Lemony Snicket & Jon Klassen on Going 'Dark'
Author, illustrator and Caldecott winner Jon Klassen has paired up with Lemony Snicket on a brand new picture book called, "The Dark." The story, about a little boy named Laszlo who finds the dark frightening, explores the idea of fear itself. Once little Laszlo learns more about the thing that scares him he finds its not so scary after all--a perfect lesson for parents to share with their children at bedtime. We asked both the author and illustrator of the book some questions about their joint effort over email. Here, they reveal the inspiration for "The Dark," their attraction to darker themes and their biggest fears.
Bookish: How did the idea for "The Dark" collaboration come to be?
Jon Klassen: I did a drawing of a boy shining his flashlight down some stairs with the idea of the dark leading him down there in the same kind of way he does in the book now, and I sent the drawing to Susan Rich, Daniel's [aka Lemony Snicket] editor, and she sent it to him and he was very nice and wrote this great book for me to illustrate.
Lemony Snicket: I saw a drawing of Mr. Klassen’s and made use of it best I could, much like a cat burglar.
Bookish: Why choose to write about a topic so often feared by kids?
LS: Do children fear the dark more than adults? It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t sleep with something glowing near them for comfort. In any case, the dark seemed an ideal setting for interesting story - as the title of one of my favorite melodramas reminds us, history is made at night.
JK: You want to engage your audience, and fear and suspense are very engaging. I was a wimp of a kid when it came to scary movies and television, I still am, but I sought out scary books because I enjoyed them. The dark is a great topic because it can't be overly explicit. The whole idea is that you don't show anything. I was always more interested in being scared by things that weren't being gratuitous or chaotic, and I think this is a very calm and controlled book and it builds suspense in a really fun way.
Bookish: Both of you have used dark comedy in your books--why do you think that's appealing to kids? And what is your response to critics who feel dark comedy is inappropriate for small kids?
JK: I don't know that it's appealing to all kids, but it's appealing to some kids, and I was one of them. I didn't like exclusively dark things, but a lot of stories need dark things in them as a way to get going, for there to be any story at all. There are a lot of different interpretations of what's appropriate for kids, and I'm not sure it's useful to try and nail it down to a set of categories before you start so much as to hope that your instincts and attitudes are in line with what's good and enjoyable for them. It's not like someone who doesn't understand what kids shouldn't be exposed to would make something good for them if they had a reference sheet of do's and don't taped up next to them while they worked. You just have to do what you think is going to be entertaining and hope for the best.
LS: Just as something funny (a man slipping on a banana peel) will eventually become dreadful (months of physical therapy), anything dreadful will eventually become funny. As for my critics, I generally say something like, “You poor, poor thing. You seem very upset. Shall we have a gimlet?”
Bookish: What was your biggest fear as a kid and why?
LS: Being snatched away in the middle of the night. If you don’t understand why, perhaps I should stop by later and explain it - much, much later.
JK: Snakes. Because they can go anywhere.
Bookish: What is your biggest fear now?
JK: Still Snakes.
LS: Retaliation from Jon Klassen.