hildren’s author and illustrator Jon Klassen made waves in 2011 with I Want My Hat Back, a striking, minimalist picture book that galvanized readers, inspired numerous tributes, and climbed to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. He’s already illustrated two well-received picture books in 2012 (Extra Yarn and House Held Up by Trees), with a third (his second author/illustrator effort), This Is Not My Hat, publishing today. Klassen was kind enough to sit down for a Q&A that is part interview, part Rorschach inkblot psychoanalysis, and part me asking a very direct question I didn’t think he’d answer.
100 Scope Notes: I have to be honest – the first time I read I Want My Hat Back, I thought it was a European import. The deadpan tone and open-ended, possibly dark conclusion are both uncommon elements in American picture books. I know you’re originally from Canada, but my question is this – are you secretly European?
Jon Klassen: I am Canadian all the way! Though I take that as high praise. There’s a ton of great stuff done in Europe and the UK that I admire a lot, both in terms of story and design. I’m really glad that comes across. We’ve definitely had a warm reception with publishers over there, and it’s crazy that it does go over, I think. I was surprised anyone here got the book, much less people in other countries.
Your latest, This Is Not My Hat, resides in a similar tonal universe with I Want My Hat Back, but is a stand-alone tale, how did this new book come about?
In a very roundabout way. I tried a few stories with the same characters from I Want My Hat Back, but they were feeling forced. My art director Ann Stott at Candlewick suggested I try a whole new group of characters. I thought of fish, and I liked how different the environment would be with that idea, how it would be almost a negative of the last book. I wrote a few fish stories but they were just going ok until I did this one very fast one night and sent it off and realized I’d done another story where a hat is stolen and consequences are implied.
But the more I thought about it, the more I liked this for the next book and how it went with the last one. It was important to me that it be a standalone thing, but I also did kind of like the nod to the last book too, for people who knew it.
Watch the This Is Not My Hat book trailer:
Could we expect a Hat trilogy?
My feelings on trilogies are mixed. I like things in threes as much as anybody, but I can’t think of tons of trilogies where the third one is really good. I mean, besides Back to the Future 3, which is obviously the best one.
Look at this Rorschach inkblot and tell me what you see.
I see a white bird from above flying over a black puddle and about to go through two pylons. i can’t explain the red at the bottom.
Unexpected! I figured you’d go for “two garden gnomes high-fiving”.
Before your author/illustrator career, you worked in animation. If granted the wish to go back in time to work on one animated film, what would it be?
My favorite animated feature film is for sure Pinocchio.
It would’ve been great to be around while that got made. It was so early on in the history of animation and they must have been learning so much then. I think I would probably just want to stand around and get them coffee and let them do their thing. I also would’ve loved to be in the room while Yuri Norstein made The Hedgehog in the Fog. It’s still very mysterious to me technically, and every other way.
Please finish this sentence: “In the book I Want My Hat Back, Bear _____ Rabbit.”
Eats! He eats him. For sure and absolutely.
Didn’t expect a straight answer on that one.
Thanks for taking my questions, Jon!
Mr. Klassen is blog-hopping around the world – here’s where to find him:
Mon, Oct 8: Playing by the Book [UK]
Tues, Oct 9: 100 Scope Notes
Wed, Oct 10: My Best Friends Are Books [AUS]
Thurs, Oct 11: Elizabeth O. Dulemba [US]
Fri, Oct 12: Wahm-Bam [UK]
Mon, Oct 15: Lost in the Library [CAN]
Tues, Oct 16: My Little Bookcase [AUS]
Wed, Oct. 17: A Year of Reading [US]
Click here to listen to Katie Davis interview Jon Klassen on the Brain Burps About Books podcast