Book Review

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by Teri Sloat, illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott
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A Symphony for the Sheep
by Cynthia Millen, illustrated by Mary Azarian
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Many of us enjoy children's books as much as—if not more than—the very children for whom they were intended. It's the same reason I suspect the new Wallace and Gromit film will have more adults in the audience than children. Great goodness and simple wisdom can be conveyed when a story is stripped of artifice, as most children's books are.

That's why I'm doubly delighted to present two children's books that tell the story of how fiber comes from sheep and becomes clothing. They tell a similar story in dramatically different ways, but both plant a fantastic seed in the reader's mind—and give me that undeniable urge to create.

Farmer Brown Shears His Sheep
The first book, Farmer Brown Shears His Sheep, is a whimsical, brightly colored romp through the life of a farmer and his mischievous sheep.

He rises one day, checks his calendar, and sees that it's time to shear the sheep. "Clip-clip, buzz-buzz, he took their wool and left their fuzz." But the sheep are chilly and confused—they want their coats back.

They follow him to Mr. Greene, who washes and combs the fiber. They follow him to Mr. Peale, who spins it into yarn. They follow him to Mrs. Muller, who dyes the yarn. That's where they stage their coup to take the yarn back—unsuccessfully.

Seeing how cold they are, Farmer Brown takes them home, gets comfortable in his favorite chair (with a steaming pot of tea by his side), and begins to knit. When he's done, they're brought back into the house to try on their new sweaters.

It's an adorable story in which fantasy mingles with reality and gender roles are tossed out the window. The illustrations by Nadine Bernard Westcott are marvelous, peppered with fine details such as jars of preserves on the kitchen shelves, a surprised cat peeking out from under a checkered tablecloth, a rubber duckie by the kitchen sink.

A Symphony For the Sheep
Cynthia Millen's A Symphony For the Sheep takes a more traditional folkloric approach to the same story. Only this time the sweaters are used to clothe family members, while the sheep graze peacefully on the hills outside.

The story is set in rural Ireland, where sheep graze and are shorn, fibers are washed and carded and spun, and yarns are woven and knitted into items to keep family warm. The classic hand-colored woodcuts by Vermont artist Mary Azarian almost make you smell the wood smoke and feel the brisk sea air on your face.

The book begs to be read aloud because Millen has written it in a musically poetic tone. For each part—shearing, spinning, weaving, knitting—there is a refrain written to represent the rhythm of that action being described.

In describing spinning, Millen writes, "Round and round the wheel is whirling. Up and down the treadle's churning. Pulling, plying, twisting, turning, whistling spokes of spindle swirling. Spinners work from sun to sun to spin the wool which must be spun."

One Destination, Many Roads
Although I have no children, I do have a stash of goodies to entertain nieces and other young visitors to my home. I'm happy to add these two books to my stash.

One is a cozy classic tale of fiber tradition, the other a bright and whimsical fantasy romp. Both serve as beautiful introductions for young children and sweet inspiration for adults.

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