Children’s Book Review: Yetsa’s Sweater

We took this book out of the library the same way we take most of the books Kale gets from the library: “Kale, pick five books,” and off he trots in search of the five most eye catching covers or spines. I usually veto anything that is a book based on a TV show, but otherwise I let him have free reign in the picture books section at New Westminster Pubic Library. If I see something I love, I grab it and add it to the pile. It generally takes less than five minutes and sometimes we have complete losers (there are a lot of terrible children’s books out there) and sometimes we have complete winners.

Most recently, we have had a winner that wins so much I feel compelled to review it on the blog. It’s called Yetsa’s Sweater, and is a true BC book – both in subject matter and the people who created it. It is written by Cowichan Valley resident Sylvia Olsen, and beautifully illustrated by Qualicum Beach resident Joan Larson.

The tale is simple – Yetsa is outgrowing her Cowichan sweater and she and her mother spend time with her grandmother to prepare the wool that her grandmother then knits into a new one that is special for Yetsa.

I guess because I grew up on Vancouver Island and was immersed in First Nations culture, this story is especially poignant and touching for me. The symbology of the sweaters and the memories I have of these sweaters really hit home. It made me think of balls of wool and of past sweaters knitted and worn in hazy memories, and it made me want to get another of these cozy wardrobe staples.

The story is a perfect length for bedtime reading with Kale, and the prose has a natural rhythm that unlike Dr. Suess, flows effortlessly. It is descriptive and tactile without talking down to children, and Kale loves this story because there are favourite things he recognizes like blackberries, blackberry jam, snacktime, and  – every toddler’s most hilarious thing – a brief cameo by sheep poop.

I also love that the illustrations are of real people, with real looking bodies. Yetsa’s grandmother has some grey hair, and they all wears jeans and t shirts and have normal body sizes. The women are strong and it shows. The illustrations are beautiful – they feel warm and whimsical and yet accurate and lively. I love that the images are entire two page spreads, full bleed most of the time, and the words flow around the images rather than the other way around.

This book is one I would give as a gift because the story is so heartwarming it needs to be passed on to others. From the author’s website:

In Yetsa’s Sweater, Sylvia Olsen takes a workaday chore and illuminates it with meaning, while Joan Larson takes Olsen’s simple and loving words and fills them with radiant light.

There is no better way for me to describe this book. Go get it from your local library or you can buy it direct from the publisher here.




11 years ago