Made by Raffi by Craig Pomranz & Margaret Chamberlain & other knitting picture books

posted in: Craig Pomranz, Margaret Chamberlain | 10

Indulge me: Have a quick brainstorm about picture books you know for young kids which explore what it feels like to be different?

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Of those you’ve come up with, how many are about emotions rather than physical characteristics?

How many of them feature humans rather than animals?

How many of them have a boy lead character rather than a girl?

[I came up with very few, and even then I needed help from the ever resourceful and generous Letterbox Library. Between us we came up with Oliver by Birgitta Sif, Eliot Jones, Midnight Superhero by Anne Cottringer and Alex T Smith, Weslandia by Paul Fleischman and Kevin Hawkes but that was pretty much it.]

raffifrontcoverSo when Made by Raffi written by Craig Pomranz, illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain (@madgiemadge) appeared in my hands for the first time I sat up and noticed; it’s about a boy who feels he doesn’t quite fit in, for instead of football, his passion is knitting and sewing.

Although he’s a curious and generous kid, he feels sidelined at school. Unlike most of his classmates, he doesn’t like noise and rough play. But thanks to a supportive teacher he discovers a new passion – making his own clothes. When it is time for the school play could this new skill help him gain the respect of his peers? Without giving the game away, the ending is upbeat, but also authentic. This isn’t a sugar-coated story. (For the really interesting background to the story, take a look at this article).

This book deserves to be in every school and read in every family for a whole plethora of reasons. It’s bold, tackling gender issues that many adults might skirt around: I love Pomranz daring to use the word “girly“, and it certainly helped us talk about how being a girl interested in ‘boys’ things’ is often more accepted by society than a boy interested in ‘girls’ things’. It’s big hearted; not just the warm, loving family Raffi is part of, but also his supportive school. It shows all sorts of children playing together, with different skin colours and different physical abilities, as well as different interests. It’s a joyously inclusive book, which tackles big themes gently and playfully.

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Margaret Chamberlain’s illustrations are delightful. She uses colour very cleverly to portray moods and to mirror how much more interesting – indeed colourful – the world is for a diverse range of characters; wouldn’t the world be a dull grey place if we all liked only the same things?

A book about loneliness, respect, difference, and learning to trust your instincts even when it means you don’t follow the crowd, Made by Raffi is a vital, delightful and unusual book I urge you to share.

M and J were recently shown how to knit by their Grandma, and reading Made by Raffi offered the ideal opportunity to practice their recently acquired skills. (Here are some Youtube tutorials we found helpful to refresh our memories of what Granny had taught us: Casting on, knit stitch, casting off.

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Having a ball of wool with lots of different colours on it was an effective tool in motivating the kids; each child would knit one or two colours and then hand the needles and ball over to the other. It gave them easy targets to aim for, and I’m sure this is partly why they completed a long scarf far more quickly than I was expecting.

completedscarf

Whilst knitting we’ve been listening to:

  • Lots of songs by Raffi (an Egyptian-born Canadian singer-songwriter who creates great kid-friendly music), – here’s a whole playlist on youtube.
  • The Knitting Song by Bill Oddie
  • Knitting by Arthur Askey. Massively old fashioned but a great rumble through all sorts of stitches and garments.


  • Other activities which would go well with reading Made by Raffi include:

  • Learning to finger knit. Here’s the youtube video we used to learn how to fingerknit.
  • Letting the kids embellish their own clothing. I found this the easiest/most satisfying way to let the kids have a go at making something themselves – they chose buttons they liked and sewed them onto a couple of pieces of clothing. Simple sewing but with a relatively big (and ‘real’) result.
  • Making a cloak as described in the story. Alternatively, if you can find a department store selling off curtain samples (eg in John Lewis or House of Fraser), you can pick up pretty much prepared cloaks – all you need to do is add something (eg a large hook and eye) so you can have the cloak safely stay on your shoulders as you zoom around wearing it.
  • If in a school or a library setting, making a display with images of clothes designed by men (Galliano, Versace, Gaultier for example, cut out from glossy magazines) and as the centre pieces place Made by Raffi and The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams. Whilst not for primary school kids, I’d also encourage you to read Boys Don’t Knit by T.S.Easton, a hilarious take on a teenage boy who loves to knit. Ben Fletcher and Raffi would definitely like to meet each other!


  • Other picture /illustrated books which feature knitting include:

  • Socks for supper by Jack Kent
  • Knitting Nell by Julie Jersild Roth
  • Mr. Nick’s knitting by Margaret Wild and Dee Huxley
  • Shall I knit you a hat? : a Christmas yarn by Kate Klise and M Sarah Klise
  • Derek, the knitting dinosaur by Mary Blackwood and Kerry Argent
  • Annie Hoot and the knitting extravaganza by Holly Clifton-Brown
  • Mrs. McDockerty’s knitting by Ruth Martinez and Catherine O’Neill
  • Noodle’s knitting by Sheryl Webster and Caroline Pedler
  • The knitting of Elizabeth Amelia by Patricia Lee Gauch and Barbara Lavallee
  • Knitty Kitty by David Elliott and Christopher Denise
  • The truly terribly horrible sweater that Grandma knit by Debbie Macomber, Mary Lou Carney and Vincent Nguyen
  • Carrie measures up! by Linda Williams Aber and Joy Allen
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  • Pa Jinglebob, the fastest knitter in the West by Mary Arrigan and Korky Paul
  • Pa Jinglebob and the Grabble Gang by Mary Arrigan and Korky Paul
  • The best little knitter in the West by Sermsah Bin Saad and Samantha Cook
  • The three billy goats Fluff by Rachael Mortimer and Liz Pichon
  • The long red scarf by Nette Hilton and Margaret Power
  • It’s gone, Jac! by Rob Lewis
  • A winter’s yarn by Kathleen Cook Waldron and Deborah Turney Zagwyn
  • Love from Woolly : a lift-the-flap book of woolly gifts by Nina Michaels and Nicola Smee
  • Pelle’s New Suit by Elsa Beskow
  • Milo Armadillo by Jan Fearnley
  • knittingpicbooks2

    If you like the sound of Made by Raffi and are anywhere near Edinburgh in August, don’t miss the chance to meet author Craig Pomranz talking about his book as part of the Edinburgh Book Festival.

    Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from the publishers.

    10 Responses

    1. Yay! We’re big fans of crochet round the shelf, but I never realised there were so many fiction books for littlies featuring knitting. Thanks for the heads-up!
      Bruce Gargoyle recently posted..Broken Branch Falls: A GSQ Review and Author Interview….

    2. You know, I couldn’t think of one book. This looks wonderful, and that list of knitting books, my granny would have been so amazed by them. Thanks so much for sharing them with us.
      Julie Grasso recently posted..Kid Lit Blog Hop #42 Australian Showcase

    3. What a great list of knitting books. One of our favourite knitting stories is The Best Jumper by Lynne Garner & Sarah Gill.
      Catherine recently posted..My Pop-Up World by Nicola Killen

    4. this is a great resource to have. Pinning this, thanks for sharing….and how cool.
      karen recently posted..Comment on Dinosaur Reads…Nate the Great and the Pillowcase by Leslie

    5. What a wonderful post about knitting for kids. I learned as a little girl and used to love making doll clothes. And I love the idea of boys knitting, It was something boys and girls did during the war, which is how my dad learned and later helped me.
      Thanks for sharing all of this with us, Zoe.
      Alex Baugh recently posted..A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman

    6. Carla Dittmer

      “You Are Special” by Max Lucado

    7. Janelle

      My daughter learned to knit and crochet in summer school last month. Our favorite knitting themed picture book is Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett.

    8. choxbox

      Another one – a lovely book from Children’s Book Trust (India), a book by Asha Nehemiah called Mrs Woolly’s Funny Sweaters.

      Interview with the author on Saffrontree – http://www.saffrontree.org/2013/03/in-conversation-with-asha-nehemiah.html

      A short review here – http://www.saffrontree.org/2011/04/glimpse-into-asha-nehemiahs-books-for.html

    9. Another post I’ve been meaning to come back, love having this list! I also like Extra Yarn and the Hueys book where they knit jumpers.
      Katherine recently posted..30/52

    10. […] Zoe at Playing by the Book wrote a great review of Made by Raffi (which was where I first found out about the book) and as ever, found some activities for her daughters to do alongside reading the book. It also includes a list of other picture books featuring knitting. […]

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