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Every now and again you come across a picture book which has it all – unique illustrations, loveable characters, and a strange but wickedly funny existential undertone which will make kids laugh from the nonsense of it all, and adults chuckle with the cleverness. The Rock from the Sky is one of those picture books. It’s a deadpan GEM, but also a meditation on the workings of friendship, fate, shared futuristic visions, and that funny feeling you get that there’s something off somewhere, but you just can’t put your finger on it.
 

You might know Jon Klassen from his New York Times bestselling book I Want My Hat Back, or its companions, including the award-winning This Is Not My Hat.

There’s something about Jon’s unique and evocative illustrative style which is difficult to describe, but captures all kinds of feelings: joy, hysteria, strangeness, calm… it is simple but also has incredible depth, rendered in soft dream-tones in varying levels of transparency and gradient, and given life through its kooky characters and wry and witty dialogue.

Safe to say, we LOVE Jon’s picture books – read on for our exclusive Q&A with Jon about The Rock from The Sky and his process.


What comes first – A concept, a character, an illustration…?

Probably a concept, a very basic premise of something happening, or having happened, or about to happen. But these don't guarantee a book will come out of it. The thing that makes that happen, when it does, is when the characters you have reacting to the premise start kind of breathing on their own. I don't know what makes that happen, it either does or it doesn't. It's a very happy day when it does, though. The illustration comes sometimes around the same time as the concept, but it's a very simple illustration, usually. The premise I talked about should usually be a visual one - a hat that is missing, a rock that is falling, etc. This way very young audience members can still get something out of the book if they can't read it or even understand the emotions of the characters. If a book is called "The Rock From The Sky" there better be at least one rock on the ground by the end of that book.

 

The Rock from the Sky by Jon Klassen

 

‘The Rock’, ‘The Fall’, ‘The Sunset’ and ‘No More Room’ are sections from The Rock from the Sky - what does it all mean?

The titles were chosen after the stories were finished. I'd actually wanted to call "The Fall" a different title - "The Seven Lies" - but it didn't really go with what we already had. That's a lot of how things like this are made, though. You get one title you like that sounds like it fits the book, so then you try and choose another story title that fits with that one and so on. The trick is to get one piece you know is right, then you can follow that where it takes you.

 

The dialogue in your books reads like children speaking to each other in a playground but the underlying humour and abstract nature really resonates with an adult reader – talk us through the process of writing this type of dialogue.

Again it's very intuitive. A lot of writing, for me, is kind of riding a sound, and that really is how it feels. A sound comes into your head on how the talking should be, and that sound will show you a lot of the book - it will show you how it looks and what the story can do and how it ends, even. A big part of the dialogue is actually the space between the words. Without a narrator, I feel like there's this kind of ambient low hum that happens when the characters don't say anything, just to fill the space, and that informs the sound of the dialogue, too, because it's interrupting that hum, or maybe even talking over it.

 

Jon-Klassen-credit-Moranne-Keeler.jpg

 

Someone tells you they want to write a picture book. What is the first piece of advice that comes to mind?

Do way less than you think you need to. Picture books are such a sentimental and precious thing to think about because we remember them from a special time in our lives and it feels (and is) such a privilege to write them because of that, but that often leads to wanting to cram the whole world into one when you sit down to write, and none of the books I love try to cram the whole world in. The world will open up on its own if you just focus on a very small and simple idea.

 

What’s the best part of the process when creating a picture book?

For me it's the roughs. You do the roughs when the writing is largely figured out, and the writing is the hardest part, so that's over by then. But the thing can live and die in the roughs, too, and it's where the biggest decisions are made. It's the least pretty stage of the thing too - the roughs are often pretty ugly, which, again, appeals to me for some reason. It's not to show anyone else, it's just for you, and that's a really special time. It's often a pretty short stage, so it's sad when it's done because after that it's not really yours anymore. But that's ok! You gotta send em out into the world sometime.


The Rock from the Sky is available in store and online now.

The Rock from the Sky
Jon Klassen, Jon Klassen
$27.99
  

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