My posting seems to be as sporadic as the weather this winter. However, we are having a slight cold front right now and it made me turn to this sweet, vintage book for a bit of snuggle-reading with my toddler. An old Ukrainian folktale that has been done a time or two, this version remains my favorite. It is the story of a boy’s lost mitten that becomes shelter for a surprising amount of animals during the coldest day of winter. Retold by Alvin Tresselt from a (gorgeous!) adaptation by E. Rachev and illustrated by Yaroslava, warm up today with The Mitten, 1964.
The main reason I love this book so much is all the beautiful (Ukrainian?) details Yaroslava has sprinkled around. For example, the title page as seen below:
That “M” versal is exquisite! And the little mouse in a coat… adorable!
But let’s get to the whole book. The story begins with a little boy trudging through the forest to gather firewood for his grandmother. It is the coldest day of winter and the wind is fierce so he must gather a lot. Right before he finishes the task, the boy drops a mitten in the snow and somehow doesn’t miss it in the cold.
The dropped mitten with a fur cuff turns out to be a most pleasurable discovery for a sweet little mouse whom is quite cold. It is just the right size for her. Soon after she makes herself at home in it however, she is joined by a frog in need of shelter. And then an owl, and a rabbit, and a fox—and on and on the animals come seeking shelter from the cold.
The more animals that come, the larger they are and the more the mitten miraculously stretches to hold them all. That is, until the tiniest of creatures, a little black cricket, decides to join the warmth and the poor mitten reaches its seams’ limit.
This book is such a sweet combination of simple storytelling and the vibrant limited color palette of Yaroslava’s charming illustrations. I love Alvin Tresselt’s narrative, talking to the reader and using very descriptive, yet simple words.
As I keep mentioning though, Yaroslava’s illustrations are what keeps me returning to these pages. As with most books from this time period, the pages alternate between full color and two. I believe that was typically to save money during publication. Her brilliant artistry however, transforms this limitation into something truly lovely. Already using a limited color palette with mostly black lines swimming in lots of white with vibrant pops of a few colors; the alternating pages switch to a full-bleed teal with spare lines of black and subtle touches of the white paper peeking through. The effect is marvelous. It is a clever use of two-color and manipulates the visual feel to not highlight the limited color. Blue is a color that typically symbolizes cold and winter so her use of it in a slightly warmer tone pushes readers farther into the briskness of the wintery night and gives the perfect backdrop for intricate snowflakes to shine.
I also adore the clothing embellishments that sprinkle throughout the story. The landscape and character styling is mostly very light and simple, so the tiny details of swirls and decorations are delightful surprises.
It seems that stories of lost mittens are a bit popular in picture books. Perhaps because it occurs so frequently in real life. I sincerely hope you do not lose any mittens this winter and that you have an abundance of books as wintery and endearing as this one to keep you warm whatever the weather.