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Top 100 Picture Books #94: The Mitten by Jan Brett

#94 The Mitten by Jan Brett (1989)
21 points

A lovely retelling of this old folktale with Brett’s truly lovely illustrations. – Barbara Thompson

As insane as it sounds, this is Ms. Brett’s first appearance on one of our polls.  Prolific and still going strong she first came to my attention due to her knitting.  Some authors just throw stuff together and clearly don’t care to show every stitch in a sweater.  Brett isn’t like them.  The whole reason this book works as well as it does is that you can see the stitches in that beloved mitten stretching and growing as more and more animals test their tensile strength.  Why I haven’t seen knitting to match this until Mac Barnett’s Extra Yarn with Jon Klassen’s illustrations came along.

The description from PW reads, “Baba, Nicki’s grandmother, knits pure white mittens for him, even though she is afraid that he will lose them in the snow. Sure enough, the first time Nicki is out, he drops one and some animals promptly move into its snug wool interior. First comes a mole, then a rabbit, a hedgehog, an owl, a badger, a fox, a bear and, finally, a mouse. That mouse tickles the bear’s nose and he sneezes, dislodging all of the animals at once. Nicki finds his mitten, and takes it home, but Baba is left to wonder about how it became so enormously stretched out.”

Now this is by no means the first picture book version of The Mitten to garner attention.  Before Brett the go-to Mitten of note was by one Alvin R. Tresselt, seen here:

For what it’s worth, it’s still gorgeous.

Later came the Jim Aylesworth version with illustrations by Barbara McClintock:

Publishers Weekly said of it, “Brett’s magnificent paintings feature her usual array of folk details, and this time, intricate knitting tracks, ornate embroidery, the crusty, peeling texture of the birch bark borders and the exquisite patterns found in Baba’s homey rooms. Readers will sit back, suspend belief and welcome this tall tale from the Ukrainian tradition.”

And then there’s this interview with Ms. Brett herself:

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. While I love the art in Jan Brett’s Mitten, I still prefer to read aloud Alvin Tresselt’s version where the animals are moved to let other animals into the mitten out of kindness rather than fear.

  2. Actually, Jan Brett does a much better job with knitting stitches than Jon Klassen’s stitches in Extra Yarn. As a knitter, I love that book, but also as a knitter it bothers me that the stitches on the page are always the same size. Real stitches would be smaller at a distance, and you’d want to use bigger needles and bigger stitches for a house than for a hat, for example…. But I know it’s not about realism. Jan Brett, on the other hand, makes it seem actually possible that the mitten could stretch that much. LOVE the panel when Grandma sees what’s happened to the mitten!

  3. Ben Collinsworth says

    I just read Brett’s note in the 20th Anniversary Edition. She mentions that while researching the tale, she smartly decided to eliminate the part where a hunter comes along and shoots all the animals in the mitten.


  1. […] are very detailed and have a very folk-art feeling to them.  This book is included on School Library Journal’s Top 100 Picture Books list.  Check out some other Jan Brett titles – she is an author you and your children will enjoy […]