Top 100 Picture Books #74: I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
Funny, I’ve never seen my kids laugh so hard when finishing a book. That, and the bear’s unfailingly polite. There has to be points for that. – Melissa Fox
Yeah, it’s awfully soon to tell, but I think this will be a classic. This book had me laughing like nothing has in years. You have to get just the right storytime audience to appreciate the humor and “get” the final joke, but it’s worth it. – Sharon Thackston
Every once in a while I come across a new picture book that I love so much that I carry it around with me and make random people read it. I Want My Hat Back is one of those books.
Oh my word, this book is hilarious. Seriously. And I believe it’s all because of Jon Klassen’s style. I knew Klassen’s name before, not really for the books he’s illustrated but for his one-page graphic story in the collection of funny, creepy, disgusting and odd tales Half-Minute Horrors. It’s a gross-out moment, for sure, but it’s fantastic. I love using it with classes to explain inferences. It’s the coolest thing, watching them figure it out one by one. Now I have added this book. Clearly, Klassen is a sly one. He quietly slips in vital story elements with a wink, knowing only those paying attention will understand. And it works so well. I’m declaring him the King of Inference. He’s fantastic. – Kristi Hazelrigg
Last year I was invited to a little lunch with Jon Klassen. I was very excited since I’d been a big fan of him ever since I saw his work on Cats’ Night Out by Caroline Stutson (it counts dancing cats by twos). Unlike some other animators-turned-illustrators I saw that Klassen avoided the pitfalls of making books that just looked like animated storyboards. Somehow he got the picture book process correct right from the start. Our lunch occurred after this book hit the stratosphere and when asked he confessed that he’d written it with the idea that it would appear as a kind of school play. The characters look right at you and appear to be reciting their lines much as a second grader would in the same situation. Gives the book a whole new feel when you know that, doesn’t it?
The summary from my original review of the book reads, “A bear has lost his hat. To find it he questions a variety of woodland creatures including a fox, a frog, a turtle, a possum, a dear, a snake and a rabbit. The rabbit, for the record, refuses to acknowledge having seen the hat in spite of the fact that he appears to be wearing it. And when the bear realizes the true culprit there will be a price to pay. A deeply amusing price. Painted with Chinese ink and digital art, Klassen’s book falls into that growing category of subversive picture books out there. What makes it stand out, however, is how beautifully put together it all is.”
Another interesting piece of information that came out of the Klassen lunch involved that scene where the bear suddenly realizes that he’s seen his hat and he runs back, past all the other animals, to the rabbit. This is not done in a picture book. You don’t have a character go from right to left against the turning of the pages. Why? I suppose the idea is that it breaks up the flow of the book. Fortunately, it’s precisely the right kind of humor and Candlewick allowed it to stay. Whew!
Look up at the quote at the beginning of this post. Note again how Kristi pointed out that this book can be used “with classes to explain inferences”. Well mentioned, Kristi. I suspect that there are many writing tools and styles that can be easily explained with the use of this book. It’s an amazing combination of kid-friendly (children actually honest-to-goodness find it funny) and sophisticated. Probably why it became as popular with the cultural mainstream as it did.
Now let’s make no bones about it. The rabbit is gone. Deceased. Joined the choir invisible and is pushing up the daisies. So what are we to make of the bear and rabbit that appear in Mac Barnett’s Extra Yarn illustrated by (you guessed it) Jon Klassen? Well, that’s just one of those flukes. They’re not the same bear and rabbit. I mean, they may look the same, and I’ve little doubt some enterprising four-year-old will spot them and be reassured that the bunny did not make a meal for one, but this is just one of those things that happens in the picture book world. Not the same furry woodland creatures. Noted.
Fans will be pleased to hear of the follow-up (not sequel) from Klassen called This Is Not My Hat. It involves fish and, yes, is yet another hat-based morality tale. Let’s keep it simple, kids. Stealing hats is just plain wrong.
- See The Cat in the Hat redone in the style of Jon Klassen by illustrator Dan Santat as part of the Re-Seussification Project.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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