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Polly MacCauley’s Finest, Divinest, Woolliest Gift of All

by Darka Erdelji (ill.); Sheree Fitch

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In this poetry-infused folktale set in the village of River John, Polly MacCauley needs a rare breed of sheep to finish a lifelong knitting project, and Star, an orphaned lamb, is the divine animal that she has been awaiting. But selfish Count Woolliam and Countess Woolamina want the lamb for their own extravagant creature comforts, like sheepskin underwear and fleece-lined toilets. The tight-knit Nova Scotia community (and real-life home to author Sheree Fitch) rallies to save Star from the dastardly clutches of the “woolianaires.” The villagers, unwaveringly united, succeed in their bid to keep Star where she belongs. Polly’s final gift is a “shawl of healing and hope” that wraps around the earth “like a wide, woolly hug.”

Fitch knows how to spin a yarn. Her distinctive mix of free-verse poetry and prose includes a heaping helping of alliteration, consonance, and word play that tickles the tongue: “discombobulating bobble,” “greedy gulp time,” “I woolly woolly love you.” The internal rhythms and rhymes keep the mood jaunty, though this is sometimes to the detriment of poignant scenes of loss and bereavement: “Her knitting needles stopped / their clickety click, / and her kind old heart stopped / its tickety tick.”

The narrative focus meanders with many diversions along the way, including schoolyard chants, coffee-klatch conversations, and a recitation of town and city place names.

The yarn metaphor extends to Darka Erdelji’s folk art illustrations. A long knitted scarf unfurls across the pages, turning into the night sky, rolling hills, and the deep blue sea. Chapter headings are relayed in sheep head counts, and ellipses look like three skeins of wool. Art, collaboration, and community are the threads that tie this warm story together.