A Picture Book of the Week (PBOW) Feature

The Dark
Lemony Snickett, author
Jon Klassen, illustrator
Little, Brown, and Co., 2013

Klassen, eh? Remember him? Not only is he a previous Caldecott honoree, but he won twice this past year (one medal and one honor). Note to self: keep an eye on this guy. And Lemony Snickett: remember him? Of the Series of Unfortunate Events? This is not his first foray into picture book land; in fact, I really enjoyed The Composer is Dead immensely.

The Dark is one of those books folks are talking about. It’s also on the Calling Caldecott list this year. And it’s worth discussing for sure.

Cover: I like to start at the beginning: it’s what we notice first, after all. So, what does that cover tell us about this book? Two things jump out at me immediately: the title and the sheer amount of black (or, “dark”) on the cover. This book is going to be about…the dark. There’s a little boy, too, but clearly the dark itself is a character or presence in its own right.

Endpapers: Solid color? Yep. What is that color? You guessed it: black. More dark.

Opening pages: show Laszlo off to the right shining his flashlight. Except for Laszlo and his flashlight, the page is black. The title page continues that beam of the flashlight and shines it on the title. This is great book design, folks!

Palette: Definitely the most notable part of this book, hands down. Instead of merely making the dark look darker than the rest, Klassen makes it completely black. We can see nothing. The dark is indeed its own entity. The contrast between the dark and the lighter parts is impossible to miss. And every time the dark talks, its words show up against that black backdrop.

Text: Here is where people start to, um, discuss. There’s one page of mostly text that is very Lemony Snicket in tone, and which some folks feel breaks up the flow of the book. I’m on the fence personally. I like the Lemony Snicket tone. I haven’t read this book to a group of very young children, so I can’t speak about its effect on them. Aside from that one page, I think the text and illustrations are seamless. It will be interesting to see how this pans out: will the Caldecott committee like it? I’m sure, if the book is discussed by the committee this year, that this long text page will factor into their discussion.

As with any of the PBOW features, it’s impossible to do justice to a really well done picture book in a relatively short blog post. Nor am I expert enough to give them their proper due. There’s so much more we could talk about. But I hope you’re encouraged to go read this book and decide what you think for yourself after reading this! Book should be in local libraries.

Read the book? What do you think? Like it? No? Why?

Next PBOW feature is Moonshot by Brian Floca! This book should be in your local library.

Book from my local library; cover image from publisher

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