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Knitwits
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by William Taylor

With unpredictably comical depictions that never lapse into caricature,

and descriptions of the sweater's progress that are a study in gleeful boyish pride,

this blithe look at an expectant family has no dropped stitches.[i]

 

 

            William Taylor's humorous, punny title is offset by the novel's somber opening events: Charles "Chas" Kenny's cat "croaked;" through no fault of his own, he was suspended from his hockey team and - as if these weren't enough - Chas finds out that his Mum is going to have a baby.

            Foul-mouthed Alice Pepper and Chas have been neighbors for his entire life - and Alice Pepper has bossed Chas around that same amount of time (10).  It is no surprise, then, that when Alice Pepper insists that the new baby will be a little sister - not a little brother, as Chas would like - Chas boastingly states that he is going to knit a sweater for his baby brother.  Knowing that Chas cannot knit, Alice Pepper makes a wager.  She bets all of her many collections (including beer cans, dead insects, old coins, and animal skulls) that Chas will be unable to knit the baby a sweater.  If Chas succeeds, he wins all the collections, including the highly desired skull collection.  If Chas loses, he must pay Alice Pepper five dollars every week for the rest of her life.  The race is on for Chas to learn to knit and complete a sweater before the baby arrives!

            Taylor crafts his characters with an understanding of the age, skill and uproarious humor.  Chas, for example, is a true-to-life combination of childish naiveté and grown-up worldliness.  Chas worries that his Mum (at age 29) is "far too old" to have a baby, and he tells his Mum "it's a danger at her time of life."  At the same time, however, Chas instinctively knows exactly why his Mum and Dad aren't disclosing the news to Chas's Grandma for a while - they anticipate her disapproval.  "'Scared, eh?'" says Chas. ""You'll have to tell her when you start to show.'" (7)

             While the knitting project begins out of boasting, Taylor develops the theme of this non-traditional gender role on Chas' part into an unexpected end.  Two of Chas's male schoolmates notice his trips to Ms. Mason-Dixon's house for knitting lessons.  The boys take to calling Chas "greaser," thinking Chas is trying to wheedle himself into Ms. Mason-Dixon's good graces.  When Chas finally divulges the reasons for his visits, Chas learns, to his surprise, that his two friends know how to knit, having learned from their mothers.

Dialogue between characters in this book is amusingly frank, and some readers might find this dismaying.  Chas and his friends discuss the cat's demise with morbid curiosity.  After seeing a sonogram of the new baby, Alice Pepper insists that the new baby will be a boy, because she's "pretty sure it had something hanging between its legs."  In contrast, Dad's excitement at seeing the sonogram and Mum's and Dad's joy at the baby's birth are handled tenderly.  Chas participates in his sibling's birth, and the birth is handled with gentle sensitivity.

The language in this book lets the reader know that the story is not set in the United States:  loo, dingo, nappies.  A Publishers Weekly review of Knitwits puts the setting for this book "Down Under" and suggests that "a read-aloud introduction may help reluctant readers get the hang of Taylor's Australian English [italics added]."[ii]  While this edition of the book lacks the "read-aloud introduction," there are no words nor cultural markers that specifically indicate exactly where the story takes place.  It is difficult to understand why this anonymous reviewer would assume the book is Australian.  Indeed, since the author was born, raised and still lives in New Zealand, it is shows a remarkable lack of knowledge on the reviewer's part to assume that Taylor speaks in "Australian English."  New Zealanders of my acquaintance tend to be offended if someone calls them Australian.  Taylor's novel, while it does have a "Down Under" flavor, makes no such concrete distinction as to country.

 



[i] Kirkus Reviews LX (17). 1992.Review of Knitwits,1135.

[ii] Publishers Weekly 239 (45). 1992. Review of Knitwits, 79.

 

 

Taylor, William. 1992. Knitwits. New York: Scholastic.

ISBN 0-590-45778-0

 

 

This review was written for a graduate course in Library and Information Studies at Texas Woman's University, International Literature for Children and Young Adults.

 

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