The fact that his books even exist, that they are being read (let alone celebrated), still seems unreal to Klassen. There is a touch of gleeful disbelief in his voice as he talks about how, after his appearance the previous day at a library in Toronto (his first in what he considers his hometown), the librarian tweeted that a child had come up to the desk and asked to check out all of Klassen’s books. “That one kid walked up and was like, ‘I’ll take ’em all,’ that’s the Caldecott all over again, that means as much,” he says.
As rewarding as touring and engaging with readers has turned out to be, it takes time away from creating new work. With Sam and Dave hitting the shelves, Klassen is itching to get another solo effort out as well – just don’t count on it being another Hat book. “I’m writing other things,” he says, noting that his attention right now is on figuring out the “magic” of early readers, along the lines of Arnold Lobel’s classic Frog and Toad stories. The format, in which the illustrations are largely decorative and don’t tell their own story, is tricky for Klassen, who still considers himself an illustrator first and an author second. But the challenge is intriguing. “A good book now was a good book 50 years ago; they’re just as smart and they’re just as sharp and fresh,” he says.
Despite the awards, the high praise, the million copies of his two Hat books now in print worldwide (not to mention the ones he’s illustrated for other authors), Klassen is reluctant to admit he has already become one of the titans of children’s literature he so admires. It’s that humility thing again. “It’s emotional,” says Klassen. “It’s like, this is the time. This is the time of your life.”