Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Interview with Jon Klassen

Jon Klassen is a Canadian writer and illustrator of children's books and an animator. He won both the American Caldecott Medal and the British Kate Greenaway Medal for children's book illustration, recognizing the 2012 picture book This is Not My Hat, which he also wrote. He is the first person to win both awards for the same work.

 We Found A Hat is your third and final book in the 'hat' series. Did you always intend to produce three of these books when you came up with the first book, I Want My Hat Back?

JK: I think I always liked the idea of a set of three, but I didn't know that hats were going to be the central theme. For a while I thought the cast of animals in "I Want My Hat Back" would be in all three books, but when I tried more stories with them it just felt like going back to the well. Once I'd figured that out I wrote a few drafts of a book about fish and they didn't concern hats, but the more I wrestled with the text the more it changed until I woke up one morning and I had written another book about fish and a hat, and I liked it, so I guess then the theme was sort of set. 

BWB: Why turtles? 

JK: I had a few criteria for the animals in this book. I wanted them to be kind of sedentary animals, not very physical. I wanted them to be close to identical with small variations, and shell patterns are good for that. The other thing turtles are great for is focusing the audience. My stories use the characters' eyes a lot, and turtles are so stiff that you know you're not going to get a lot of information from how they are standing or posed, especially not how I draw them, so the only place you can look for clues is their eyes.  

 Which is your favourite of the trilogy?

JK: Right now it's this last one. It took longer to figure out, and I think the kind of story I wanted to try and tell changed in that time. This book feels fuller to me than the other ones, somehow. I think I Want My Hat Back will always be special to me because it kind of arrived mysteriously one evening and I think it still works, and This Is Not My Hat was received so generously by everybody and I do like how that one ends especially, but both those books have a little coldness to them that I don't think this last one has. I think the coldness was on purpose when I did it, but I wanted this one to deal with a relationship that needed establishing and that was something I hadn't had the guts to try before.

BWB: Were you shocked when I Want My Hat Back became such a huge success?

JK: Absolutely. I still am. It's far enough back now that there are kids who had it and have grown out of it and weirdly that gives you a clearer sense of scale of how far it wandered around out there. It's an amazing gift to get, I don't really know how else to put it.

BWB: When you wrote the sequels to I Want My Hat Back, did bringing the bear back ever cross your mind? (especially as he was such an iconic and unforgettable character)

JK: Yes I did try it but like I said it felt a little like going back to the well. I think there was also a lot of fear on my end of writing still. It was the first book I'd ever done by myself and I worried that going back would reveal how accidental it had actually been, that I didn't really have a handle on it after all. I think the thing that I still like most about that book and those characters is that they really did make a little world in my head even though you see so little of it. It felt like a real place and they felt like they all had lives they went back to after that story was over. I think going back in might have broken that a little.

BWB: You have been creating picture books for over 6 years now. Has the way you write and illustrate changed from when you first started?

JK: I won't say I've gotten more confident. Every single new book is terrifying. But I am learning to trust the process more. At the beginning I needed everything to be just so in my head before I started. I didn't have any faith that my skills as either a writer or an illustrator were going to reveal anything along the way. The idea going in had to be as tight as possible to survive whatever flaws I had as the person who had to see it through to the end. But now, and with this last book especially, I'm starting to see that you can get very interesting stuff if you let go of the idea that you know exactly what you want from the start and you keep an eye on where the thing wants to go on its own. It's a much more interesting way to work, and I think you get to some stuff that feels a lot more like it belongs to you than if you were just looking for an idea that was going to feel universal and bulletproof.

BWB: You're also known for your work on animated films such as Coraline. Is this a medium that still interests you creatively?

JK: Yes I do miss animation sometimes. There are storytelling tools in film that you don't get with books. Books - picture books especially - are so clean and economical and you have so much control because it's just you, but animation and film gives you some amazing tools. Movement and acting and sound and editing. I also just miss working in a group and seeing what comes out of that. I think it's a really neat time to be a designer and a storyteller. Games and apps and what's going on in TV have really opened up some amazing new territory and it would be really fun to get into that stuff. I'll try to make books as long as they let me but I think I'll probably try and wander off a few times into those other things too. 

BWB: Have there been any new talents in the book world that have caught your attention?

JK: Oh man I have so many pals who are making books now, it's so great. Look up all these guys, they've all started making their own books this year or last (in no particular order):

Brenden Wenzel, Vera Brosgol, Lucy Ruth Cummins, Kate Beaton, Ryan North, Chris Turnham, Chris Appelhans, Emily Carroll, Steve Wolfhard I'm forgetting everybody but that's a good start. Oh and you know who I haven't met but I love his stuff is William Grill. Some guys just plain make you jealous.

A huge thank you to Jon (I am raising my hat to you) and Marina for taking the time to answer my questions. We Found A Hat is available to buy from the 11th October in the UK. Read my review here.

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