Review by Logaine Navascués
Candlewick Press (Penguin Random House), April 2021
96 pages, hardcover, $24.99 CAD, ISBN 978-1-5362-1562-5
Ages 4–8, Grades Pre-K–3
Picture Book, Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Comedy
Sometimes a picture book comes along that reframes the possibilities of the form. Jon Klassen has already used wit and irony to play with readers’ expectations in his iconic “hat” trilogy. In The Rock from the Sky, he once again challenges the inseparable nature of word and image intrinsic to the picture book. He defies conventions by making the book 96 pages and using a multi-chapter structure—five consecutive short stories. The writing is blunt yet mysterious, simple yet multilayered.
The plot is quite clear, as the title foretells: a rock falls from the sky. Nobody knows it… except for the readers. Klassen relies on his skill to maintain suspense throughout the five stories, drawing readers in with the animal protagonists’ short and perplexing interactions, while deploying almost no physical action at all.
Many of the most intrinsic human emotions—jealousy, fear, intuition, fellowship—are subtly explored through simple, concrete words and images (including expressive eye movements), provoking a mixture of surprise, anxiety, laughter, and delight with every turn of the page. The intermittent verbal and visual silences are an invitation to fill in narrative gaps with one’s own experience and imagination, accentuating the tension and its comic effect.
The unpretentious black and gray text is evenly spread over white backgrounds, concealing the dangers and out-of-this-world experiences that the characters face with absolute calm and aplomb. The illustrations showcase Klassen’s distinctive graphic style: animals with wide eyes that pop out of their faces, clearly defined shapes over watercolour backgrounds, and bold objects drawn with few lines (like the giant rock that invades almost every spread). Added to this apparent straightforwardness is Klassen’s signature hint of twisted humour and absurdity, as well as an extra dose of sci-fi adventure and cute hats, making it an overtly hilarious and exciting—almost guilty—read for all of us.
This intelligent and highly creative book is a fun and engaging story to read and laugh at out loud, whatever one’s age.
Logaine Navascués is a Peruvian artist, writer, creative director, teacher, and book maker, currently living in Vancouver. She is the proud mother of a beautiful daughter and two artist’s books. You can find her reading, collecting picture books, and eating chocolate while pursuing her Master of Arts in Children’s Literature (MACL) at UBC.