Merry Week After Christmas! We hope your holidays were as wonderful as ours were -- good food, good friends, family time and even some great gifts under the tree. Oh yes, we know that holidays aren't just about material stuff, but let's be honest here: we're all five year-olds again when it comes to Christmas morning, aren't we?
And since we're being honest, let's talk about those not-so-great gifts. We've all gotten them, especially as kids. The mysteriously squishy package is really a creepy clown doll or the big box in the corner contains a bulky winter coat (or a pink bunny outfit). And so you're forced to smile politely, thank Aunt Whosiewhatsit, and try to figure out what you're going to do with said hideous present. Yikes.
This is precisely the problem our hero faces in K.G. Campbell's terrific picture book Lester's Dreadful Sweaters. Lester has some big trouble on his hands when Cousin Clara moves in after her home is mysteriously eaten (yes, I said eaten). The grateful relative immediately begins knitting sweaters for Lester -- and ooooh boy, are these sweaters hideous. Words can't describe, which is why Campbell's hilarious illustrations come in so very handy to show us each of these creations. There's one that is "less-than-pleasant yellow. . . smothered with purple pom-poms." There's the "repulsively pumpkin" creation, and another with "several unexpected sleeves". Each of these pieces is more vile than the last, and no matter how creative Lester is with finding ways to (cough, cough) recycle these beauties, Cousin Clara whips another one out just as fast. It's enough to drive a fastidious guy like Lester absolutely loony.
Lester's Dreadful Sweaters isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea, but those who like Jon Klassen or Mac Barnett (or better yet, Edward Gorey) are likely to love Lester too. Campbell's got plenty of lovely big vocabulary words woven throughout, and there's no attempt to water them down for a young audience, which I personally find just perfect. The humor here works on several levels, as kids will like the zaniness of Clara's knitwear while adults will identify with Lester's predicament (and with the touch of darkness that runs throughout). I really appreciated the resolution too -- where even Cousin Clara's dubious talents are given a place to shine.
My favorite thing about this book is the cover illustration, repeated inside, where Lester's family gets a load of the little yellow-and-purple number. Sprout likes the dog's reaction, all quizzical ears and bewilderment. I like his parents' reaction: mom's all nervous teeth and smile, while dad's gee-whiz whistle spells trouble for a kid who's just hoping for a reprieve from some serious sweater-induced depression.
If you got a few gifts this holiday that missed the mark by a bit (or a mile), this book is the sure cure. And just remember, even something as dreadful as a sweater from Cousin Clara has a place in this world -- so regifting isn't impossible!
Lester's Dreadful Sweaters by K.G. Campbell, published by Kids Can Press
Sample: "Later, Lester's sweater was discovered in the yard, shredded by the lawn mower. / 'It's an inexplicable tragedy,' said Lester. / 'Never mind,' said Cousin Clara. / And still she knitted, clickety-click, clickety-click."