humor, illustration, jon klassen, spotlight

Spotlight: The Rock From the Sky/The Old Truck

The Rock From the Sky (Candlewick)
Written & Illustrated by Jon Klassen

For ages: 5-8
Author Jon Klassen’s books are some of the most remarkable children’s literature published at the moment. On the surface, they appear incredibly simplistic; his art style is very clear & direct. There aren’t many words in his books either. However, Klassen is taking big ideas and communicating them in ways that are easy to catch. Yet, his work also lends itself to some deep analysis; he seems deeply philosophical in his writing. The Rock From the Sky is a hilarious and thought-provoking book told in chapters that play with expectations and perspective.

We follow a turtle, an armadillo, and a snake through five chapters. In part one, the turtle has a spot he loves, but the armadillo feels uneasy. In the second part, the turtle falls but won’t accept help. In part three, the duo imagines what the future must be like, encountering something mean. In part four, the armadillo and snake enjoy watching the sunset. And things wrap up in the fifth part; the turtle gets annoyed with the titular rock and takes it out on his friends. This doesn’t sound like much on the surface, a series of disconnected episodes. However, Klassen spins comedic magic out of it all.

Klassen loves dry, deadpan comedy, and that’s found in the reactions of his characters. They seem to look at the reader in the same manner characters from the office gaze into the camera when something ridiculous happens. It’s a much more subtle way of breaking the fourth wall, a gimmick many children’s books have presented in the past; it’s just so sly here. Klassen is also a student of iconic theater, and he’s remixing Waiting for Godot with his very focused cast and setting. This is a story about silliness and absurdity, and that’s something children especially need in these dire, dreadful times.

Activities

  1. Have your child imagine another animal that could be added to the cast of this story. Depending on their age & ability, have them talk out/draw/write a new chapter and how this new animal changes things up.
  2. Klassen’s books are like little plays. Have your child/students/family act out the book’s chapters. Assign a part to each person and even gather props if you’d like. If you’re feeling up for it, share your performance as a video on YouTube.
  3. Have your child/students make a profile of their favorite character. Aspects to include would be likes, dislikes, fears, behavior, and thoughts. To push your writers further, ask them to explain how this character is like/unlike themselves.

The Old Truck (Norton Young Readers)
Written by Jared Pumphrey
Illustrated by Jerome Pumphrey

For ages: 3-5
Like The Rock From the Sky, The Old Truck is another beautifully simplistic book with so much underneath the surface. Brothers Jared and Jerome Pumphrey have used ink stamps to illustrate the book, hand-making over 250 stamps to tell their story. The result of the clear communication of the drawings is that even your earliest emerging readers can page through the text and fully understand what is happening. However, even older students can find rich themes focused around age, usefulness, and finding beauty in things people might toss away. 

The story describes how a pickup truck works hard for the farmer and his family. Much of the narrative is found in the illustrations, which illuminate the simple prose. We see a little girl, the farmer’s daughter, who becomes the central human character in the story. The family loads livestock and produce into the vehicle’s bed, and at certain points, repairs must be made on the old friend. The most interesting segment comes when the truck is parked beside the barn and forgotten for many years. The text describes this as the truck going to sleep and dreaming, and in these visions, he’s transformed into a boat, a blimp, and a moon lander. The grass grows around the red truck, and it seems to be rusted and lost. However, the daughter, now an adult, gets it running again, and the automobile finds a new lease on life.

Living in a world focused on destructive consumption can make us forget old valuable things. They often get tossed aside, lost in closets, attics, and the garage collecting dust. The Old Truck points out that some items may seem useless and get set aside for a time. However, with love and care on our part, we can discover these objects are extraordinary and can keep providing the help we need. If you have ever loved a beat-up old truck, car, or van, then you’re going to find something exceptional here. It’s also a fantastic reminder that even older people, who can get sidelined in our culture, are just as valuable as anyone else in our communities.

Activities

  1. Because The Old Truck was illustrated using ink stamps, it provides an excellent opportunity for your young writers/artists to experiment in the genre. Have your student take a familiar story or one of their own and illustrate it using sponge stamps
  2. Have your child explore the objects that are boxed up in your house. Ask them to choose some forgotten thing that still has a use, even if it needs to be fixed up a little. If you like, have them write a short journal about what makes this object special.
  3. The human characters in The Old Truck don’t ever say anything. By examining the illustrations, have students write about what they believe the farm girl’s motivations were to repair the old truck. 

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