By Kevin Kelley
Students who attend Gilles-Sweet Elementary School are not afraid of the dark. Nevertheless, the acclaimed children’s book authors behind “The Dark,” which tells the story of a boy who is afraid of the dark, visited the Fairview Park school Thursday morning.
Jon Klassen, illustrator of “The Dark,” appeared on the stage of the school’s cafetorium to recreate drawings from the book. The author of “The Dark,” Lemony Snicket, was also scheduled to appear. Instead, a strange, standoffish man in a dark suit appeared in Snicket’s place. Saying he was Snicket’s official representative, Daniel Handler, the imperious man criticized Klassen’s casual dress and skewered his illustrations.
While Snicket’s representative came across as rather pretentious compared to Klassen, the children seemed to find his mannerisms comical and enjoyed his recitation of “The Dark.” Despite his assertion that he was not Snicket, Handler later gave himself away as Snicket when he ran screaming from the school’s cafetorium after Klassen produced an illustration of a crab. Snicket’s “representative” had earlier said Snicket was deathly afraid of crabs.
Thursday’s appearance by Klassen and Snicket was a coup for Gilles-Sweet for several reasons. First, it came just two days after the publication of “The Dark,” which tells the story of the young Laszlo’s conversation with the dark that resides all around, but mostly in the boy’s basement.
Second, Klassen and Snicket are two of the most acclaimed children’s authors in the publishing world today. Klassen is the 2013 recipient of the Caldecott Medal, an award given annually by the American Library Association to the illustrator of the most distinguished picture book for children, “This Is Not My Hat.” Klassen also wrote that book.
The mysterious Snicket is best known as the author and narrator of the “Series of Unfortunate Events” books. The popular series tells the story of the three Baudelaire orphans, who seem to be followed by misfortune. A movie based on the series starred Jim Carrey and was released in 2004.
After the student assembly, Handler, who also answered to “Mr. Snicket,” was asked about the often dark subject matter used in his books for children. He said he writes about “what would be frightening if it happened to me because that would be interesting.”
Klassen was also asked about dark story lines in children’s books, including his 2011 book, “I Want My Hat Back,” in which it’s implied that a bear eats the rabbit who stole his hat.
“You can’t go into it with a list of things that are OK and not OK,” Klassen explained.
Both said they have more books on the way.
Gilles-Sweet librarian Diane Ward secured the authors’ visit through a contact she made at the Cuyahoga County Public Library, which sponsored an appearance by Klassen and Snicket April 3 at Berea High School. Ward had made the contact in January when she organized a student field trip to the library system’s Parma branch to see author Margaret Peterson Haddix.
“In this case, for me, it was a series of fortunate events,” Ward said of the circumstances that led to Thursday’s student assembly.
Ward said students were already familiar with both authors and knew that Klassen had received the Caldecott Medal.
“The kids know how important the Caldecott is,” she said. A poster of past Caldecott-winning books hangs in the Gilles-Sweet library.