Standing head and shoulders (or should that be hat and fins?) above the competition, Jon Klassen was awarded the 2013 Caldecott Medal for This Is Not My Hat, the darkly funny story of a big fish in pursuit of a tiny thief. A writer and illustrator who has also worked as an animation artist, Klassen first received wide recognition for I Want My Hat Back, a 2011 picture book about a bear in search of his red hat. Just hours after receiving his big news, Klassen answered our questions about the illustrious award.
What was the first thing that went through your head when you found out you had won the Caldecott?
The first thing I thought was that a whole group of people in charge of deciding these things had been looking at my book. Even though it was in the context of having won the award, it was still a nervous thought, wondering what they’d been looking at and talking about.
Who was the one person you couldn’t wait to tell about your award?
My parents, though I called right after I found out and couldn’t get a hold of them, and I was about to catch a plane while the announcements were going to be happening. They were watching them on their computer and called me as I was getting off the plane after I got to turn my phone back on. It was great.
Do you have a favorite past Caldecott winner?
Probably Arnold Lobel. The Frog and Toad books meant so much to me when I was little, and they’re still so impressive now when I go back to them.
What’s the best part of writing books for a younger audience?
It forces you to be simple with your language and also with the plot itself. You want to grab their attention right away and not let go, because when they are that young they will just wander away, literally.
What kind of reaction have you gotten from your readers about this book?
So far the reaction has been great! It’s been a lot of fun because most of the people I meet in the context of the book come out because they liked I Want My Hat Back too, so you’re on safe ground most of the time. With I Want My Hat Back, people sometimes didn’t know the book so there was a moment of nervousness after you’d read it to them to see if they were smiling or upset. With this book there hasn’t been as much of that.
Have you read or listened to past Caldecott acceptance speeches? Are you excited (or worried!) about your own speech?
I got to be there for Chris Raschka’s speech last year, which was really neat. I haven’t read or listened to many, and I’m kind of undecided if I’ll make a point of reading or listening to more before I have to give mine, just because I feel like I’d be prone to copying parts of theirs that I liked. That said, I’ll probably panic when it turns out I have nothing and go and scour every past speech I can get my hands on. I think the needle is pointing more heavily toward “worried” than “excited” when I remember that I have to give one.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on another book with Mac Barnett and another of my own, and I illustrated The Dark by Lemony Snicket that comes out in April.
Jon Klassen’s illustrated Q&A about This Is Not My Hat.