July 17, 2017

Polly MacCauley's Finest Divinest Woolliest Gift of All

Written by Sheree Fitch
Illustrated by Darka Erdelji
Running the Goat, Books & Broadsides
68 pp.
Ages 5-8
June 2017

Before Sheree Fitch even begins to tell her story, she invites "Listeners Young and Old" to enjoy her yarn.

Tales are for telling and the truth may be tall,
My yarn is for spinning as the earth spins for all. 

This is a yarn for
   a windy night
      or a rainy day
         or any old time
            or a circle of souls
               or a broken lonely heart– 

so hunker down by a crackling fire and read aloud just to yourself
or share my yarn with those you love.
(pg. 5)

Her yarn begins with the joyful first "Baa" bleated by a very special lamb born in the village of River John. It's a sound that

"...wrapped round that village 
like a ribbon of joy 
     a warm woolly scarf 
          or a magical spell from a long ago fairy tale" (pg. 8)

Meanwhile in the small countship of Woodland, the greedy Count Woolliam and his sister Woolamina, the Countess of Fleece and Fluff, are ruminating over the status of their flock and whether there will be sufficient wool for all their woolly needs: robes, sweaters, hats, socks, blankets, rugs, tissues and more.  They too hear that first "Baa" and head out in search of that special lamb, determined to take it for their own.

From Polly MacCauley's Finest Divinest Woolliest Gift of All 
by Sheree Fitch 
illus. by Darka Erdelji
Polly MacCauley, a woman rarely seen and about whom the grownups often whisper and the children wonder, who did "extra-ordinary, wild and wondrous things with W-O-O-L" (pg. 18), hears that same "Baa" and is thrilled to realized that she would soon be able to knit her "finest, most divinest, woolliest gift of all." (pg. 23)

But, after the lamb's mother dies and her mournful cries are heard around the world, Star–as she is named by Farmer John's family–feels disconnected and good for nothing.  That is until Polly, venturing out for the first time in ages, visits Farmer John's farm.  Though there is a potential conflict when the Count and Countess demand the lamb, they are moved by the love that the village of River John feels for Star (it's a woolly Grinch moment: "Something, some hole in his greedy brittle heart, stitched together."; pg. 53) and Star goes home with her new mama, Polly.

The magic is just beginning, though, because Star grows a very thick coat of fleece daily which Polly shears and uses to work on her masterpiece, as well as the plethora of wool projects Polly and her new knitting group undertake for the newborns, children and fishermen of River John and the people of the world. "Like love, there is always enough wool to go around." (pg. 57)

From Polly MacCauley's Finest Divinest Woolliest Gift of All 
by Sheree Fitch 
illus. by Darka Erdelji
And, though there is finally great purpose and much happiness with some sorrow still to come in Star's life, it is Polly MacCauley's gift to Mother Earth that will become the true star of the story, there "wherever and whenever someone needs a bit of wool or a bit of warmth or maybe the piecing together of a sad and lonely heart" (pg. 65).

Polly MacCauley's Finest Divinest Woolliest Gift of All is an atypical picture book.  Though the illustrations by Slovenian artist and former St. John's resident Darka Erdelji add the whimsy and ethereal fiber to Sheree Fitch's story, this tale is lengthy and text extensive and not a quick read before bedtime.  It is, however, a read-aloud story of story-telling breadth, deep and involved and rich with the essence of life.  It has love, sadness, grief, death, conflict, compassion and hope, so much hope.  There will be cheers and tears and bleats of appreciation for a story of history and connectedness, generosity and inspiration.  Sheree Fitch, whose poetry I have long admired, can turn a phrase with such adeptness that readers will feel the tugs on their own heart yarns and the weaving of a blanket of comfort and contentment.  And though Polly MacCauley's Finest Divinest Woolliest Gift of All is firmly rooted in the Maritimes of her home, Sheree Fitch has woven a story for the world in both context and spirit.
From Polly MacCauley's Finest Divinest Woolliest Gift of All 
by Sheree Fitch 
illus. by Darka Erdelji


If you're fortunate enough to live near or be visiting the Maritimes, consider stopping it at Mabel Murple's Book Shoppe and Dreamery in River John, Nova Scotia, a specialty bookstore just opened this month by Sheree Fitch and featuring Atlantic Canadian books in all genres as well as Canadian children's books.


  1. I love love love when someone gets what you hope they will get--- and that you understand it is a tale in oral storytelling tradition and not a picture book-- for me, well, this was a long time coming. So thank you thank you thank you.

  2. Can't wait to get a copy of my own, Sheree, to add to our library. Thank you for sharing your magic with us all once again.