Winning one Caldecott award is reason enough to celebrate, but this year Jon Klassen took home two.
His book This Is Not My Hat won the Caldecott Medal, the most prestigious US children’s book award given to illustrators, but he also won a Caldecott Honour – sort of a runner-up award – for illustrating Mac Barnett’s Extra Yarn.
In Extra Yarn, a little girl in a drab, grey town finds a box of multicoloured yarn and begins to knit herself a sweater. She has some extra yarn, and each time she knits something for the people, animals and objects around her, she finds she has extra yarn. The heart-warming story is well-complemented by Klassen’s illustrations, rendered in sombre monochromes with injections of colour and no background detail.
Readers familiar with his style will even recognise that some animal characters that wear sweaters knitted by the little girl are similar to those in I Want My Hat Back, the first book that Klassen wrote and illustrated.
What’s unusual about Klassen is that, one year after publishing this best-selling book, he has created another book, the award-winning This Is Not My Hat, that is also about a search for a lost hat. This story of a little fish that has stolen a hat from a big fish is not a sequel but has a similar premise.
The main difference between the books is the shift in perspective, and change in our sympathies. In the new story, we see the little fish’s point of view as the thief, and in the first book, we see the bear’s point of view as the victim of theft.
This Is Not My Hat is a perfect example of illustrations amplifying the text. In one sequence, the same drawing of a fish fills four consecutive double pages, with the only difference being the change in the fish’s eyes from closed to open to looking up, and finally to narrow slits. When these illustrations are set against the narration by the protagonist, the thieving little fish, the impact is noticeable. The colours are subtle and muted against a black background, the fish in This Is Not My Hat is reminiscent of Leo Lionni’s colourful Swimmy.
A Canadian living in Los Angeles, Klassen has an established career in animation. He created a trailer for This Is Not My Hat, and was the illustrator behind U2’s animated music video for their song I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight as well as a promotion for the BBC’s coverage of the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Klassen creates superb works of art as an illustrator, and he continues to collaborate on other people’s stories. The wide range of his talent can be witnessed in two new releases – House Held Up by Trees by Ted Kooser, a former United States poet laureate, and The Dark by the prince of twisted humour, Lemony Snicket.
Annie Ho is board chairwoman of Bring Me A Book Hong Kong, a non-profit organisation dedicate to improving children’s literacy by reading aloud to them (bringmeabook.org.hk)