Hot on the heels of the release of We Found a Hat this October, Jon Klassen is set to publish the first title in a new series created with Marc Barnett, his collaborator on Sam and Dave Dig a Hole and Extra Yarn.
Candlewick Press will launch the Shapes trilogy with the publication of Triangle on March 28, 2017, with Canadian distribution being handled by Penguin Random House Canada. Square and Circle will follow in spring 2018 and 2019, respectively.
Klassen and Barnett, whose two previous collaborations have each garnered Caldecott honours, among other accolades, say their most recent project grew organically from conversations about some characters Klassen had been playing around with for years. “Mac and I’ve been talking about these guys for a while,” Klassen told Q&Q from Los Angeles. “Writing for me is still so mysterious, and – not that I want to outsource it all – but Mac had such good ideas on what to do with them. I like the visual development of it all, but Mac is just so talented at writing characters.”
While the stark covers and the fact that the books are about shapes might lead some to think they are intended to teach kids about the geometric objects, Klassen is quick to point out that’s not the goal. “We do end up using the geometry a bit in how the story works, but it’s not anything you can call educational,” he explains. “Mac was just looking at them as little characters; you’re not going to come away knowing more about triangles in the abstract than you did before.”
The first book will introduce readers to the world in which the shapes live, and focuses on the friendship between Triangle and Square. Klassen refers to them as “grumpy old men” before giving the analogy of a kid in Grade 3 waking up in the morning and going down the street to throw a tennis ball at his buddy’s window to get him out of bed, just because he wants to hang out. “The tone is very much that they are pals, but just sort of filling the days,” says Klassen. “It’s sort of a different way of approaching a relationship between characters, because there isn’t a lot of affection being expressed, but it’s there in the subtext. You don’t want to make a book about a bunch of jerks.”
Klassen and Barnett collaborated different this time than with Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, both in terms of how they worked together and the way the stories were developed in the first place. “I feel like we both know these characters really well,” says Barnett. “All of the stories we tell about them comes from the fact that we figured out who they were first. The visual design is stripped down, but these are big characters who do big things. There’s a lot of running around and they’re playing tricks on each other.”
“It’s a much different way of approaching a story than I’ve done before,” Klassen says. “I used to be kind of against the idea of developing characters and a world and then finding out what happens inside of it. I think I would have hated that approach if I’d heard about it abstractly, but it’s been great.”
With We Found a Hat out in October from Klassen and two picture books (How This Book Was Made and The Magic Word) out this fall from Barnett, kidlit’s latest dynamic duo won’t be taking it easy any time soon. Both insist, however, that the Shapes series is turning out to be more fun than anything. “It’s been like the perfect antidote to the nervousness about the Hat book and a nice way to distract from that,” says Klassen. “So far, we haven’t wanted to throttle each other,” laughs Barnett.