FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I really look forward to getting the Macmillan catalog every season, but now that I've gotten over the initial excitement of being offered review copies by a publisher, I now only request books I really, really, really want to read. I tend to go through the catalog very quickly, making snap decisions--if it didn't grab me right away, I don't request it (though I might write the title down or put it on my Goodreads TBR shelf). So when I got the spring catalog, I spun through the PDF, scrolling the mouse or trackpad like a Price Is Right contestant, and where did it stop? Sweaterweather!
Not only are we actually experiencing some pretty chilly days here in Southern California (it's 54° F here in Los Angeles right now)--actual sweater weather--but author/illustrator Sara Varon is one of my very favorites. I first noticed her book Bake Sale in 2011 (I haven't actually read her breakout graphic novel, Robot Dreams). Some artists take umbrage at their art being called "cute", so I won't call it that (whether Varon takes umbrage or not). Her illustrations take "cute" up to the next level, for which I don't really have a word, or at least, not a single one. Her repertoire of animal characters and the glimpses into their lives is endearing, welcoming, comforting amusement. Themes of friendship, creativity, and community tie her stories together. Her drawing style isn't saccharine-sweet, but it will make you grin. Her stories have the cumulative warming effect of a fuzzy-soft sweater, warm socks, and the best cup of hot cocoa.
Sweaterweather was originally published in 2003--Varon's first book. She has since illustrated others, including one of our favorites by another author, Cecil Castellucci--Odd Duck! The new hardcover reissue of Sweaterweather includes the original stories plus additional content. While I all of love the short comics, I really appreciate the addition of comments and notes from Varon on each story, what inspired her, or why she drew it. There are many tidbits of technique, inspiration, and process, including short interviews of her colleagues, that make this book a great glimpse into the life of a working artist. I imagine this book in the hands of another reader, an illustration geek or budding creative, a young person just starting to develop the style that will set them apart from others when they tell stories, draw pictures, or make music.
The knitting on the cover (and the immediate recognition of Varon's artwork) is what initially drew me in, and the Turtle & Rabbit story covers the friendship/knitting/hot tea comfort aspects of Sweaterweather very well. Not to be missed is an abecedarian about going to the local grocery store, a story about a clueless lion who reads a self-help book about fitting into the African Grassland, and a diagrammatic illustration about beekeeping. There is also a thoughtful, tender, if somewhat jarring salute to her Dalmatian, Violet.