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The Reading Culture

Negative Space: Jon Klassen on Restraint

The Reading Culture
The Reading Culture

On Today's Show

  • "That's still my trick too, never tell them how they're feeling. Never begin to even show how they're feeling. They'll get it anyway. You're describing negative space and the negative space you can't even get at.” - Jon Klassen

Where there is empty space, our brains will fill in the blanks, and often, the way in which we personally fill those blank spaces is far more potent than anything that can be written in words or shown in an image. That’s why despite being gifted in both illustrating and writing, Jon Klassen always intentionally restrains himself from specificity.

Jon is a Caldecott Medal winner author and illustrator known for his distinctive minimalistic art style and quirky but profound writing. His work includes his Hat Trilogy, starting with "I Want My Hat Back", along with newer works such as "The Rock from the Sky," “The Skull: A Tyrolean Folktale” and many collaborations with his longtime friend and author Mac Barnett.

In this episode, Jon tells us the story of how he learned to embrace the unspoken through a “gunshot moment” in his youth. He’ll talk about how he intentionally incorporates negative space into his work and why that is so impactful for young readers in particular, and we’ll hear about the SNL classics that inspired his coy sense of comedy.


Connect with Jordan and The Reading Culture @thereadingculturepod and subscribe to our newsletter at thereadingculturepod.com/newsletter.


In his reading challenge, "A Tale to Remember," Jon invites readers to follow a process that for him emerged unintentionally in the creation of his latest book, "The Skull: A Tyrolean Folktale." You can find his list and all past reading challenges at thereadingculturepod.com.

This episode’s Beanstack Featured Librarian is Ellen Clark, the Children's Outreach Librarian for Kokomo Howard County Public Library in Indiana. Ellen shares an experience she recently had that highlights the emotional impact librarians have not just on a community writ large, but on each individual reader.


Chapter 1 - Seventies University Guy Reads (2:25)

Chapter 2 - Sketch Book Art Kids (not Jon) (7:51)

Chapter 3 - Waiting For Godot (13:10)

Chapter 4 - The Existential Gun Shot (19:40)

Chapter 5 - No Sad Bears (21:47)

Chapter 6 - Part 2 (28:34)

Chapter 7 - A Girl and Her Skull (30:37)

Chapter 8 - A Tale to Remember (34:51)

Chapter 9 - Beanstack Featured Librarian (36:12)

Show Links

Host: Jordan Lloyd Bookey

Producer: Jackie Lamport and Lower Street Media

Script Editors: Josia Lamberto-Egan, Jackie Lamport, Jordan Lloyd Bookey

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