers are holding the yarn. Look at the size of that tiny mitten! Can you knit mittens with only two straight needles? I have no idea. All I know is that this book did some due diligence, as with . . .
… this spinning wheel! I think that this is the first time in my blog’s history that I’ve managed to have two different posts featuring spinning wheels in picture books on two different days in a row. I’m no expert, but with my rudimentary understanding of bobbins and drive bands, this definitely looks like it’s on the up and up.
Imagine a Wolf by Lucky Platt
So this is a MUCH more complicated case by Ms. Platt (who has, what may well be, the BEST author photo ala The Queen’s Gambit on her website). You just saw a very good example of both knitting a spinning. Let’s see how wolfie here stacks up:
Technically the wolf isn’t knitting in this scene but I think that this is a clear cut win. If you click on the image and blow up it up a little larger then you’ll see how this nubbly, thick wool sits perfectly as stitches both on the needles (ends down) and within whatever it is the wolf is knitting. Far more successful, I’d say, than the spinning wheel:
Not quite sure what’s going on here. There’s no treadle or drive band and in a particularly fascinating move the yarn appears to be going from the roving onto the bobbin and then onto . . . the wheel? This is like the walking wheel from hell, apparently. Stick with knitting, wolf. It’s what you’re better at.
In My Dreams I Can Fly by Eveline Hasler, ill. Kathi Bhend
Clearly North South based all its decisions on which picture books to reprint in 2021 on whether or not knitting appears on the pages. And, as you can see from this Swiss import, it most certainly does:
Knitting properly AND playing cards! Multi-tasking at its finest.
Little Red and the Cat Who Loved Cake by Barbara Lehman
This poor book. Barbara Lehman’s a delightful illustrator, and I don’t think that there’s a soul out there that would disagree. Alas, this particular title has a twofold problem. The first issue is the fact that its very premise rests on the idea of a cat desiring and then consuming cake with chocolate frosting. And as we all know, chocolate is poisonous to cats. The other issue is . . . well. See for yourself.
See, if it had just been the cat, I think I could have forgiven it. As you can see the cat has taken on the wolf’s role, dressing up like Granny. So it could be faking knowing how to knit, right? But of all the animals out there, a sheep, so deeply invested in wool, is going to know how to hold its knitting needles. You might point out that sheep are shockingly bereft of digits and that maybe that method of holding needles is the only way their hoofs can get a surefire grip, but I’m only willing to stretch my justifications so far. And yes. I am perfectly aware that this is a VERY silly conversation. Ha!
Negative Cat by Sophie Blackall
As you’ve no doubt figured out by now, Caldecotts do not guarantee proper knitting needle placement. How does Ms. Blackall fare then? See for yourself:
Very good. Knitting that makes sense AND done by a fella as well. Some knitters may have something to say about whether or not a nearly finished sweater looks like this or can be done on something other than circular needles (which NEVER show up in picture books, by the way) but I’ll leave that discussion to them.
Peek-a-Flap ABC by Jaye Garnett, ill. Kathrin Fehrl
Wow. There’s a lesson here. Never assume that the unassuming little board book is bound to disappoint you. That wallaby knows exactly what it is doing knitting-wise. You go, wallaby!
The Pocket Chaotic by Ziggy Hanaor, ill. Daniel Gray-Barnett
You’d be forgiven, by the way, for mistaking the aforementioned wallaby for a kangaroo. And as luck would have it, alphabetically our next book is very kangaroo-centric! I was quite charmed by this little April release, since it felt like an updated take on Joey Runs Away. You can imagine my relief when I saw this next image:
Whew! Feel like we dodged a bullet there.
Spin a Scarf of Sunshine by Dawn Casey, ill. Stila Lim
Now you would certainly hope that a book that goes through the whole process of making a scarf, from shearing the sheep to knitting the darn thing, would get the knitting part right. And so I am happy to report:
Extra points for making the rows on the girl’s knitting uneven, and the number of stitches on her needles a nice, small number.
Sweater Weather by Matt Phelan
Hmmm. Okay, the stitching on the cover could lead to a discussion in and of itself, but this isn’t a stitch posting but a knitting needle one. So let’s see how Mr. Phelan fared:
Success! That papa bear knows how to knit and purl with the best of them! A bit of a relief since much of the plot relies on the very existence of his cubs’ sweaters (and their seeming inability to put them on properly). That makes TWO knitting dads this year. Can we find a third?
Unraveled by Leann Hatch
Kind of The Kissing Hand. Kind of Joseph Had a Little Overcoat. And kind of its own thing entirely. In this story a mom somehow manages to reknit her son’s unraveled baby blanket into something new. Let’s see how mom does:
All right! I can’t see individual stitches, but those knitting needles are clearly doing something right. A win for Hatch!
What’s In the Box? by Isabel Otter, ill. Joaquin Camp
We’re back to board books with this book and this is very much in the touch-and-feel vein. That said, there’s a dino in here that caught my eye and I’d like to get your opinion on it:
I think I’m going to have to declare this one not to quite work. As the text tells us (I love calling the words in a board book “the text”) the dino has been working on an oven mitt. There’s the mitt, but why is one needle at the top of the mitt and another at the bottom. I’m just trying to figure out how this one would work exactly. How’d you get that thumb on there, dino? Sadly, this one doesn’t quite pass the test.
Wren by Katrina Lehman, ill. Sophie Beer
Nice color scheme. The cover does an effective job of explaining the plot, essentially without words. Now let’s see how that knitting fares . . .
Oh ho! We’re three for three on fathers! Sophie Beer joins Sophie Blackall and Matt Phelan in showing off dads that can knit! And not only that, knit with the needles in generally the right direction. I’m all for manly dad-knitting, so this is a surprise treat. Nicely done!
Okay, it’s time now to tally up the scores. How did 2021 do in terms of knitting in picture books?
Correct Knitting Needle Placement: 12
Incorrect Knitting Needle Placement: 5
There is hope for the world!!
They didn’t appear in picture books, but these children’s book creators still know how to make knitting look good, no matter what the format.
A special mention has to go out to Bad Kitty this year. Why? Because Kitty performed a knitting twofer that is worth celebrating. In Bad Kitty Gets a Phone we first get a lovely, full-color rendition of Kitty knitting:
But then later, Nick Bruel created a free online coloring book of Bad Kitty Gets a Shot, which encourages everyone to get their vaccines. In one spread, Kitty is fearful about the size of the needles so we get this image:
So you see? Two different kitty books in one year. Two accurately rendered knitting needle placements.
One particular graphic novel deserves some special attention for not only depicting knitting with aplomb, but for saving the day with yarn.
A marvelous book too.
And finally, a special shout out to artist Amy June Bates. This grumpy squirrel appeared on her Twitter feed this year and is not, to the best of my knowledge, from any book. But considering the fact that its expression is how I feel whenever I see knitting needles going awry, I consider it this discussion’s soulmate.
Book about the grumpy squirrel, please, Ms. Bates!
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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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