Polly MacCauley's Finest, Divinest, Wooliest Gift of All is a children's book by Sheree Fitch with illustrations by Darka Erdelji. It is soon to be released - June 30th - by Running the Goat Books and Broadsides, based in Tors Cove, NL. Ms. Fitch lives in River John, NS, and has been simmering this story in her head for over twenty years. According to her telling, it all came together in a moment of inspiration during a visit to Deanne Fitzpatrick's rug hooking studio in Amherst, NS. I daresay that she is not the first person to experience a deeply moving moment of inspiration in Deanne's studio but, lucky for us, she is one who was able to then put it all down on paper.
I confess to being surprised and not a little flattered to be given an advance copy of the book. I mean, who am I to weigh in on the merits of children's literature save for the fact that I have read thousands of books to my children over the years? On the other hand, it can not be denied that I am a fan of children's books, especially beautifully illustrated ones like this one and, not to mention, children's books about wool, sheep, knitting and small town life in Atlantic Canada. This one hits the mark on all those points.
When the book arrived, I saw that is it not a children's book that you might pop out in line at grocery story. This is a settle-in kind of book that might even be read over a few sittings, depending on your children's attention span. In keeping with that idea, I gave myself time with it, reading and re-reading over several days. I began to think of the book as having layers of experience, much like a skein of hand-dyed yarn. First, you need to wash, scour and dry the fleece. Then card and spin it into yarn. Then prepare the dyes, and so on. Likewise, the book contains the story, the plot. Then there is the language itself. The pictures offer another experience. The message of the story is another thing and the play between narrator and reader offers yet something else. It's not one thing and, again depending on your children, the reader can pull out one strand (ha!) to emphasize based on what might resonate in that moment in time. I guess what I am saying is that, like a beautiful skein of handspun, hand-dyed yarn, the book has depth.
Depth in a children's book is wonderful for the adult reading it because depth makes is bearable to read over and over and over again (as any good children's book should be read). It helps if there is something for everyone to enjoy. The real test, however, is if there is something that captures the imagination of the child listening. As my children have left the nest, i was not able to field test the story - I was left to imagine their reactions. My two were usually captivated by playful language and I think they would have delighted in the lists and repetition, the internal rhyming and other aspects that make this a fun book to read aloud and to listen to spoken. The little handwritten asides that the narrator slyly puts in here and there add a fun, almost subversive note, that I am sure my kids would have loved. I suspect they might have given a little bit of the side-eye when they were older if only because they might have smelled an agenda, being that it is all about sheep, wool, knitting and community, things that they were immersed in simply because they were my kids. But I think even they might have forgiven me my agenda for the sake of this delightful, beautiful book.
Please consider it for your own little lambs - or any that you might know. It is available for pre-order now via the Running the Goat website.