There are stories that simply stand out. Books that, when you read them, you know are something special. Author Michael Catchpool and illustrator Alison Jay have without a doubt created a children’s book that is just that, special and unique, one that you can’t pass up. The Cloud Spinner will be cherished by all who read it for countless ages.
What’s The Cloud Spinner About?
There is a small boy who has a very special gift-he can weave cloth from the clouds. We meet him as he sits peacefully with his loom atop a hill, spinning the clouds into thread that is gold in the morning, white in the afternoon, and crimson in the evening, and then weaving the thread into cloth. He has learned from his mother to a simple saying “Enough is enough and not one stitch more.” The boy respects this, and spun only enough cloth to make two scarves, one to cover his head when it was hot, and one to wrap around his next when the cold came, which is beautifully described as “soft as a mouse’s touch, and warm as roasted chestnuts.” But beautiful things don’t last long before someone tries to take them for their own, and one chilly day the boy wears his scarf to the market, the day the King is coming. He sees the boy with the scarf, and forces him to weave him one even though he does not need it. The king’s greed only grows, and the boy has to weave clothes for him as it becomes harder and harder…and the true wisdom behind his mother’s words is revealed when all the clouds disappear. Without clouds to water and nourish the land, how will anyone survive? It takes great strength and courage of a particular character to turn things around and restore what rightfully belongs to the earth.
To create her illustrations for The Cloud Spinner, Alison Jay used alkyd paint on thick cartridge paper with a crackle varnish that adds an aged look, and the effect is striking. Every picture, every detail, and every line in the book is whimsical and enchanting. She adds subtle shapes and expressions to the clouds and the land that enrich each page. The people she draws are rotund, and the animals as well, putting a unique spin on the reality of the world in this story. The variations on the ways certain pages are illustrated is lovely, sometimes a page will have three scenes on it, sometimes one, and in one particular case the illustration is unrolling as though woven from a loom itself. The fabric from the clouds is described as “soft as a mouse’s touch, and warm as roasted chestnuts” and somehow, the way she draws it, it looks exactly how it sounds. She turns this book into a work of art.
The moral of The Cloud Spinner is an important one. We must look out for the world we live in, don’t take too much from it, just enough, and that is all one needs to thrive, and this message is particularly important in the tumultuous times of environmental change going on all around us right now. But the boys words at the end of the story are words of hope, when the princess asks, “Is it too late to undo what has been done?” the boy replies “There is still time.” It takes courage, and a fair amount of wisdom, to stand up and protect our fragile planet, but reading this story gives each of us a little bit of both, which in turn we can use to right what wrongs have been done.
Overall Review of The Cloud Spinner
When I was asked to do a review for this book, I immediately said “No, I have too many reviews to do this month already.” And with all the new books coming out, I really did. But then I saw The Cloud Spinner, and as I held it in my hands I flipped through the pages and found myself nodding along. I knew this book was something special. I knew I had to read it. I think the storyline of The Cloud Spinner is engrossing and entertaining, I find the illustrations captivating, and the message of the story delicately presented but none the less prominent and clear for it. As a child, I would have fallen in love with this book, and many children who read it now will fall in love with it too. It’s one of those special books that stand out on the bookshelf, the one that feels the best when you pull it off and hold it. Children who read this book now, and adults too, will cherish it.