The Scourge of Upside Down Knitting Needles: 2023 Edition
Thaaaaaat’s right! It’s time for the Stupid Hill I’d Die On edition of everyone favorite petty post! We all have relatively ridiculous things that we get upset about. Whether it’s the aspect ratio on a television or the proper placement of a soup spoon, everyone has that little something that they care about more than they probably should.
Me? The correct positioning of knitting needles in picture books.
So let’s get the usual caveats out of the way. Does this matter in the long run? No. Does anyone else care besides me? Doubtful. But will I keep posting these ridiculous posts every single year?
You betcha, baby.
And before you start telling me that obscure Scottish grandmothers once used this technique in the 1930s, I will remind you that relatively few of these picture books are set in 1930s Scotland, and feature grandmothers. So none of that, now. Knitting is not a complicated procedure. There is a right and a wrong way to do it, but even the most accomplished illustrator will often eschew basic research (I mean, literally, all you have to do is Google an image of someone knitting) in favor of making those knitting needles look like they’re the antennae on an old school television set.
Before I get into the 2023 books that, for good and for ill, earned either my ardor or abhorrence, this year I have a bit of a treat for you. While in Italy for the 2023 Bologna Book Festival I happened to mention my I Would Die On This Hill stance on needle placement to a bunch of folks from Gecko Press. Ms. Rachel Lawson remembered this conversation and subsequently found the following images as she traversed the fair.
The moral of the story? America is not alone in its confusion over how to hold a needle. As you can see here, it’s a worldwide predicament (though some folks clearly know what they are doing!):
And now, one and all, please join me as I round up the books of 2023 and their knitting needles. The good. The bad. And the what-the-heck-were-you-thinking?!?! At the end of this post we’ll tally them all up and see whether more people knew how to illustrate knitting correctly or incorrectly in 2023.
Before we officially begin, I would like to ask you to set aside your preconceived notions of who may or may not illustrate knitting needles correctly. Often you will find it will have little to do with nationality, medium, talent, or artistic background. It is, as you shall see, a truly random process.
First up, I’ll begin with the first book I saw this year to display knitting in some form:
Well done, Frank. Well done, indeed. That’s some nice knitting there.
So you see, right from the start I thought we were on the right foot.
How wrong I was. But not at first.
Yes! Olivier Tallec for the win! Duck’s even wrapped a little of the yarn around his finger/feathers in a realistic manner. Well done!
Aaaaand…. it couldn’t last. Doggone it. This one really hurt. I’m a fan of this French-Canadian import, so to see Goldstyn completely drop the ball on the knitting needles? Ow, man. Ow.
Shoot. I love Ashley Spires. Totally thought that this one would have the knitting needles placed correctly but . . . no go. *sigh* Perhaps ants have too many limbs to get it correct?
He may be a relunctant hero, but there’s nothing reluctant in his knitting abilities. Look at that lovely placement of the needles. It just looks right.
I’m sorry, did you miss the nonfiction historical picture book about when Icelandic women walked out of their homes to march for equal rights? Well, there’s nothing else like it on the American literary front. There’s something just the tiniest bit off with this image of a girl knitting, but since the needle’s end points downward, I think it’s all right.
Board book alert!! And is it just me, or is Alma’s aunt literally the coolest person you’ve ever seen in a book for preschoolers? Martinez-Neal really plays up not just the needles but a bit of the stiching the two have been doing. This one was a vast relief.
For anyone who has ever knit a scarf, the brother’s dedication to his rainbow scarf here is not only accurate but extensive. It looks like he finished a row and hasn’t started another yet, and that is fine.
Oh boy. So this is another board book series, and a delight one, I must say. I confess that sometimes I do have a weird affection for books that get knitting SO WRONG that you just kind of have to throw up your hands and go along with whatever weird streak held sway in the illustrator’s brain that day. Those of you who know how to knit, look long and hard at the mole’s hat here. Now please tell me, how and why are those two pieces of yarn attached to the back of this hat?
Sometimes a character will dislike an activity so much that you begin to suspect that dislike of affecting the book’s illustrator. How else to explain what precisely it is that this young woman is doing. Cause it sure as heck isn’t knitting!
On the one hand, the knitting needles are 100% pointed in the right direction. On the other, I’m not entirely certain how the yard of whatever is being knit in this image is attached to those aforementioned needles. It looks a bit floaty.
Gol durn it. This is a fun quirky book, but whatever it is that grandmama is doing here, I assure you that it isn’t knitting.
I really do like this one. I believe it’s Japanese and that little mouse definitely knows how to cast on and cast off. So cute.
Board book again. And . . . nope. So much with the nope. Nope nope nope.
Matt Tavares put knitting into his debut graphic novel this year and not only did he put knitting with correct needle placement into this book, he put it in several times! That’s the kind of dedication we like to see, people.
It’s funny. In spite of the sheer number of knitting-related images in picture books this year, very few made that the focus of the story. This was one of the few, and if you like sweater stories, I highly recommend it. Plus, this has the added extra benefit of showing someone trying to knit while a cat chews on their work.
The knitting in this one is very difficult to see and rather tiny, but in spite of the questionable hand positioning I think it’s going in the right direction.
Love the scarf she’s making and the knitting needles. The book is about an exceedingly hot day, so I think this image shows pretty clearly one way of knitting without having to touch the wood yourself directly.
First, this is 100% one of my favorite graphic novels of 2023. Second, that is in spite of the fact that this “knitting” sequence appears in the book. Maybe it’s supposed to be magic? I’m just going to assume as such.
Are those little stars at the end of this hedgehog’s knitting needles? If so, he should win awards not simply for correct placement, but for blinging up his craft supplies too.
Doggone it. No, they weren’t even trying with this one. It looks like they’re delicately stabbing a shapeless sweater with two sticks.
It’s always so interesting to me how one book with cartoonish images can still be more accurate in something as basic as knitting than the books with a more realistic bent.
Isn’t that a great title? Alas that the knitting doesn’t live up to the premise.
They may lack digits and opposable thumbs but these cold-weather birds know how to knit when weather permits. Plus I love the one holding out a skein of yarn.
This one falls into the category of knitting in only the vaguest sense of the term. Maybe it’s modern art instead.
And now, an apology to whatever this book is. I kept the image but have long since forgotten the title:
If you recognize it, please let me know because that knitting is choice!
And now for the Crochet Hook Honorable Mentions:
Reader Margaret had this to say about this image: “The K-Fai Steele illustration looks like Tunisian crochet to me, and deserves extra credit for depicting a less generally-known technique.” One gold medal to K-Fai then!
This was the only other crochet-related picture book I was able to find this year. It’s always so interesting to me how common knitting is in picture books and how rare crocheting is.
And the final score at the end of the day is . . .
2023 Children’s Books with Correct Knitting Needle Placement: 17
2023 Children’s Books with Incorrect Knitting Needle Placement: 10
Correct knitting needles for the win! They swept it this year! But don’t get cocky. In 2024 the baddies might take the title back. Stay tuned!
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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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