Jon Klassen shares the books which inspire him

posted in: Jon Klassen | 8

Join me today on the first leg of a world wide tour!

Back in April when I attended the London Book Fair there was a lot of buzz about one particular picture book – Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back. Then, later in the year award winning illustrators Viviane Schwarz and Claudia Boldt both included it in their must-read, brilliant picture books lists for me and so I became even more curious about reading the book.

Well the waiting is nearly over – I Want My Hat Back is published on the 6th of October and I’m delighted to be taking part in world wide blog tour to celebrate its imminent arrival on bookshelves everywhere. Unfortunately I personally won’t be touring world wide, but you will be able to, at least from the comfort of your own chairs, with stop-offs at Kids’ Book Capers, Not Just for Kids, Bringing up Charlie, My Book Corner, Wahm-Bam!, Pickle Me This, There’s a Book, My Little Bookcase, Chris Rettstatt over the next nine days.

First up I’d like to share with you the book’s trailer which will give you a good feel for the style of illustration in Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back

Next, I asked Jon to share with us 8 books that reflect pivotal moments in his life so far, with particular reference to his journey towards becoming a published author/illustrator. These are not necessarily his 8 favourite books of all time, but rather 8 books that shaped or inspired his path towards becoming a published writer and illustrator.

Here are the books he chose, each accompanied by a comment from Jon:

In a Dark Dark Room by Alvin Schwartz, Illustrated by Dirk Zimmer

I know a lot of people my age who remember this book with the same kind of visceral reaction. It was a collection of stories that were scary for sure, but they were also just really strange. It sort of teaches you how much kids remember about the things that scare them (properly). This book was never not checked out of the library.

Robert the Rose Horse by Joan Heilbroner, Illustrated by P.D. Eastman

I had this book read to me a lot, and I think a lot of my own story ideas come from how much I liked it. It’s about a horse who goes into town to find a job but his allergy to roses keeps getting him fired from the jobs he finds. The idea of a search for something until you really hit rock bottom is something I keep coming back to. Also P.D. Eastman’s illustrations are a big reason why this book is great. It could’ve been a really weird one without him.

Go Dog, Go by P.D. Eastman

This book is still a total mystery to me. My memories of it are so vivid in the places and things that happen, and how big and vast everything felt, and I look at it now and it’s so simple in the pictures and it makes very little sense in the text, but it still feels like a totally conscious and complete book. I hope that someday I make something like it.

Zoom Away by Tim Wynne-Jones, Illustrated by Eric Beddows

This book is about a cat who lives in a giant house with a lady and the house is filled with snow inside and they go all the way to the top floor where there is a door to a cave that goes to the north pole where the cat’s uncle has been shipwrecked on the ice. And it’s done so well that you never question the basis for any of that. Treating a crazy idea with serious text and handsome, non-ironic illustrations is a pretty neat trick.

The Big Jump by Benjamin Elkin, Illustrated by Katherine Evans

This book is out of print now, but Benjamin Elkin had all sorts of books about good-natured kings who solve riddles in their castles. In this book there was also a Bad King who was evil just for the sake of it. I like this book for this list because the lessons in it are so local to the story and the circumstances that they can’t really be applied anywhere in real life.

Sam and The Firefly by P.D. Eastman

There’s a lot of P.D. Eastman on this list, but this was my favorite, mostly for the color of nighttime and how soft his illustrations are in it. Because it’s about two characters who fly, things are seen from the sky a lot and roads and hills just fade into the distance and it’s so great. If I ever make a night time book, it will rip this book off hard.

The Mansion in the Mist by John Bellairs, Illustrated by Edward Gorey

I didn’t get to the Bellairs books at the right age, but I found them through the Gorey covers later and read a lot of them, and this one was so great. It treats magic the way you remember treating it when you were little, only explaining the rules as far as what’s going on right then and changing it as need be.

Abel’s Island by William Steig

I didn’t get to William Steig at the right age either, but Abel’s Island is one of my favorite books in any category. If I could choose anybody to write like, it would be him. Also the scale of the book is perfect – it’s not too long to be epic but it’s long enough to feel like you really were living somewhere for a while.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

It’s often a problem with illustrated books that the more graphic and designed they get, the less emotionally involving they can be. Even though this book isn’t illustrated or anything, it still comes off as graphic and clean and yet I think it’s the most emotionally loaded thing I ever read.

My thanks go to Jon for sharing his selection of books with us today. I shall certainly be reserving more P.D. Eastman at the library today! If you’d like to find out more about Jon there are several great interviews out there with him:

  • On Illustration Mundo
  • On It’s Nice That
  • Over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
  • In this podcast from Illustration Island
  • And at Olivia Huynh’s blog

  • Jon also has a lovely website, The Burst of Beaden and can be found on twitter @burstofbeaden. You can buy his prints at Gallery Nucleus.

    Don’t forget to visit Kids’ Book Capers tomorrow for the next stage in the blog hop 🙂

    8 Responses

    1. Zoe

      Hi Stacey, Jackie,

      The book is definitely fun – I’ll be reviewing it next week (and hopefully a signed giveaway…). Can’t wait to see what else appears in the tour on everyone else’s blogs.

    2. Kara

      I find it interesting that many of his books are easy readers. I think sometimes that level of book is overlooked as educational rather than fun because the vocabulary is not always exciting (since the main focus is to teach children to read,) and the illustrations serve to reinforce the text rather than complement it, like a picture book would. And yet look at the impact those books had on him! In some ways, I Want My Hat Back, is like a reader–it gets to the point and it does it exceptionally well. Great interview!

    3. Janelle

      First saw mention of this one at There’s a Book and at Fuse #8. Now here. I read Elizabeth Bird’s detailed review of it, and pre-ordered a copy. Can’t wait to receive it this week. I’m anxiously awaiting to see how my children respond.

      By the way, we just discovered Robert the Rose Horse this year. My kids love it and we plan to give a copy to my brother for his birthday. (He’ll get a kick out of it, considering his name is also Robert!)

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