The Pen That Pa Built


In this warm display of old-fashioned know-how and family spirit, a blanket is made from scratch—from the shearing to the carding, spinning, dying, and weaving. And it all starts in the pen that Pa built. Told through Ashley Wolff’s vibrant artwork and with David Edwards story, this illustrated history of 1830s North America celebrates the lost art of creating a cherished, homemade object.

In pleasing cumulative rhyme, a farm family in 19th century America shows how sheep are shorn, how wool is prepared by carding and spinning, how dye is gathered from plants, and, finally, how the loom turns the wool, dyed a rich yellow from goldenrod, into a warm blanket. The poetry that explains the process–“gold from the flowers simmered for hours/soft to feel, spun by the wheel”–lifts the common explanation of wool preparation to the proper magic it deserves. The peaceful pastoral images offer up constant small surprises: baby chicks, nesting birds, a sleepy cat stretching in a basket of yarn, and seasonal details from apple blossoms to autumn pumpkins that will have young readers wanting to go back and study the pages.

~School Library Journal

For a simple, step-by-step rundown of the process of refining wool, from shearing to looming to dying, children need look no further than this book. With rhyming and repetition, debut author Edwards goes through each phase, allowing young children to follow a nineteenth-century farm family as they care for and live off their environment.

What really works here are Wolff’s highly textured gesso-and-gouache illustrations. From the idyllic rural spring to the snow covered winter farm, each season has palpable presence, and children will want to run their fingers over the sheep as well as the clothes that come from their wool, which look soft enough to fall asleep on.


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