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Not One, But Two, Whimsical Picturebooks Where Things Mysteriously Fall From the Sky

It Fell from the Sky

Written and Illustrated by Terry and Eric Fan

Published in 2021 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

ISBN 978-1-5344-5762-1

Book Review

The Fan Brothers, acclaimed creators of visually stunning picturebooks including Ocean Meets Sky, The Night Gardener,  The Antlered Ship (authored by Dashka Slater) have another sublime picturebook as charming and whimsical as their earlier work. It Fell From the Sky begins with a double-page spread of a garden scene from an insect’s point of view entirely in gray-scale except for the shiny yellow, blue and green marble that “fell from the sky”. Various insects and garden creatures have ideas about where it came from and how it got there, including a Ladybug, Inchworm, Stinkbug, and Frog. Everyone agrees it was the most amazing thing they had ever seen. The wily Spider seeks to take advantage of the situation and claims that since the mysterious object fell right into its web, then “it most certainly belongs to me.” The story progresses with Spider charging the other garden creatures to see the Wonder from the Sky in his very own WonderVille. The Spider’s actions are reminiscent of Seuss’s The Sneetches and The Lorax where greedy characters meet their own demise. The illustrations, graphite and digitally colored, invite close reading and a myriad of questions for young readers about property, secrets to happiness, and what makes something truly wondrous. As in their previous picture book collaborations, It Fell From the Sky is sure to inspire storytellers and storymakers in every classroom. 

The Rock from the Sky

Written and Illustrated by Jon Klassen 

Published in 2021 by Candlewick Press

ISBN 978-1-5362-1562-5

Book Review

This fall brought not one, but two, books about objects falling from the sky. Readers of Jon Klassen’s earlier work including his hat oeuvre will recognize his signature deadpan humor and knack for understated scenes in his latest, The Rock From The Sky. Narrated only through the characters’ dialogue, the plot is straightforward but far from simple: a turtle likes standing in his favorite spot and doesn’t want to leave. But readers  know from the second page that a giant rock is falling from the sky, likely to land in that very spot. Turtle is met by his friends, Armadillo and Snake,who  seem more content throughout the book with the situation at hand.  Dialogue ensues across four chapters that include the rock falling, the turtle and armadillo taking a nap, and a menacing giant eye appearing in the distance.  The narrative invites authentic possibilities for prediction making, inferences about characters’ thoughts and feelings, repeated oral reading, and discussions on the nature of friendship.  Following in the footsteps of Lobel’s Frog and Toad and Ruzzier’s Fox and Chick series, Klassen has crafted a longform picturebook with a cast of anthropomorphized animal characters filled with subtlety and suspense. The muted palette, expansive sky, and desolate landscape in each scene draws readers’ attention to the nuances of the characters’ actions and leaves readers to wonder and ponder about ourselves and the future. Wacky and whimsical, The Rock from the Sky will surely bring a smile to readers of all ages. 

Teaching Ideas: Invitations for Your Classrooms

Grades K-5

It Fell From the Sky Fiction Writing.  Read aloud both It Fell from the Sky and The Rock from the Sky and invite students to craft their own narratives about objects falling from the sky. Are the objects man-made (like the marble) or forces of nature (like the giant rock)? How does the object hold significance for the characters and for the direction of the plot of the story? Have students notice and name the various techniques the Fan Brothers and Jon Klassen use to craft their stories including dialogue, questions, and different font features. Have students share their stories with one another in a fiction writing celebration. 

Close Reading:  Illustrations. Both It Fell from the Sky and The Rock from the Sky invite you to linger on each page where the more you look, the more you see. Invite your students to do a close reading of the illustrations, describing what they see, what it makes them think, and what it makes them wonder. What do your students notice about the relationship between the text and the illustrations? Many of the illustrations are double-page spreads in both books which invite readers to linger across a whole scene. Encourage students to adopt some of the Fan brothers and Klassen’s illustration techniques by incorporating a mix of single-page and double-page spreads in their own bookmaking, to use color (or lack thereof) for effect, and to play with scale. Support students to notice the ways in which the palette choices of each creator helps shape the story. Utilize the concepts of illustration from Molly Bang’s Picture This for further ideas on how to support students to closely read illustrations in any text.

Characters and Their Turning Points. There are some characters you root for in stories, and others that sometimes leave us wondering whether we’d want them to be our friend. The Spider in It Fell From the Sky is described as “crafty” in the text but could easily be described as greedy, malicious, or materialistic. While he is not a likeable character in the beginning of the story, he realizes the errors of his ways. Invite students to zoom in on the turning point for Spider and whether they have ever had a time in life where they wished they’d done something differently or realized they should change their ways. While the turtle in The Rock from the Sky is not devious, he is self-absorbed and perhaps over-confident. Invite students to describe each of the characters in The Rock from the Sky: Turtle, Armadillo, and Snake. How do they act? Who would they want to be friends with? Is there a turning point for Turtle? While it is more subtle in this book, Turtle does seem to bend towards Armadillo’s more content ways. Invite students to engage in mapping the characters from each book as well as storymapping to retell what happened to the characters across the story noting the turning point, in particular. Invite them to inquire into characters that are less likable in books they read independently and to notice whether there are turning points that help them outgrow themselves or shift from greed or fear to love.

Inferring Characters’ Feelings. Both books trust readers to make essential inferences to fully understand the characters, their dilemmas, and their triumphs. Invite students to describe what the characters might be thinking, feeling, or motivated by in each book. How do the words and illustrations help them develop those inferences? How does their own life inform their thinking or how they would feel or react in a given situation? Invite students to zoom in on the eyes in Klassen’s work. As in his previous work, the eyes reveal his characters’ emotions and thoughts. See our entry on Klassen’s This Is Not My Hat for teaching ideas on “Eyes in Art”. 

Reader’s Theater and Oral Reading Fluency. Both books are ripe for reader’s theater activities given the sequential nature of the stories and that much of the book (in It Fell from the Sky) or the entire book(in The Rock from The Sky) is written in dialogue. Have students practice reading the dialogue from one or both of the books in small groups and then perform a reader’s theater version of it in different voices and with different intonation to hear all the ways it can be read aloud fluently. 

Imaginative Landscapes. Invite students to zoom in on the setting of each book. How does the setting play a significant role in the telling of each story because of the scale of objects in each scene across both books. Invite students to create their own imaginative landscapes inspired by these two books. Do they want their landscape to be desolate like in The Rock from the Sky where readers are left to imagine more of the surroundings? Do they want to create their own Wonderville like Spider in It Fell From the Sky? Do they want to add objects to their scenes to help define the scale of the characters? Invite students to then create fictional narratives that emerge from their imaginative landscapes. 

It Fell From the Sky/Du Iz Tak Pairing. Part of the joy of It Fell From the Sky is the whimsical nature of imagining the world from an insect or arachnid or worm’s point of view. Pair It Fell From the Sky with Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis. Invite students to notice similarities and differences across each book. While each book tells a story from the point of view of various garden creatures, Du Iz Tak? uses an invented language to communicate the story entirely in dialogue.  Invite students to create their own invented language for creatures living in a garden. What would they say to each other? Could a big event like a marble landing in their home spark their dialogue? Have students share their imaginative stories with one another guessing at what certain words might mean. 

Author/Illustrator Text Clubs. Gather students in picturebook text clubs to study the work of either the Fan Brothers or Jon Klassen. Gather other books the Fan Brothers have created including: The Night Gardener , The Antlered Ship, and Ocean Meets Sky. Gather other books Jon Klassen has created, co-authored, or illustrated including I Want My Hat Back, Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, and Square (of the shape trilogy). Invite students to discuss in text clubs the different stories, illustration techniques, and writer’s craft techniques within and across the books. Invite students to do some research into each picturebook creator. Have each club present their thinking and what they found out about each creator to the rest of the class.

Critical Literacy. 

Interrogating Greed and Power.  The potential for power to manifest as greed in a capitalistic society is not a new subject in children’s literature. The Spider in It Fell From the Sky is a character reminiscent of The Onceler in Seuss’s The Lorax, Sylvester McMonkey McBean in Seuss’s The Sneetches, and Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Invite students to make connections across these characters. What is the effect of greed and power on them over the course of the stories? What are the antidotes to greed as portrayed by these stories? In what ways are their lives enriched by redistributing power or letting go of material belongings in favor of belonging, friendship, or the environment? 

Further Explorations

Online Resources

Fan Brothers Read Aloud It Fell From the Sky

Jon Klassen Discusses The Rock from the Sky

Fan Brothers Site

http://www.thefanbrothers.com

Jon Klassen’s Tumblr

https://jonklassen.tumblr.com/

Jon Klassen’s Site

https://linktr.ee/jonklassen

Art of the Picturebook: Jon Klassen’s Work

https://www.artofthepicturebook.com/new-page

New York Times Article on The Rock from the Sky

Books

Barnett, M. (2018). Square. Ill. by J. Klassen. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. 

Barnett, M. (2017). Triangle. Ill. by J. Klassen. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Barnett, M. (2017). The wolf, the duck, and the mouse. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Barnett, M. (2014). Sam and Dave dig a hole. Ill. by J. Klassen. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Barnett, M. (2012). Extra yarn. Ill. by J. Klassen. New York: Balzer & Bray.

Ellis, C. (2016). Du iz tak? Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. 

Fan, T. & E. (2016). The night gardener. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. 

Fan, T. & E.(2018). Ocean meets sky. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. 

Klassen, J. (2011). I want my hat back. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Ruzzier, S. (2018). Fox and chick: The party and other stories. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books. 

Suess, Dr.. (1961). The sneetches and other stories. New York, NY: Random House Books for Young Readers.

Suess, Dr. (1971). The lorax. New York, NY: Random House Books for Young Readers.

Slater, D. (2017). The antlered ship. San Diego, CA: Beach Lane Books. 

Katie Cunningham About Katie Cunningham

Katie is a Professor of Literacy and English Education at Manhattanville College. There she is also the Director of the Advanced Certificate Program in Social and Emotional Learning and Whole Child Education. Her work focuses on children’s literature, joyful literacy methods, and literacy leadership. Katie is the author of Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning and co-author of Literacy Leadership in Changing Schools. Her book Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness will be released September 2019. She is passionate about the power of stories to transform lives.