CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 9 . . . . November 3, 2017
Canadian author Sheree Fitch has been writing whimsical books for young children for 30 years. With Polly MacCauley's Finest Divinest Woolliest Gift of All, she teams up with an artist from Slovenia who is not only an illustrator but a designer of puppets.
The sound of this new life sets off echoes through the village, along the river and out across the sea. Far away, in the fleece-centric 'Countship of Woolland', a greedy count and countess are hoping to acquire all the wool in the world for their personal use. They are determined to bring the new lamb into their fold to help create even more things knitted and felted for themselves.
But someone else has heard the newborn's "Baaa".
Polly does not hoard what she makes but gives it away. And as she contemplates the end of her life, she looks for something special with which to fashion what she believes may be her last masterpiece.
The baby lamb's mother has tragically died, and the little animal starts to feel alone and out of place in the busy community of River John. Farmer John's daughter Katy names the lamb Star and makes a pet of her while wise Grammy Lamb tells her of her heritage. And at the same time that Polly is running out of yarn for her "most divinest woolliest gift of all", a search party from Woolland is crossing the ocean to find the amazing lamb who will make the Count and Countess 'woollionaires'.
The story takes a folktale twist when Polly and the count and countess face off for possession of Star.
The villagers' wishes to keep Star for Polly prevail, and the Count and Countess are won over by the feelings of love and warmth they feel surrounding the community.
Fitch is clearly a lover of wordplay and puns, and many lines are liltingly joyful. But too many threads, with references to history and geography, religion and charity; and too many long lists which seem to be a platform for the writer to manipulate the language, make the narrative longer and more complicated than it needs to be to tell the story.
Erdelji's primitivistic illustrations are not the full-page spreads associated with picture books but more soft, colourful accents and character sketches to accompany the text.
Polly MacCauley's Finest Divinest Woolliest Gift of All is a book for large collections, especially libraries trying to amass the complete works of a Canadian author.
Recommended with Reservations.
Ellen Heaney is a retired children's librarian living in Coquitlam, BC.