July 2023

The Skull

By Jon Klassen
Review by
Bestselling picture book author Jon Klassen brings much beauty to this genuinely (and delightfully) weird tale.
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Bestselling picture book author Jon Klassen (I Want My Hat Back, This Is Not My Hat, We Found a Hat) takes a traditional Tyrolean story and makes it his own in The Skull, a five-part folk-tale retelling that is both spine-chilling and touching. 

A girl named Otilla leaves home and runs through the forest at night. Bewildered, she trips and falls in the snow and hears someone calling her name. After a short cry, she finds her courage, gets up and keeps running until she spots a house whose only occupant is a skull. The skull agrees to let Otilla rest there. She explores the home, which includes a dungeon with a bottomless pit; gets to know the skull, whom she carries around; and learns she’s the first person in a long time to find the house. The two even don traditional Tyrolean carved masks and dance in the ballroom. The skull then reveals to Otilla that a headless skeleton visits the home nightly, chasing the skull. That night, Otilla takes matters into her own hands in order to defeat the skeleton and help her new friend. 

In a closing author’s note, Klassen describes how he first read the folk tale that The Skull is based on at a library in Alaska and how, after a year had passed, he’d forgotten some of its basic plot points. His brain, he writes, had rewritten the tale, and he liked that version better. He adds, “[Folk tales] are supposed to be changed by who is telling them, and you never find them the same way twice.” Thank goodness for the story that came from Klassen’s singular imagination. It is funny (pretty much any time the skull eats), mysterious (why did Otilla run away from home?), eerie (“GIVE ME THAT SKULL,” the skeleton shouts), tender (Otilla’s determination to bravely help her new friend) and macabre (Otilla’s impressive skills with rolling pins and fire) all at once. Klassen brings much beauty—the rays of sunlight on the ballroom floor, the shadows thrown by warm candlelight in dark rooms, and the pair’s breakfast in the garden room—to this genuinely (and delightfully) weird tale. 

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The Skull

The Skull

By Jon Klassen
ISBN 9781536223361

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