Anne’s Numbers: Inspired by Anne of Green Gables – Kelly Hill, Tundra Books, 2018
Anne’s Colors: Inspired by Anne of Green Gables – Kelly Hill, Tundra Books, 2018
Anne’s Alphabet: Inspired by Anne of Green Gables – Kelly Hill, Tundra Books, 2019
Anne’s Feelings: Inspired by Anne of Green Gables – Kelly Hill, Tundra Books, 2019
How young is too young for Anne of Green Gables? The answer to that question is found in Kelly Hill’s two board books for the youngest readers released last year, and two more that will be available on May 7. Children old enough to hold a sturdy board book or sit on a caregiver’s lap and look at pictures while listening to words, can easily enjoy the simple beauty of these books, with images created from Hill’s hand embroidery. The next question might be, why introduce a child that young to a specific literary figure? Anne, the Prince Edward Island orphan who embodies both the deprivations and the joys of childhood, as well as the challenges and the proud triumphs of being a smart and sensitive girl, bookish and emotional, loyal and truthful to herself and others. The answer is that Anne is not merely the heroine of one glorious childhood classic, but an evolving character whom we come to love from childhood to motherhood, from her arrival at Green Gables to the impact of World War I on her family. Anne changes and so do her readers. These lovely books for toddlers and young children present images of the young Anne, her friends and guardians, the natural and domestic worlds.
The first appeal of these books to children is that they are designed with bright colors, fabric cut-outs, sewing, and embroidery. The pictures are easy to interpret, even as they must have been challenging to design and construct. Some board books based on adult works of literature are clearly marketed to parents. That’s fine, because they can still be enjoyed on two levels: that of the mom or dad finding the humor in Wuthering Heights or Anna Karenina, minus the tragedy, and also by children who like the pictures and can follow invented narratives by a grown-up reader, or make up ones themselves. So those books are fun. These are a bit different. Although there are specific phrases that keep them rooted in the original book, such “depth of despair” to describe one of Anne’s emotions, or “kindred spirit” to identify the letter “K.” In every case, the clarity of the pictures gives a clear context for explaining to children. They might not have heard of the beverage “raspberry cordial,” but one hand holds a white fabric cup partially filled with red while another hand pours from a similarly divided pitcher. Everyone likes fruit juice!
Kelly Hill has created a fabric Anne, three dimensional and fully accessorized. Such iconic elements from the novel are here as Anne’s puffed sleeve dress, rendered in a rustic brown fabric, and Gilbert Blythe tugging at Anne’s orange yarn braids. Some of the figures are sewn to a background and many use a variety of embroidery stitches. Anne’s Alphabet illustrates “imagination” with Anne standing on a tree stump, her hair crowned with an embroidered garland of flowers, and a quilted cape indicating that her imagination is taking flight.
A community picnic layers burlap fabric over the participants in a sack race, while a red fabric rowboat travels on a blue sea. There are unending carefully chosen details to explore with children, but they are not overwhelming; each page is a stand-alone scene to share and discuss. Characters and objects overlap in the four books. The puffed sleeve dress from Anne’s Alphabet also appears in Anne’s Colors, where we can see its blue tulle underskirt as Anne joyfully pulls it out of its box.
There is an Anne for every age, as I have blogged on here and here and here and here; and, of course the original, irreplaceable Anne of L.M. Montgomery’s 1908 novel and later sequels. When readers eventually meet her, they will find a familiar friend, maybe even a kindred spirit.