We at CLiF don’t usually talk about people behind their backs, but, um, can we talk about Jon Klassen for a minute?
Okay, are you aware that he won, not one, but two Caldecott Awards this year? Who does that?
Honestly, where did this guy come from? What? Oh. Canada, of course. Right.
Did you know that the American Library Association gives one Caldecott Medal per year to the “artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children” and offers only a few Caldecott Honors to the runners up. Out of all of the wonderful children’s books published in 2012, Klassen’s two books were chosen. Wow.
So they must be really great books, right?
I would say that is an understatement. This is why we are talking behind his back. Praise like this can go right to a person’s head.
My family actually received one of the books as a gift this year and are head over heels about it. It is Extra Yarn written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen.
The story is about a little girl, in a dreary, dreary place, who finds a box of multi-colored yarn. She begins to knit and knit and transforms her little town into a beautiful place. I don’t want to give it away, but the story is simple yet complex, sweet but not cute, quirky but real. There is even a bad guy, so it is exciting, without being scary. It’s great. I love it.
But it’s the illustrations that really amaze me. We read it before bed the other night and after the kids were asleep I sat and analyzed the illustrations for another half hour. Nothing makes me happier than seeing something done really well- and especially if I have no idea how such a thing is accomplished. Klassen did this, for lack of a better expression, really cool thing with color and pattern. It just makes me smile to look at it.
And this is just the book that won the Caldecott honor, one of the runners up, not the actual medal!
The number one award winning book is This is Not My Hat, this time both illustrated and written by Klassen. In this book, Klassen uses his spare but rich artwork to tell a story that is happening simultaneous to the narration.
This hat is not mine.
I just stole it.
I stole it from a big fish.
But the illustrations don’t show the narrator, they show the big fish discovering the missing hat.
It’s humorously suspenseful and delightful in every way, but again, it’s the illustrations that bring me back again and again.
Klassen’s illustrations create a feeling of slow, quiet, purposeful movement from the big fish and quick, nervous movement from the little fish. The sense of motion created by the still frames is really incredible. I mean, his parents must be so proud.
And, back to the reason we are talking behind Klassen’s back, rather than right to his face, is that he seems to be quite humble about his work. When asked about his reaction to the popularity of his books he said,
“I think you get this feeling that these books aren’t quite real, even when you see them in stores. Especially the ones you write and illustrate yourself. They’re so homemade – not to say that they aren’t produced beautifully and the art direction isn’t amazing and everything, but you see them and you wonder if people see all the weird little things you do in them, because you made them in your house.”
Well there is homemade, and then there is homemade by someone of great talent, skill and ability. It would indeed be surprising to find in stores most of the things people make at home, but really, not in this case.
If you have not seen Klassen’s books yet, you must. But if you see Klassen himself, don’t let on we were talking about him. We don’t want it to go to his head.