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Children's Literacy and Reading News Roundup: May in Review

The Cloud Spinner: Michael Catchpool & Alison Jay

Book: The Cloud Spinner
Author: Michael Catchpool
Illustrator: Alison Jay
Pages: 32
Age Range: 5 and up

51TGCEDWJmL._SL500_AA300_The Cloud Spinner, written by Michael Catchpool and illustrated by Alison Jay, is a picture book that is basically a fable. A young boy has the gift of spinning clouds into beautiful cloth. He only uses his gift to make a couple of small scarves (one to protect from the sun, and the other to keep him warm), because his mother taught him that "enough is enough and not one stitch more." A greedy king, however, orders the boy to spin a long scarf, and a cloak, and dresses for the queen and the princess. Despite the boy's warning, the king insists, with tragic consequences. Only the brave actions of the young princess make things right again.

The Kirkus review for The Cloud Spinner said: “There are definitely lessons about taking only what you need, about care for the needs of others and about listening to what is unsaid, but they are fully inside the story and only add to the pleasure.” I think that's a good assessment of this book. One infers the lessons from the story, rather than feeling like the story was written solely to share the lessons (as is, alas, so often the case with picture books).

Catchpool uses a lush, descriptive vocabulary, with words like "glorious" and "galore". I can't even decide which page to quote for you, because all of them make me smile. There's a nice mix of lyrical and humorous, from passages like this:

"He spun the clouds as they passed in the morning and were gold with the rising sun.
He spun in the afternoon as the clouds sailed past, white as snowdrifts.
And he spun in the evening, when the clouds were crimson."

To passages like this:

"The King's face was a twist of scowls.
"I want those clothes and I order you to make them!")

I love "twist of scowls". This would make a good companion book to The Princess and the Pig, one of my favorite of last year's Cybils nominees, and a shortlist title.

Jay's illustration style reminds me a bit of Peter Brown's The Curious Garden, with lots of blues and greens, and the sky looming large. Jay renders each picture against a backdrop of fine cracks, however, making The Cloud Spinner seem like a series of old paintings. She used alkyd paint and crackle varnish on thick paper to achieve the effect, and, while subtle, this gives the book a unique flavor. There is also quite a bit of whimsy to the pictures. On the opening page spread, the configuration of sheep and a tree on a hill make a happy face. Later, the same hill is shown frowning. Most of the people are shown with over-sized bodies and tiny heads, particularly the foolish king. There are lots of details to reward careful re-reads.

The Cloud Spinner offers an engaging story that will make kids think, and illustrations that perfectly suit the tone of the book. This is a picture book that will appeal to slightly older readers (kindergarten and up), with a relatively complex storyline, and subtle visual humor. This one is definitely going on our keep shelf (though I don't think that Baby Bookworm, at 2, will appreciate it just yet). Highly recommended.

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: March 13, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).