author spotlight, humor

Author Spotlight – Jon Klassen

Jon Klassen is one of the essential comedic children’s writers working in the business. You will know what I am talking about if you have read his work. I see his books as a distillation of the comedic ethos behind things like Monty Python but made appropriate for kids. What I mean by that is that the work presents some heady philosophical concepts but presented in a manner that a child will have no problem digesting them and finding the humor in the deceptively simple work. Klassen is a Canadian, born in Winnipeg but grew up in Toronto. His art career started in animation, and Klassen contributed to the hit film Kung Fu Panda. His illustrations for other children’s authors gained him several awards and spurred Klassen to write his own books. I Want My Hat Back was his debut as an author/illustrator, and it has been hit after hit since. The recurring aesthetic in all of Klassen’s work is minimalism. The drawings are never overly complicated or filled with detail. It results in a very deadpan style of humor.

The Hat Trilogy (Candlewick)
Written & Illustrated by Jon Klassen

For ages: 4-8
“I Want My Hat Back” begins with a bear. His hat is gone, and he wants it back. As he crosses paths with the animals in his neighborhood, the bear asks if they have his hat. Everyone says no. But then the deer shows up and asks a question that essentially flips a table and sends the bear on a quest for vengeance. From there, we meet a fish wearing a nice hat in “This Is Not My Hat,” and we learn of the complications he runs into for having a chapeau. Finally, in “We Found a Hat,” some turtles find a hat, but there are two of them. Who shall wear it? This final book will reward people who haven’t read the other two but certainly those who have kept up with the series. This is a must-have for any elementary classroom and/or library.

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (Candlewick)
Written by Mac Barnett
Illustrated by Jon Klassen

For ages: 4-8
Sam and Dave are two boys who just know something valuable is buried in the ground. They have to start digging, and they find it. They dig a hole. Then they dig deeper. Then they keep digging. There is nothing. However, something special is happening here, and Sam and Dave need to wake up to see it. Written by Klassen’s regular collaborator Mac Barnett, this book is centered on themes of patience and observance. So often, we get lost in the chase, and we forget to stop and look around. The result is that we miss the things that we were searching for in the first place. This was the first Klassen book I read, and it has stuck with me ever since, spurring on a love of this wry creator.

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

For ages: 4-8
Klassen’s most recent book is a masterpiece. We visit some animals (who are wearing hats, hm?) standing in their favorite spot. This was Turtle’s spot, and he invited Armadillo over. Now that Armadillo is here, Turtle wishes he hadn’t asked his friend in the first place. It is sort of killing the vibe. From there, things get…strange & funny & poignant. This is a book all about the difficulties of navigating friendship, but also those feelings we get when we know something somewhere is not quite right. Klassen manages to take a lot of themes and elements from theater like Waiting for Godot and make them entirely digestible for an elementary school audience. If kids walk away having learned any lesson, may it be that silliness is the best state of mind. 

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