The Mitten String

This post is a double dip! It’s my contribution to the Multicultural Kid Blogs Hanukkah series (see the whole series here) AND it’s my entry in #Readukkah, the 2015 Jewish Reading Challenge, which encourages everyone to spread the word about great Jewish titles in order to increase readership and support Jewish publishing.

Last year I wrote a review of The Mitten String for School Library Journal, which you can see below. I continue to adore this book, and when I thought about what I could use for my #Readukkah selection, this title jumped to mind as an ongoing favorite.

I love the sense of community that shines forth from the very first line: “It was said that Ruthie Tober’s family warmed the hands of the entire village, because everyone who lived there, big and small, wore mittens knitted from Tober wool.”

I love the spare writing that makes relationships clear so simply: the ease between Mother and Ruthie shows in the wink Mother gives when she reminds Ruthie about her lost mittens.

I love the respectful description of deafness, the fact that Bayla has knowledge to offer as well as a need for help, and the sign language diagrams at the back along with the notation that “Users of sign language actually prefer gloves to mittens, as they employ their fingers to spell words and to sign.” That seems obvious once you read it, but a hearing person may not think about this in a mitten-focused story.
I love, as always, the illustrations by Kristina Swarner. Although Kristina is not Jewish, I consider her a landsman. Her gorgeous work has graced incredible Jewish picture books, from the Sydney Taylor Book Award winner The Bedtime Shema by Sarah Gershman to the heartbreaking Zayde Comes to Live by Sheri Sinykin, a Sydney Taylor Silver.  Gathering Sparks by Howard Schwartz won a Sydney Taylor Silver and his Before You Were Born was named a Notable Book by the Association of Jewish Libraries, because Schwartz and Swarner are such a winning combination. Her work is universal and sweeping, while feeling tender and personal at the same time.

If you haven’t read The Mitten String, do yourself a favor and seek it out. Here’s my original review from SLJ. Happy #Readukkah!
K-Gr 3—The Tobers raise sheep, and young Ruthie loves to knit mittens from their wool for the villagers. When her family befriends a deaf woman whose wagon has broken down and her baby, the child observes how the mother, Bayla, sleeps with a string tied between her own wrist and Aaron's, to alert her if her son wakes up in the night. Inspired, Ruthie knits the pair a set of baby- and mother-sized mittens connected by a string and goes on to make more for the local children to keep them from losing their mittens. "You are both clever and kind," her mother praises. "You make our world a bit better with every stitch." The character of Bayla is based on the author's great-great-aunt; Rosner also has two deaf daughters. It is not surprising, therefore, that her portrayal of deafness is extremely respectful and sensitive. When Bayla uses sign language with Aaron, "To Ruthie, it looked as if Bayla were standing before an invisible spinning wheel, her words flowing from her fingers like delicate strands of yarn." Swarner's rounded and gentle watercolor prints add to the safe, warm feeling of this story of resourcefulness and mutual admiration. The "old country" Jewish setting is subtle, giving the story flavor without dominating it. Knitting and sign-language glossaries round out this attractive title. This beautiful story of kindness, acceptance, and resourcefulness will have wide appeal.—Heidi Estrin, Congregation B'nai Israel, Boca Raton, FL