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Picture book author Jon Klassen picks his favourite kids’ books

We adore bestselling picture-book author and illustrator Jon Klassen‘s dark and cheeky sense of humour (you can read our interview with him here) so we were excited to see which children’s books he would choose as his all-time favourites! There’s a magic pebble that can grant wishes, a collection of stories to send a chill down your spine, a tender look at a tough topic and many more wonderful new books to discover.

You can click on the titles or covers below for more information on each book, and don’t forget to catch Jon on his Australian tour in Sydney or Melbourne!


sylvester-and-the-magic-pebbleSylvester and The Magic Pebble by William Steig

JK: William Steig is probably my favorite writer for kids. On top of writing so beautifully, he had amazing ideas for books, and this is one of his best ideas. A donkey accidentally wishes himself into a rock, and spends most of the book in that state. It’s a book about so so many big things, but I admire it so much for setting up the pages where he drew a rock and some scenery and because of the context it’s so full of emotion anyway.


frog and toadFrog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel

JK: It’s tough to choose a Frog and Toad collection, and I mostly chose this one because it includes a story called “TheDream”,which comes at the end of the book. “The Dream” is a very strange and eerie story and it really sticks with you. The biggest thing about “The Dream” is that, even though all the Frog and Toad stories are disconnected, you realize by having read the stories that came before that you know something about how these two characters are with each other, what they mean to each other, and then “The Dream” uses that information and it really feels like an amazing accomplishment.


my-father-s-dragonMy Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannet illus. by Ruth Chrisman Gannet

JK: This is a chapter book, but a short one. The story is one of those perfectly-sized ones that’s big enough to stretch your legs in but small enough that you don’t have to explain too many things about the world where it takes place. I love the idea of the author telling us a story about their father when he was a child (we never know anything more about the narrator). The writing is clear and great and very funny and the illustrations by the author’s mother are beautiful. I hope I make a book that feels like this book some day.


Sam and the Firefly by PD Eastmanxsam-and-the-firefly.jpg.pagespeed.ic.YWQJtHdbqB

JK: This was my favorite book when I was little and I still find so many reasons to admire it. PD Eastman was an animation guy, and this was his first picture book. When I was coming from animation a lot of my ideas for books were more like film ideas in that the premises were based on characters moving somehow. It’s a tough thing to shake when that’s how you’ve been thinking about stories for so long. This book is based on movement, but in a way that makes it perfectly suited to a book, and he solves the problem so gracefully and entertainingly. Illustratively, most of the book is just a teal background with pencil illustrations overlaid and white and yellow highlights. I loved the mood in this book so much and I still do.




In A Dark Dark Room by Alvin Schwartz illus. by Dirk Zimmer

JK: Sometimes if I’m doing a book tour in the fall around Halloween I will bring this book out to read at the end and there’s a certain generation of teachers and people my age in the room that gasp when they see it again. I’ve always loved ghost stories, and ghost stories in a reader book format were kind of a dream come true for a kid like me that didn’t like horror films or bloody violent stuff but loved being scared in just the right way. This book does that miraculous thing where it tells the stories succinctly and quickly but doesn’t spare any of the creepiness in the events. My favorite in this one is called “The Green Ribbon”.


Dominic by William Steig Dominic

JK: Another chapter book and another book by William Steig but he is the man so that’s ok. This is about Dominic the dog who leaves his house to go wandering on the very first page and never goes back. This book does something similar to the Frog and Toad trick I mentioned earlier, where the book feels very episodic and a little meandering in it’s chapters and you’re not quite sure what he’s up to (not that you mind because his writing is so nice to just move through), and then the ending is so strange and beautiful and it uses everything he was building the whole time in a way that just knocked me back in my chair – I’m so glad it’s a book.


duck death and the tulip


Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch

JK: A slightly newer one than the others on this list. You don’t see it in North America very often because they can’t deal with death I guess but what a book. It’s about the angel of death coming for a duck and it is as gentle and soft and wise as you hope it’s going to feel like when he comes for you. I think about this book a lot.


Click here to read our interview with Jon or to learn more about where to catch him on tour!

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