House Held Up By Trees

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by Ted Kooser, illustrated by Jon Klaassen (Candlewick, 2012)

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Above, the endpapers. A subtle hint at the both the hope and the loss inside: the green, the growth, the time.

House Held Up By Trees is one of my most treasured books. It was published around the time that Jon Klassen was racking up accolades (well-deserved!) for I Want My Hat Back and Extra Yarn, and it was written by a Ted Kooser, a Poet Laureate from about a decade ago.

That is a powerful team. And they captured a quietly powerful story.

There’s a house. It doesn’t look like much. But a dad lives there. Two kids. The dad is particular about his lawn and the kids run off to play in the trees and scraggly underbrush on either side of the house. Their yard, after all, has no secret spots or shade.

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These opening spreads are beautifully cinematic. Sweeping and grand. We are spinning around this house, this focal point, seeing it from the perspective of a homecoming, a hiding spot, and a thing with fur.

If you are a picture book author of text only, you’ve probably heard the advice to make sure you have x number of illustratable settings. Well. This book has a house. And a lawn. And characters that come and go. It breaks some of the ‘rules,’ but to heck with those things. Write something beautiful. 

Something important. Something that has to be told and illustrated or else it will be scattered away with those twirly-whirly seeds.

The words are not spare in this text. In fact, there are many. But because of Kooser’s text, lyrically floating around a solid foundation, Klassen gets to explore all angles of this environment.

Page after page after page. It’s a case study in composition. And it is beautiful and important and elusive.

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The children leave. The father leaves. The house stays.

It is bittersweet. Time goes on, but trees do too.

What once was vast and open and contained is now crowded by branches and forceful new life. And again, Klassen’s compositions tell the story of an unbridled wildness.

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First there was a crack of light beneath it, and then . . . 

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PS: Do you know this blog, 32 Pages? Here’s a look at House Held Up By Trees that is beyond beautiful, and in a funny twist of small-world-ness, I worked on the television show she mentions in her post. 

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen (Candlewick Press, 2014)

You know Mac and Jon. You love Mac and Jon. Now meet Sam and Dave. You’ll love Sam and Dave.

Don’t rush into the pages just yet. This is one of the best covers I’ve seen in a long while. If we weren’t so aware that Jon Klassen (that insta-recognizable style!) is a contemporary illustrator, I would wholeheartedly presume that it was some vintage thing in a used bookstore. A find to gloat about, a find that makes you wonder just how you got so lucky.

The hole. The space left over. The words, stacked deeper and deeper. The apple tree whose tippy top is hidden. Two chaps, two caps, two shovels. One understanding dog.

Speaking of two chaps, two caps, and two shovels, check out the trailer.

(I’ll wait if you need to watch that about five more times.)

The start of their hole is shallow, and they are proud. But they have only just started. Sam asks Dave when they should stop, and this is Dave’s reply:

“We won’t stop digging until we find something spectacular.”

Dave’s voice of reason is so comforting to any young adventurer. It’s validating that your goal is something spectacular. (Do we forget this as grownups? To search for somthing spectacular? I think we do.)

Perhaps the pooch is the true voice of reason here, though he doesn’t ever let out a bark or a grumble. Those eyes, the scent, the hunt. He knows.

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

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And this is where Sam and Dave Dig a Hole treads the waters of picture book perfection. The treasure, this spectacular something, is just beyond the Sam and Dave’s reality. The reader gets the treat where Sam and Dave are stumped. Do you want to sit back and sigh about their unfortunate luck? Do you want to holler at them to just go this way or that way or pay attention to your brilliant dog? Do you root for them? Do you keep your secret?

The text placement on each page is sublime. If Sam and Dave plant themselves at the bottom of the page, so does the text. If the hole is deep and skinny, the text block mirrors its length. This design choice is a spectacular something. It’s subtle. It’s meaningful. It’s thoughtful and inevitable all at once.

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

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And then – then! Something spectacular. The text switches sides. The boys fall down. Through? Into? Under? Did the boys reach the other side? Are they where they started? Is this real life? Their homecoming is the same, but different. Where there was a this, now there is a that. Where there was a hmm, now there is an ahhh.

Spectacular indeed.

I like to think that the impossible journey here is a nod to Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak’s collaboration, A Hole is to Dig. That’s what holes are for. That’s what the dirt asks of you. It’s not something you do alone or without a plan or without hope. Sam and Dave operate in this truth. They need to dig. There’s not another choice.

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(image here // a first edition, first printing!)

Sidenote: I’m pretty thrilled that these scribbles live in my ARC.

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

Look for this one on October 14th.

SAM AND DAVE DIG A HOLE. Text copyright © 2014 by Mac Barnett. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Jon Klassen.Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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Everything You Need for a Celebration

Mimi

It’s been a busy few weeks around here. I’m still trying to figure out where the summer part of summer is!

But.

It’s all been fantastic things.

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We Believe in Picture Books

Have you seen Candlewick’s yearlong celebration, We Believe in Picture Books? Here’s my friend Julie Falatko, who has an eye and heart for fantastic picture books and writes ones that are ridiculously offbeat but perfectly in tune.

And her kids are four of my favorite strangers on the planet.

Right?

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And speaking of Candlewick, my Twitter friend Anne Moore Armstrong (@childbookart) sent me the FRENCH version of Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back. I think you can imagine my reaction.  MonChapeau!

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One more thing. Remember Raymond McGrath and his AMAZING music video for his book, It’s Not a Monster, It’s Me!?

It’s a FINALIST in the New Zealand Children’s Music Video Awards!

How great is that? Excited for you, Raymond! Thanks for sharing your unreal talent with us.

And thanks to the rest of you, for going with the flow this summer. Things have been bananas in the best way possible. Did you catch my Twitter and Facebook screaming about signing with an agent?

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But in actual, physical, real books, my FAVORITE 2013 book is coming up soon, and I can’t wait to share it. Let’s talk design again!

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This Is Not My Hat

by Jon Klassen

So I love this book. Like, the “well, why don’t you marry it?!” kind of love.

I read it in June at the Candlewick Booth at ALA. The people were lining up to meet Gary Ross (Big! The Hunger Games! Seabiscuit, even!) and I was huddled over F and Gs of this book with my friend, Dianne de Las Casas. We giggled and poked and and pointed and just delighted over this thing.

And then in August at the SCBWI Illlustrator’s Intensive, Jon Klassen shared an earlier draft of this book. It had a different title, different characters, but the same charm and an even more wicked sense of humor.

It was like I had run away with the Hope Diamond and the Smithsonian security guards just nodded and let me escape. (Ask me about the time my dad chaperoned the 5th grade field trip and one of the boys smuggled a whoopee cushion into the Natural History museum.)

Anyway. Seeing his process was capital UNREAL.

A fish. A stolen hat. A sleeper. Awakes. A chase. A resolution?

Jon Klassen’s art is both dazzling and understated. This book, like I Want My Hat Back, has a desaturated and limited color palette. But here, the black and white helps tell this stark story.

The gutter separates the white space for the text from the black of the ocean depths. Or on a spread dominated by the deep, the text is bound to a crisp horizontal stripe at the top.

And the characters themselves are quite a different pair. The massive victim fish that quietly exacts revenge contrasts the tiny, hat-stealing, filmflammy fish.

Would the story be as fantastic if their size was more similar or if the colors were not so vastly different?

Knowing Jon Klassen, probably. But do those decisions perfect this book? Absolutely.

Check out this hysterical interview with Jon Klassen over at Travis Jonkers’ blog, 100 Scope Notes. And this post, from the Horn Book’s Calling Caldecott blog, written by Lolly Robinson. Both of these blogs should take up residence in your mess of bookmarks, by the way! Always smart, always impeccable taste.

And the trailer! Mesmerizing.

Extra Yarn WINNER!

Drum roll {of extra yarn} please…..

Congratulations to TINA CHO!

Yay, Tina! Email me at carterhiggins@gmail.com with an address, and this treat will be on its way!