April 15, 2021

The Rock from the Sky

Written and illustrated by Jon Klassen
Candlewick Press
96 pp.
Ages 4-8
April 2021
With his characteristic grim humour and understated but commanding illustrations, Jon Klassen returns with a new extended picture book (96 pages) to take on a story of fate, pride and connection. It is both of our world and not.
From The Rock from the Sky by Jon Klassen
In a series of five separate stories, each numbered and titled, Jon Klassen chronicles the interactions between a turtle, an armadillo, a snake and a rock. In the first, The Rock, the hat-wearing turtle–Jon Klassen does like his hats– has positioned himself at his favourite spot beside a rose-coloured flower. Though the reader can see, in the next double-spread, a massive rock suspended in the air, Turtle is oblivious. When Armadillo, in his own bowler, comes along and gets a bad feeling, he checks out a spot farther away beside a leafy stem where the beret-wearing Snake joins him. As Turtle shouts at them that his spot is better, approaching them to be heard, the massive rock drops onto Turtle's favourite spot.

From The Rock from the Sky by Jon Klassen
In The Fall, Turtle has climbed up upon the rock and fallen off onto his back. As can happen to any turtle, he is stuck, but he refuses to acknowledge to a concerned Armadillo that he had been climbing or that he had fallen. Moreover, he refuses the very help he requires.

I never need help.

What are you doing?
I came to take a nap.
It is nice under here.
You can take a nap
too, if you want.
There is just enough 
room for two.

No. I am not tired.

As such, the two acquaintances remain in place, with Turtle wide awake and stuck on his back, and still stubbornly refusing help, while Armadillo naps.
The third story, The Future, has contemplative Armadillo thinking about the future and what might grow and become of the area around the rock. But his imagination reveals a one-eyed, multi-legged creature as tall as the rock, sending out laser waves and blasting a flower into a charred mess before Turtle decries that...
I don't want to imagine into the 
future with you anymore.
Ever pensive, Armadillo ponders the beauty of the setting sun when Turtle approaches him and Snake in The Sunset. Shouting from far away, Turtle demands to know what they're doing. Of course, he cannot hear their responses so he just comes closer and closer until he misses the sunset completely, never stopping to notice it.
From The Rock from the Sky by Jon Klassen
Feeling disregarded by the sleeping Armadillo and Snake in No More Room, the final chapter in The Rock from the Sky, Turtle leaves, affronted by their apparent rejection. Turtle suggests that perhaps he will go away and never come back, shouting at them to ensure they hear him. Thinking they still cannot hear him, he approaches while repeating his message. However, Armadillo and Snake are quite awake now, seeing the strange creature behind the oblivious Turtle. Once again, Turtle has no idea what a close call he's going to have.
From The Rock from the Sky by Jon Klassen
Though there is much simplicity in the dialogue between Turtle and Armadillo–Snake does not speak–Jon Klassen uses subtle distinctions to embed more meaning in the story of the three acquaintances, perhaps even friends, who are as different in attitude and intention as a turtle, an armadillo and a snake might be. Through font colour and capitalization, Jon Klassen differentiates between his characters and the nature of their voices. He portrays Turtle as a proud and even tedious character who sees little beyond himself, never wanting to look anything but capable. Armadillo, on the other hand, is imaginative and attentive, both insightful and considerate while never arrogant. And Snake? He just is, taking things at face-value. Armadillo is the quiet leader, Snake the congenial follower, and Turtle the naive but self-important simpleton. Their fates and their connection with each other are what give The Rock from the Sky their stories.

Of course, Jon Klassen's distinction is in his artwork, having won the Governor General's Award for Children's Illustration, as well as the prestigious Caldecott and Kate Greenaway Medals. The Rock from the Sky is no less distinguished than his earlier award-winning books, especially those whose stories he penned like This is Not My Hat. The art, created digitally with watercolours, is authoritative. It is both organic, in line and shape and most definitely colour, but also otherworldly, importing the surreal or perhaps alien, to help us see better how things truly are.

I know many people think picture books are only for children but The Rock from the Sky is so sophisticated in its art and wry storytelling that I encourage it be read by all. It has a wicked tongue-in-cheek story about seeing what is in front of you, or above you, and ahead of you, and about listening to make sure you don't miss the obvious. I hope I was able to see and hear adequately to experience the true nature of Jon Klassen's extraordinary tale.

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I'm so excited to announce that tomorrow I'll be posting an interview I had with author and illustrator Jon Klassen about The Rock from the Sky. It was a thrill to get his perspective on his inspirations for The Rock from the Sky and to learn more about the process by which he created his new book. Do check back tomorrow for this special posting.

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