Because my middle grade novel, Zinnia and the Bees, features a main character who’s a knitter and yarn bomber, I always notice picture books with knitting and yarn (and have great admiration for knitters and crocheters in real life!). So, since I’ve got yarn on the brain, I thought it would be fun to round up a bunch of great picture books featuring yarn and knitting—perfectly cozy reads for winter and good fits for crafters of all kinds.
Plus, because knitting a gift for someone is often a sign of love and friendship, many of these are perfect for Valentine’s Day too. As you’ll see, knitting is often synonymous in story with showing kindness and the connections characters make.
I adore all the humans in this book, and the way the community comes together over this neighborhood cat. And I adore Mrs. Murray, who knits, and who shares a kinship with Archie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius that is meant to be.
This wonderful book’s beating heart is Nana and a bus ride she takes with her grandson. Nana demonstrates generosity to CJ, as well as the ability to see beauty. Also, she spends part of the bus ride with needles and yarn.
A girl who wants to do a kindness for the kindest person (and knitter) she knows. A super sweet story, plus pom poms!
Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen (2012)
A knitter-yarn bomber is at the center of this fairy-tale-esque book with a surprise ending. If you like the idea of covering anything and everything with colorful yarn and a bit of magic, you’ll like this book.
A set of four stories about sea creature friends, one of whom—Squid—is a knitter. Complete with socks, mittens, tea, and cake, this one delights! Author-illustrator Tao Nyeu even came up with a knitting pattern to go along with the book!
A family must flee their home country and the new place they live feels bleak and uniform—people wear sweaters in only one of three solid colors. A resourceful mother unravels the sweaters in order to make new sweaters, patterned ones that express joy and individuality, and she starts a kind of revolution come spring. This is “…based on the story of a Portuguese family that fled the dictatorship in the late 1960s and lived in exile in Algeria, Romania, and finally Czechoslovakia.”
“The Diamond & The Boy is a two-tale picture book—a side-by-side telling of the story of natural diamond creation and the life of inventor Tracy Hall [who invented a machine to create human-made diamonds for manufacturing]. This book shows how journeys can triumph over beginnings and how one person can rock the world.”
Yes, this is the biography of the person who invented lab-created diamonds, the kind first used for industrial cutting uses. It’s simultaneously the biography of a natural diamond and its formation.
Told inventively and lyrically, each page is split into two sides, one about the boy, and one about the diamond. Their sections parallel in that they both start with the same word or phrase, and they continue to mirror one another thematically in how both the graphite and the boy experience “heat,” “pressure,” “waiting,” and other concepts in different ways as their journeys progress, together. You’ll just have to read it to see how stunning and smart it is!
There’s also back matter with not only more about Tracy Hall‘s life, but about the history of lab-made diamonds as well as natural diamonds including, briefly, the colonization and conflict surrounding them, which is important to be informed of in any discussion of those precious rocks.
And Hannah’s going to tell us a little more about it!
But first, here’s the cover! I love the bold, graphic illustration and the emanating quality of those shining lines. Plus, the pencils in the boy’s pocket—an essential for an inventor!
This Picture Book Life: What is your particular connection to the subject matter of THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY?
Hannah Holt: The boy in this story, Tracy Hall, is my grandfather. I first heard his story as a small child in my mother’s arms. Whenever I visited Grandpa Hall’s home, I loved looking at the models of diamond presses. This story has been beating in my heart for as long as I can remember.
TPBL: Please tell us about your reaction to seeing the cover for the first time, and the illustrations throughout. What’s a detail that surprised or delighted you to see?
HH: When I first saw the cover, my heart just sang. The bold lines, the way the colors popped—I loved everything about it.
Seeing this story illustrated was an amazing experience. Jay’s work is stunning. In addition to the beauty of the work, I was delighted to see he had illustrated some of Tracy’s childhood inventions and made them scientifically accurate. An attentive visual reader could possibly recreate them as DIY projects!
TPBL: What was the process of deciding to tell the story by way of parallels—the diamond’s journey and the boy’s side by side?
HH: A couple of years ago, I received a particularly lengthy rejection letter. It went above and beyond listing the deficiencies of my work and launched right into my obvious personal flaws as well.
A few days later, I stood in the children’s section at Powell’s Books when the words of this rejection letter started ringing in my head. I thought, “What am I doing? I’m a nobody. What could I possibly add to all this?”
At that moment, it felt like all the air was being sucked out of the room, and I had to sit in one of the children’s chairs. After I finally caught my breath, I left the store and decided to leave writing, too.
For the next month, I didn’t write a thing. Instead, I did a lot of soul searching. In the end, I came to the following conclusions:
1.) I liked writing and missed it.
2.) I couldn’t control whether or not anyone else liked my writing.
3.) I could improve my craft.
4.) I could become smarter about how and where I submitted my work.
This story, THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY, was one of the first stories I revised after my writing break. Previously, I had tried writing the story about Tracy’s cleverness or rocks that sparkle, but those ideas no longer seemed important.
Instead, I saw the need for…resilience.
Graphite needed to become resilient…
Tracy had to become resilient…
And I needed to get over myself, too, if I wanted to write this story well. So I threw out all my old drafts and started from scratch. Writing a story in parallel about change and resilience seemed natural because it was the journey I was on myself.
I set a goal that year to get 100 rejections. I didn’t make that goal. However, that’s only because I signed with my fabulous agent first, and we had the good fortune to start selling books shortly thereafter. Embracing rejection led me to so much more success than resisting it. This story—this experience—fundamentally changed how I view challenges.
TPBL: I’ve read the manuscript and those side-by-side spreads are like beautiful poetry. Will you describe the process of pairing non-fiction subject matter with poetic text and how that developed?
HH: I’ve always liked poetry and playing with words, but Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming had the biggest influence on this revision. Her lyrical narrative, purposeful line breaks, and masterful storytelling inspired me to push my own writing further.
Initially I wrote one stanza of rock, and then one stanza of Tracy. Rock, Tracy, Rock, Tracy… I didn’t map it out ahead of time. They lined up naturally. Of course, I had to do many revisions—tightening the language, refining the storyline, and making sure I had enough page breaks—but my first side-by-side draft flowed easily.
TPBL: What’s something fascinating you learned while researching this book?
HH: Oh, so many fun little things! I learned new scientific tidbits, like you need as much pressure to make diamonds as a hippo balancing on the head of a pin.
But for me the most fun was getting to know my grandfather better. For example, I learned he was once smitten with a girl named Catherine. Catherine is not my grandmother’s name.It was also interesting to read about the poverty he experienced in his matter-of-fact terms. Like, he joined the ROTC so he would have something free to wear. Two meals a day was enough to survive. Underwear was mostly optional clothing.
Reading about his life in his own words, before he became “Tracy Hall the famous scientist” was one of my favorite experiences. I would encourage children and teens to keep a journal. Someday the present will be the past, and personal histories are a way to keep time ever-fresh.
Big thanks to Hannah, for sharing about her writing process and the book with us, and to Balzer & Bray for the cover image!
Princess Hair by Sharee Miller (2017) is, like its cover, delightful. It’s exuberant! Kirkus calls it: “An all-out celebration of black hair…” Indeed, this picture book celebrates African American girls, and their hair, portraying princesses doing all kinds of tasks, from solving math problems to baking to dancing. It’s a joy to behold.
“All princesses wear crowns, but underneath their crowns, not all princesses have the same hair.”
Author-illustrator Sharee Miller was kind of enough to answer some questions about her debut picture book. Check out our interview below!
(click image(s) to enlarge)
PRINCESS HAIR is a delight, starting with the playful, colorful cover and all the way through. Thank you so much for speaking with This Picture Book Life about it!
This Picture Book Life: Will you tell us the story of how Princess Hair came to be? What sparked the idea and how did you develop it?
Sharee Miller: I created Princess Hair because growing up I had barely seen any princesses that looked like me and I had never seen any that had hair like mine. I knew how it felt to not be represented, and I wanted to create Princess Hair for my younger self and other girls who deserved to see themselves in the books they read.
I felt no one else could represent black hair in all its diversity as I saw it. Our hair isn’t just an afro; it’s braids and dreadlocks and blowouts. I wanted to show a variety of princesses with different hair textures and different skin tones so I could represent as many black girls as possible. We are often portrayed in one way and we all have to identify with this generic black girl, but we are all so unique and I wanted to celebrate those differences.
I initially self published Princess Hair and sold it through Amazon as well as at festivals and events. Eventually, I was able to get my book in the hands of publishers at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers thanks to my agent, Monica Odom. With their help, I have been able to make Princess Hair into a fully realized book available to children all around the world!
TPBL: What were some of your favorite books as a child?
Sharee Miller: I spent most of my free time growing up in my school library. I loved reading picture books and comic books and acting out the stories. My favorite was Cinderella. I have read and seen so many variations on her story, but I always come back to it. Though others tried to hold her back, she was able to overcome her struggles with positivity and of course a little bit of magic. Sure it is a little dated that her goal was to go to a ball to meet a prince, but I am sure today Cinderella would be aiming higher with the help of her fairy godmother.
TPBL: My favorite spread is “And princesses with FROHAWKS rock!” I think it embodies the exuberance of the book. Will you tell us about creating that page, both the text and accompanying illustration? How did you decide that while portraying princesses with different kinds of hair on each page, you would also portray different activities, especially those not historically associated with the princess role?
Sharee Miller: I wanted girls to be able to see themselves in the book so I made sure to show the princesses doing relatable and fun things. I thought back to activities I liked to do like jumping on the bed and baking and of course drawing. I wanted to think outside of the rigid boundaries we have for princesses. When you think about it they are just girls in crowns and what girl doesn’t want to rock?
TPBL: You’ve created a wonderful affirmation of one’s hair and one’s self throughout the story. What’s been the most gratifying part of the journey for you? Is there one interaction with kid readers or their parents in particular that sticks out to you as you’ve shared it in bookstore or school settings?
Sharee Miller: I get so much joy seeing little girls point out which princess they are in my books. When I see them connect with it like I hoped, it makes me proud. But the most gratifying experiences are when I speak to women who are my age or older who either bought my book for a child or for themselves. They echo my feelings of there not being books like this when we were growing up and how my book would have meant a lot to them as children. I wrote this book for childhood me who didn’t see the beauty in her hair, and I am glad the next generation can have it to help instill them with self-confidence and pride.
TPBL: What are you working on next?
Sharee Miller: I just completed the art for my second book Don’t Touch My Hair!, which is coming out next November. I am now brainstorming new ideas for my third!
Thanks so much for speaking with me, Sharee! And big thanks to Little, Brown for images, and for the review copy!
Sharee Miller has a BFA in communication design from Pratt Institute. She lives in Brooklyn, where she enjoys spending time with her two cats, illustrating fun stories, and playing with her princess hair. Sharee invites you to visit her website www.shareemiller.com and her Instagram @coilyandcute.
This picture book is dreamy, with the coziest illustrations and story to match. It’s about animals sending wishes to the moon, the rabbit who turns them into stars, and finally, Rabbit setting out to the place those wishes come from to follow their own.
“What is it we wish tonight?”
In an author’s note at the beginning, Jean Kim tells readers that in Korea, “when we look at the full moon we see the outline of a rabbit standing next to a mortar…pounding rice into rice cakes.” Seeing the rabbit in a full moon is an invitation to make a wish. The story was inspired by that tradition, and it made her wonder if the rabbit might have a wish of their very own as well.
“Wishes fill the sky with light…”
I love the way paper airplanes are the way wishes travel to the moon in this book; the fuzzy, glowing quality of the illustrations; the idea of stars not as vehicles for wishes but as the embodiment of them instead, hopes we’ve let fly shining down on us.
“…twinkling in the starry night.”
There is a quest quality of the story and Rabbit’s journey takes a few different turns. And the last one, after Rabbit has had their friendship adventure, is especially sweet for a twilight read.
Rabbit Moon is a story of longing—for adventure and friendship and connection—a story of wishes come true.
Check out Jean Kim’s dummy with sketches of the book as well as more illustrations on her website.
I just had to make a wish-inspired craft to go with Rabbit Moon, a story sofitting for the beginning of a year! So, here is a simple wishes and stars mobile. The best part? You can write your wishes on paper airplanes and then watch them spin among the stars!
What you need:
Sturdy gold paper (painted cardboard or gold card stock would work)
A hoop (I used a gold hoop from a craft store, an embroidery hoop would also work, or a hollowed paper plate!)
Gold threading beads (optional)
A pen or pencil with which to write your wishes
A small hole punch (though I used a seam ripper and skewer to punch holes DIY style)
First, cut out stars. I traced one large one on white paper from the book, then cut that out and used it as a stencil to trace and cut out stars on the sturdy gold paper. (Repeated that process for a smaller version as well.)
Next, make some paper airplanes! Easy instructions here. (If using origami paper, you need to start with a rectangle versus the square shape.)
Write a wish inside each plane!
For the hoop, tie three equal lengths of string around it so the hoop is balanced, then join them together above in a knot. Use the leftover length to make a knotted loop for easy hanging.
Make holes in the stars and airplanes. Then, thread them through the string. If you want to add beads or several stars on one line of thread, make a knot to catch each one; add as many as you like. Finally, attach the star and airplane strings to the hoop with knots. Trim the long bits as a final touch.
I’m so happy to have Sally from The Curious Reader children’s bookstore in New Jersey here to share some picture book gems she recommends! Sally has wonderful taste in books and her store’s Instagram account is a must follow for the kidlit community!
My first 2017 love. This tale of kindness repaid is perfect in all the right ways: well-paced, beautifully illustrated, and emotionally rich, despite the only words in the whole thing being sounds. I’m hoping this one gets all the recognition it deserves at awards time.
Thyra Heder has only written and illustrated three books, and each one puts a unique twist on traditional picture book storytelling. Her new one is a tender love story between a girl and her pet turtle and is told from each one’s point of view. The pictures are gorgeous and filled with detail, and the inventive structure doesn’t diminish the story’s emotional impact – if anything, its power is enhanced by the two different perspectives. Plus, an absolutely perfect surprise ending.
This one is another top book from this year. The lovely, witty illustrations are worth lingering over, and the build up to the revelation of this city-dwelling croc’s job is masterfully executed. Told mostly in panels, there are a couple of double-page spreads that are breathtaking, and like most wordless books, it just gets better with each read.
I have a theory that one of the most difficult things to pull off successfully is producing content that will make both children and adults laugh – The Muppets, Sandra Boynton, and Mo Willems are all experts at walking this fine line. This Japanese import manages to be hilarious to all ages; a perfect, simple idea, executed with deadpan brilliance. A little boy gets stuck trying to take his shirt off and, after struggling for a bit, gives up and imagines what life would be like with the shirt stuck forever.
One of my least favorite types of kids’ books are the ones that totally forfeit charm and storytelling for a blandly presented be yourself!!!!! message. Ugh. It’s not giving kids enough credit, and is a terrific way to get them to hate books. That’s why books like this one are so great: it’s quirky and well-written and has a really neat Italian feel, PLUS it’s got a bunch of good messages about practice and hard work and staying true to oneself mixed in. Also, Amandina Goldeneyes is just a terrific name.
I believe there is no artistic style that Shaun Tan could not master, and on top of that, he’s a super thoughtful guy with a brilliant, weird imagination. Pretty much all his books are perfect, but this one’s a tiny bit more so. Fifteen odd stories, beautifully and inventively told, some quite powerful, all remarkable.
Everyone should own this book, this tiny little jewel. The narrator imagines what his friend, Kuma-Kuma Chan, does during the day: “He trims the nails of his paws. Then he lines up the cut nails and gazes at them. He lies on his roof and just looks at clouds floating by. He lies on the floor and listens to the sound of rain falling on the roof.” This book will always make me feel at least 30% better, so I keep it right next to my desk.
One of the top five funniest picture books I’ve ever read (Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads by the same team is also top five), and the book that made me love Bob Shea. A little boy imagines how he’ll take over the world, in a glorious outline of his “BIG PLANS! BIG PLANS, I SAY!” Unfortunately out of print, this is a book worth tracking down from the library – I guarantee you’ll be quoting it immediately after.
Sally Morgan has been a children’s bookseller for over twelve years, and in 2013 she and her father opened The Curious Reader, a unique children’s bookstore, in Glen Rock, NJ. She tries to read at least one picture book a day.