Extra Yarn (2012) is a picture book written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen. Although this is a contemporary story, it utilises fairytale tropes, in a mostly fairytale setting.
SETTING OF EXTRA YARN
This is a fairytale setting, with a village where everyone knows each other, the local crank, and where aristocrats from across the water can hear about you and pay you a personal visit. There is also the bottomless object found in many fairytales, for instance the porridge in The Magic Porridge Pot. Such tales are classified by Aarne-Thompson as 565.
The Magic Porridge Pot is what this reminds me of most, because the overflowing porridge changes the town as significantly as Annabelle changes the look of the town.
But in plot, this story is more like The Magic Paintbrush, a Chinese folktale which has been re-visioned by other contemporary picture book creators such as The Magical Life Of Mr Renny by Leo Timmers.
STORY STRUCTURE OF EXTRA YARN
This looks like an ordinary box full of ordinary yarn.
But it turns out it isn’t.MARKETING COPY
Modern picture books may use many tropes straight out of fairytale, but storytellers tend to name their characters. This is Annabelle, and she attends school like a modern child, but other than that, this could be a fairytale.
She is a quirky kid, very much her own person. In fact, she is so self-contained that she doesn’t have any psychological or moral weakness. We could all learn a lot from Annabelle.
Annabelle only wants to knit.
First, Annabelle’s opponents are her peers and her teacher. The peers keep looking at her colourful jumper (an LGBTQIA+ acceptance motif?) so her teacher tells her to stop wearing it.
There’s also the neighbourhood kook who never wears jersies (is there someone like that in every town?) so Annabelle deals with him by knitting him a hat.
The Minotaur opponent is the archduke who clearly represents the monied corporation. He must plan to make even more money from Annabelle’s possession.
Annabelle goes MOAH RAINBOW! And she knits a jumper for everyone.
Annabelle refuses money for the box of ‘magic yarn’. So he sends people to steal the box in the middle of the night.
We don’t see Annabelle’s reaction when she realises the box has been stolen. That would be somewhat muted. She’s such a chill chick.
Instead we delight in the trantrum of the archduke. He throws the box into the sea/ocean and it makes its way back to Annabelle, because of course it does, because this is a fairytale.
The archduke opens the box expecting to find yarn, but finds only knitting needles. I wonder how much help (if any) young readers need in understanding that the ‘magic’ comes from Annabelle herself. The needles will only work in Annabelle’s hands.
Interestingly, this explanation is entirely off the page.
Annabelle has her knitting needles back. She continues to be happy, and the archduke continues to be unhappy. We know he is historically unhappy because he has threatened Annabelle with his ‘family curse’.
I would like to think that hard work trumps money, except I just read Mary Trump’s biography about her uncle, and I really don’t think it works like this in the real world. Sure, this isn’t the real world, but it is an allegory for real world corporations. Wouldn’t it be nice if your own ‘magical’ hard work is all it took to make it in this world?
Still, there’s always something to be said for taking the time to make beauty in this world, and the joy that derives from that.
Certain elements of fairytales are used time and time again. The magical object that never runs out is especially popular in stories for children and adults alike.
For an example of a short story for adults also making use of this trope, see “Dump Junk” by Annie Proulx.
OTHER PICTURE BOOKS WITH STRING AND YARN
My kid loves string, and makes a huge tangle of it. String is right up there with cardboard boxes as fun, low-tech play things that frequently make it into picture books. The truism is true: kids often like the string/box/wrapping paper as much as they like the gift inside.