Author and illustrator Jon Klassen throws a turtle, an armadillo, and a snake—oh, and a boulder falling from above—into the mix in his latest picture-book comedy, The Rock from the Sky, which Candlewick will publish in March 2021. The story offers a meditation on friendship, fate, and the sensation that there’s something not quite right, but you just can’t put your finger on it. Liz Bicknell, executive editorial director and associate publisher, acquired world rights to the book from Steve Malk at Writers House.
Though Klassen launched his publishing career less than a decade ago, with 2011’s I Want My Hat Back, his picture books have soared to impressive commercial and critical heights, reaching an in-print total of close to four million copies in 27 languages. This Is Not My Hat, the first book to receive both the Caldecott and the Kate Greenaway Medal, was the second in the Hat trilogy, which wrapped up with We Found a Hat. Klassen’s bestselling collaborations with his longtime friend, author Mac Barnett, include the Shape trilogy, Triangle, Square, and Circle; The Wolf, the Duck, and the Mouse; and Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, which won a 2015 Caldecott Honor.
Noting that he always likes “a good visual premise” for a story he writes as well as illustrates, Klassen said that the image that sparked The Rock from the Sky was “someone standing in a spot that they really liked and then showing readers that, somewhere far above, a rock was falling on that very spot.” But once the rock had fallen, he added, “I liked the idea of continuing—taking what the joke had given us and living with it afterwards. How does this rock, now that it’s here, change the routine of these characters and their relationship to each other?”
The new book, his first solo effort since his hat trick about hats, “was a bit trickier to write,” Klassen acknowledged, though that trilogy provided a useful learning curve. “In the course of writing the three Hat books, I had really started to see the value in following my nose instead of hanging things onto a predetermined structure,” he said. “It’s exciting to do that because you could blow it, but if it works you end up someplace you’ve never been before. So with The Rock from the Sky, I tried as much as I could to stay loose and just make myself laugh and get the moments as tight as I could. Emotionally it’s lower key than the Hat books, I think, and that was the idea from the start.”
Bicknell says she knew that Klassen had been working on a new book, but he hadn’t shared its content with her. “There was a lot of anticipatory buildup in-house, and when The Rock from the Sky finally arrived, we were all excited to meet these characters,” she recalled. “Jon is always unpredictable, but this is a new slant. I think his genius lies in revealing the human emotions that we pretend we don’t have, but in fact we all do have, and putting them in the characters of these slightly absurd animals. It’s the combination of funny little animals and the enormous human psyche that makes his books so wonderful.”
Fans of Klassen’s earlier books will notice a familiar trope in The Rock from the Sky: almost everyone is wearing a hat. “The two main characters are wearing little black bowlers, as kind of a nod to both surrealist plays and Laurel and Hardy,” Klassen said. “It sort of makes them into little comedic guys before they even get to say anything. And there is a snake that wears a beret for reasons I have not explained to myself—but I know it is the right choice. There is one other character in the book, and he does not wear a hat, but I won’t spoil his identity here.”
That will be revealed in a short 18 months.