If you’ve ever had a relative who gives you atrocious presents, then you’ll find Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters especially funny. Poor Lester. After Cousin Clara’s cottage is consumed by a crocodile, Cousin Clara comes to to stay. And she brings her knitting. The first thing Clara knits is a sweater for Lester. So begins The Shaming of Lester. He is told to say thank you and he has to wear the dreadful thing to school. Shame ensues. Later, mysteriously, the sweater ends up shrunk in the laundry. But Clara is unstoppable. She keeps on knitting. The next sweater is every bit as awful. This pattern continues until Clara, undaunted, knits a whole mountain of sweaters. Lester very nearly loses hope – and his dignity – but fate intervenes. In the end, Lester and his sweaters are saved.
K.G. Campbell’s debut is wonderfully quirky. There’s a playfulness to the language that matches the outrageous scenario:
“The next sweater was repulsively pumpkin, uncommonly crooked and had a hideous hood. It unraveled in the rain and got washed down a drain.”
Words like ghastly, dismembered, irksome, and gruesome contribute to Snicket-ish feeling of the story, so do Lester’s precociousness and his dismal circumstance. And is it just me, or does Clara have a certain devilishness to her? Check out how she’s eyeing Lester while knitting that first sweater. In fact, she’s almost always watching him, and what about her smile? She is one twisted old biddy.
Carefully placed details in the text and illustrations help Lester to come across as an odd little fellow. He makes unusual lists: Stinky Things Beginning with B, Forty-Four Foul Foods, Suspicious Stuff Starting with C. His socks need to be exactly even. He has a collection of strange lost things including a viking helmet, a toilet seat, and a single clog. I’ve read others compare Campbell’s artistic style to Gorey, and I think that’s fitting, though Campbell’s work is certainly softer. It has a classic look with muted colours.
Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters is a charmingly kooky and stylish debut. Parents, you’ll want to pull this one out when Great Aunt Sissy sends another unfortunate birthday gift, because Lester’s story should remind kids everywhere that it could be so much worse.
Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters is published by Kids Can Press.