PPBF – Three Balls of Wool (Can Change the World)

I first became aware of today’s Perfect Picture Book when I read a wonderful and thought-provoking review by Maria Popova in her online newsletter, Brain Pickings. Based on her review, I knew this was a book I had to read, and share with you!

9781592702206Title: Three Balls of Wool (Can Change the World)

Written By: Henriqueta Cristina

Illustrated By: Yara Kono

Translated By: Lyn Miller-Lachmann

Publisher/date: Enchanted Lion Books/2017 (originally published in Portugal as Com 3 Novelos (O Mundo Dá Muitas Voltas) by Planeta Tangerina/2015)

Suitable for Ages: 3-9 (and older)

Themes/Topics: conformity; freedom of expression; refugees; creativity


When I was eight years old, I lived in a warm, sunny country. It was also one where few children went to school.

My parents worried so much that lines appeared on their foreheads. They said words I didn’t understand. Words they whispered to each other, like: “Ignorance.” “Fear.” “War.” “Prison.”

One day I heard them say, “Exile.” The line on my father’s forehead deepened. The next day we left before dawn.

Brief Synopsis:

A family flees their homeland when life in a dictatorship becomes dangerous. They reach a country in which creativity and freedom of expression are non-existent, until they arrive and provide an example of how to combat conformity.

Links to Resources:

  • Try a kid-friendly type of knitting: finger knitting;
  • In search of freedom, the family in Three Balls of Wool travels from Portugal, to France, Algeria, Romania, and finally to Prague, in Czechoslvakia (today the Czech Republic). Trace their route on a map of Europe;
  • Learn in the Foreword about Amnesty International USA, which partnered with the publisher on Three Balls of Wool, learn the 20th century history of Portugal and the backstory of Three Balls of Wool in an Afterword, and view The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in an Afterword.

Why I Like this Book:

Through simple, kid-relatable words and images, Cristina and Kono bring understanding to the situations of refugees before and after they flee their homelands. In Three Balls of Wool, the young narrator notes some of the reasons the family left their home, including lack of education and worry expressed by parents through “lines” on foreheads and whispers about war and prison. But not only was their new home different, with a different language, it also was gray, cold and drab. All of the children wore only gray, green or orange sweaters, and “followed each other in an orderly way, almost as silent as the street lamps.”

While it’s the mother in Three Balls of Wool who conceived of a way to counter the drabness and conformity, she was inspired by the narrator’s braids, and the narrator and her brothers bravely wore the new sweaters to the park where initially a “strange silence” and everyone “staring” greeted them. But the narrator’s “voice grew stronger,” and in the final scene we learn that others followed the mother’s and children’s lead to express their individuality.


reprinted from Planeta Tangeria

I think this very visual exploration of how to integrate some of one’s old life into a new situation and how to celebrate creativity over conformity will resonate with kids and give rise to interesting discussions about how newcomers integrate into a society, how their skills and creativity enrich their new homes, and how small steps can lead to positive change.

A Note about Craft:

Color and pattern are integral to Three Balls of Wool and its message of “being the change.” Cristina’s focus on a visual metaphor is an important reminder to focus on a kid-relatable element such as the monotone versus patterned pullovers. I also love that the metaphor of choice highlights the mother’s creativity and serves also as a subliminal metaphor for integration. Finally, Three Balls of Wool is based, per the Afterword, on the experiences of a family who fled Portugal during its dictatorship with its lack of education and inequality and settled in egalitarian, Communist Czechoslovakia. The imagery is a stark reminder that there was a price for this equality, but through creativity, change was possible there, too.

Per the book jacket, Cristina is a teacher who “likes to share stories” in her native Portugal. Born in São Paulo, Brazil, Kono is an award-winning illustrator and graphic designer at Planeta Tangerina, the original publisher of Three Balls of Wool. Enchanted Lion Books is “an independent, family-owned children’s book publisher based in Brooklyn, New York.”

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

10 responses to “PPBF – Three Balls of Wool (Can Change the World)

  1. Thanks for such a thorough review. Some picture books just have us laughing out loud, this one sounds like it will leave its message with us long after we have finished reading it.

  2. I have a weakness for Planeta Tangerina books!

  3. This story is quietly powerful. I love the message as it will resonate with children. Love the artwork!

  4. This sounds like a thought-provoking book with an important message. I’ll check it out!

  5. This is one I surely would have missed if you hadn’t shared it. Thank you!

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