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Children's Fiction Country & Ethnic

The Skull

A Tyrolean Folktale

illustrated by Jon Klassen

Candlewick Press
Initial publish date
Jul 2023
Country & Ethnic, Friendship, Thrillers & Suspense
Recommended Age
6 to 9
Recommended Grade
1 to 4
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Jul 2023
    List Price
    $19.99 USD

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A #1 New York Times bestseller!
A Kirkus Book Prize Finalist!
A New York Times Best Children’s Chapter Book the Year
A Wall Street Journal Best Children's Book of the Year
Caldecott Medalist and New York Times best-selling author-illustrator Jon Klassen delivers a deliciously macabre treat for folktale fans.

Jon Klassen's signature wry humor takes a turn for the ghostly in this thrilling retelling of a traditional Tyrolean folktale. In a big abandoned house, on a barren hill, lives a skull. A brave girl named Otilla has escaped from terrible danger and run away, and when she finds herself lost in the dark forest, the lonely house beckons. Her host, the skull, is afraid of something too, something that comes every night. Can brave Otilla save them both? Steeped in shadows and threaded with subtle wit—with rich, monochromatic artwork and an illuminating author’s note—The Skull is as empowering as it is mysterious and foreboding.

About the author

JON KLASSEN est le créateur de Rendez-moi mon chapeau!, classé numéro un au palmarès du New York Times et qui lui a valu le Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor, ainsi que des livres complémentaires Ce n’est pas mon chapeau, pour lequel il a reçu la médaille Caldecott et la médaille Kate Greenaway, et Nous avons trouvé un chapeau, nommé meilleur livre pour enfants de l’année par le Publishers Weekly. Il a aussi écrit et illustré Le rocher tombé du ciel et illustré Les trois boucs et le troll, Triangle, Carré et Cercle, Le loup, le canard et la souris et Max et Sam creusent, creusent, creusent… tous écrits par Mac Barnett. Originaire de Niagara Falls, Jon Klassen vit maintenant à Los Angeles.



Jon Klassen is an animator and Governor General's Award-winning creator of children's books. His book This Is Not My Hat won both the American Caldecott Medal and the British Kate Greenway Medal, making Jon the first person to win both awards for the same work. Jon was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and currently resides in Los Angeles.

Jon Klassen's profile page


  • Winner, Children's Book Council - Children’s & Teen Choice Book Awards
  • Winner, Audie Awards
  • Short-listed, Kirkus Prize for Young Readers' Literature

Excerpt: The Skull: A Tyrolean Folktale (illustrated by Jon Klassen)

The Forest
The Dark
The House

Otilla ran and ran.
She ran through trees and
up hills. She ran for a long
time. All through the night.

Otilla had grown up in this forest,
but after a while the trees began
to look different. They were getting closer together.

Otilla kept running.

As she ran, Otilla began to hear her name being called. She couldn’t tell if it was someone’s voice or the wind in her ears.



Otilla suddenly tripped on a fallen branch and fell hard into the snow. She didn’t get up. She could not run anymore. She listened for her name, but now it was quiet.

Otilla lay in the snow and the dark and the quiet and she cried.

When she was done crying,
she got up and began moving forward again.

All at once, the trees stopped. She came out of the woods and into an open yard. In front of
her, in the distance, was a very big, very old house.

Otilla went up to the house.
It looked abandoned, but when
she tried to open the door, it
was locked. She knocked loudly
to see if anyone was inside,
but nobody came to the door.
“Hello?” she called out.
“Hello,” someone answered.

Otilla looked up to where the
voice had come from. In a window above the door, she saw a skull
looking at her.

Editorial Reviews

Folk tales are meant to be flexible things, open-source stories infinitely moldable to the needs of teller and era. That’s the wonder of them — and of “The Skull,” an old Tyrolean yarn distilled to its droll essentials and marvelously reimagined by the Caldecott medalist (and national treasure) Jon Klassen. . . The pared-back, ocher-tinted illustrations are well suited to the folk-tale form, and pair perfectly with Klassen’s deceptively simple storytelling.
—The New York Times Book Review

Caldecott medalist Klassen’s signature style is brought to bear on a Tyrolean tale imbued with equal parts comfort and creepiness. . . . One can only hope that children will tell and retell this reinterpretation many times to themselves throughout the years. Employing his customary pitch-perfect tonal gymnastics, only Klassen could inspire readers to want craniums as pals.
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Echoes of other forbidding fairy tales pervade this high-stakes telling, in which Otilla’s primal bravery and sly wit result in an arc from flight to mutual reliance.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Klassen’s recognizable graphite-and-ink illustrations capture the haunting—yet somehow charming—atmosphere of the stark Austrian setting, where shadows loom, bones come to life, and apricot sunshine cuts through the gloom. . . . Is the story creepy? You bet, but it’s also weirdly sweet and characterized by agency, kindness, and choice. . . . Klassen's newest offering will be highly coveted.
—Booklist (starred review)

Klassen has proved especially good at introducing new, often solo, young readers to the unsettling but intriguing place where fear becomes an essential narrative element, offering enough humor and absurdity to provide comfort on the journey. Such is the case with The Skull, a reimagining of a Tyrolean folktale that shows a young girl’s resolve against unnamed, unexplained threats. . . . the book offers a lesson on the usefulness of fear and likely a reminder of what kids already suspect: the world can be awful and scary, but empathy and friendship can arise from its darkest places.
—The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (starred review)

Unflappable Otilla and the unfailingly polite skull make for odd but exemplary companions in this well-paced tale. . . . illustrated in classic, deadpan Klassen style with speckled art that’s both mesmerizing and dryly hilarious. The dark tones of the art are warmed by slants of peach-hued winter sunlight; like the scary-funny story, darkness and light work in tandem ­surprisingly well.
—The Horn Book (starred review)

Author/illustrator Jon Klassen takes an especially dark turn in an unconventional folk tale for hardy early readers, The Skull, a morbid yet profoundly affectionate chapter book about a girl and her bony companion. . . .The gripping art melds brilliantly with emotionally hefty text to strike an overwhelmingly eerie and foreboding tone, which plays in exquisite contrast to the blooming solidarity between Otilla and the skull. . . . Make no bones about it, this is a wholly distinctive and delightfully unsettling creation.
—Shelf Awareness (starred review)

Readers can enjoy a quick read, the implementation of interesting literary elements, and the humor that we have come to know from Klassen.
—School Library Connection

[A] droll and delicious tale. . . Any disquiet that children ages 6-10 might harbor about a talking skull will dissipate in the light of the skull’s friendly attitude and gracious manners.
—The Wall Street Journal

Gifted author-illustrator Jon Klassen offers a wonderfully eerie version of an old folktale, illustrated with his distinctive somber graphite and ink artwork in black and white and muted tones of sepia, rose and blue and printed in large type with short chapters that should appeal to beginning readers.
—The Buffalo News

Jon Klassen brings his droll humor and just the right amount of spine-tingling creepiness to this retelling of a Tyrolean folktale. . . . Klassen uses his spare text to great effect and the mostly monochromatic illustrations provide just the right eerie echo. This is a book sure to be read over and over and over again. Even the most reluctant reader will be eager to keep these pages turning.
—The New York Journal of Books

This delightfully dark picture book retells a Tyrolean folk tale of the same name. . . . This is a longer-than-average picture book — much like Klassen’s previous picture book The Rock from the Sky — with Klassen’s trademark dark humor. . . . Fairy tale and horror readers of all ages will love it.
—Book Riot

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