Friday, April 26, 2013

An Unorthodox Collaboration

Most writers and artists who work on picture books together do not meet until after their book is published. Rarely does the author get to pick the artist. But when Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) saw a piece of art by Jon Klassen in which the dark spoke, he was inspired to write a picture book called The Dark.

When I got to speak with them about their unorthodox collaboration for Kirkus Reviews, Handler said, "For a moment, it looked like The Dark was going to be Jon Klassen's first book, and then it looked like it was going to be his lifetime achievement award." 

Interestingly, Handler similarly approached author-artist Maira Kalman about working together on a picture book called 13 Words, which led eventually to the Printz honor–winning novel Why We Broke Up. Both Klassen and Kalman have an uncanny ability to tell stories through visual details. 

Daniel Handler, Neil Gaiman and Jon Klassen (l.-r.)
Photo credit: Cheryl Simon
We got to host the first "performance" of The Dark at the School for Children at the Bank Street College of Education. Their dynamic presentation was a comedy of opposites: Daniel Handler, standing in for Lemony Snicket, as the gregarious jokester, played against Jon Klassen as the nearly silent poker-face partner. Neil Gaiman also made an appearance as the voice for the audiobook (the only book he's recorded that he did not also write, he told us when he visited Bank Street).

Handler and Klassen's real-time banter in many ways played out the way they described collaborating on the book. Their push and pull allows children to be active participants; as readers, they sense young Laszlo's growing confidence as he confronts the dark (after his night light burns out) and uses his flashlight like a beacon to navigate to the darkest, remotest corner of his house.

Handler and Klassen's respect for each other is profound, but they also have a great deal of fun together, as you will discover in this recap of their performance (by Bank Street archivist Lindsey Wyckoff, with many photos), and in the "review" of their stage presentation by Betsy Bird (aka Fuse #8 and the New York Public Library's Youth Materials Collections Specialist.).

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