My first introduction to the classic Ukrainian folktale about a boy who loses his mitten and the animals that pile into it for warmth was the version adapted and illustrated by Jan Brett. First published in 1989, Brett’s The Mitten is beloved by many and is probably the best-known version of the tale. The book is classic Brett—with beautiful detailed illustrations of expressive animals and sumptuous snowy landscapes. Details like close-up views of the knitted stitches in the mitten as it’s being stretched to the limit and authentic Ukrainian touches make this a standout. And here, Brett’s signature decorative borders feature miniature scenes of the boy searching for his mitten and the next animal to come along and crawl into it. Instead of being distracting from the action of the main scene, I find that they help propel the story forward and inspire children to imagine what will happen next. The text is well-written, making it a great read-aloud, and I especially love the last picture of the young boy’s grandmother, Baba, looking at the recovered mitten and wondering why it’s so much bigger than the other.
Recently, however, I’ve discovered another lovely version of the tale, adapted by Alvin Tresselt and illustrated by Yaroslava. Originally published in 1964, Tresselt’s The Mitten is still in print today. The illustrations are simpler and old fashioned—with fine-line black-and-white drawings and choice use of bright colors. The text, which is wordier than Brett’s, contains more subtle humor, so I suppose this version may appeal to slightly older children. In addition, the animals wear traditional Ukrainian garb and talk like humans: ‘“Is there room for me in that nice warm mitten?” asked the rabbit. “It’s awfully cold out here.” “Not much space left,” said the mouse and the frog and the owl. “But come in. We’ll see what we can do.”’ In the end, a little old cricket tries to squeeze into the mitten and it bursts apart. When the boy (we later learn that he’s the narrator’s grandfather) goes back into the forest to look for his mitten “all he could find were the ripped-apart pieces.”
Which version do I like better? I really can’t decide. Visually, the two are very different and there are subtle differences in how the story is told. But both are so charming and both do justice to this classic tall tale. Either way, you can’t go wrong.
Are you familiar with these books or other versions of The Mitten? Which do you prefer?