________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 9 . . . . November 3, 2017


Polly MacCauley's Finest Divinest Wooliest Gift of All.

Sheree Fitch. Illustrated by Darka Erdelji.
Tors Cove, NL: Running the Goat Books & Broadsides, 2017.
68 pp., hardcover, $19.95.
ISBN 978-1-927917-10-7

Kindergarten-grade 3 / Ages 5-8.

Review by Ellen Heaney.

** /4


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.

Not so very long ago from now, in a sweet-smelling barn
beside a red-roofed house in the village of River John


Baaa! She bleated, the way baby lambs do –
a sound almost like a HUMAN BEING baby,
a real baby like I was or maybe even y-o-u.

I kid you not.

      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".

Some called Polly MacCauley a witch, and some called her wise,
and because she was so rarely seen some even called her a figment
of everyone else's imagination. But there were some who believed that
she sheared and spun and carded and dyed special wool from a special
Lamb born long ago, and that she was the maker of many gifts.

      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.

'My sweet lambie, I'll knit from your wool my very finest,
most divinest, woolliest gift of all,' [says Polly].

'Yep, she's yours all right.'…

'Not so fast! Not so fast.' A commanding voice echoed through the barn.

And there, standing in the door of the barn were Count Wooliam
and the Countess Woollamina, surrounded by their search party and
a crowd of villagers….

'We shall take her for our own…As she has no mother, she belongs in
our county where she will provide wool for our countship.'

      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.

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