Review: I Want My Hat Back

I Want My Hat Back

Jon Klassen (2011)

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The Story: A bear has lost his hat and he wants it back, so he very politely asks all the forest animals: “Have you seen my hat?” to which they all answer “No.” When all hope seems lost, the bear has a startling revelation, he HAS seen his hat, and he’s going to get it back!

What Wallace and I Think: This simple story’s humour, largely about taking people at their word, is found between the text and image. It is the gap which lets children in on the joke before the bear, putting them in an attractive place of power in the reading. Children will know who has the bear’s hat long before he does, placing them into the action of the book. When the bear asks “Have you seen my hat?” he can be addressing the children outside the book as well as the animals inside of it. I believe it is the book’s invitation to readers to take part that makes it an enjoyable read and reread.

Picturebook scholars often talk about the “drama of turning the page” as a special aspect of picturebooks. Klassen’s book utilizes this drama wonderfully. The last half of the book relies heavily on this drama to create its humour, something I believe adult readers will find equally as hilarious as the children they’re reading to. My favorite instance of page turning drama takes place when the bear finally realizes who has his hat. Despondent, the bear lies defeated on the ground. A forest animal asks the bear, “What does your hat look like?” (npg) The Bear answers, “It is red and pointy and . . .” (npg). If children had not realized thus far that they’d seen the hat, this description offers the last chance for them to join in on the joke before the bear. The drama comes in the ellipses. Will the bear realize as well that he HAS seen his hat?!

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Turn the page, and the bear has bolted up, eyes wide open, the background drenched in red “I HAVE SEEN MY HAT.” Drama ensues.

Klassen in a master at creating books that give readers more information than the characters, which empowers the readers. It is this sense of empowerment, being in on the joke, which makes the book attractive. Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (click to see my review) is another wonderful example of Klassen’s style.

This picturebook is best suited for toddlers up to age four or five (or well beyond if like me, you seem to have the same sense of humour as a two year old). I give this picturebook a 5/5

Sam & Dave Don’t Just Dig A Hole

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

Published by Candlewick Press in 2014

I bought this picture book because I LOVE Jon Klassen. He’s a Canadian illustrator living in the states. He has a unique style that is humorous, gorgeous, and yet gritty. Sometimes he acts as illustrator (like with Sam and Dave) and other times writes and illustrates (This is Not My Hat and my favourite I Want My Hat Back). This is my first experience with Mac Barnett, but I am now a fan (not to mention he took classes with David Foster Wallace which is really, really cool. As a English major I am currently turning green with envy).

Sam and Dave is not what we in the Children’s lit biz call a twice told story, meaning the text and images do not tell exactly the same story. The text tells readers of friends Dave and Sam who “dug a hole” and decide they won’t stop digging “until we find something spectacular” (npg). The images illustrate that text, and add to it, in that the boys continually decide to change the direction of their digging right when they’re about to stumble across a big diamond (which their dog companion appears to be able to smell. I wish Wallace had this super power. I would be living a much different life if Wallace could sniff out buried diamonds). This is an example of how the illustrations add to the narrative, for there is no mention of the diamonds which grow bigger and bigger the deeper they dig, in Barnett’s text.

As well, the boys dig themselves into a parallel universe (?) that is not mentioned in the text. The boys start digging in front of a house with a cat sitting on a porch and a growing apple tree in the yard. Sam and Dave dig right through the earth and they fall to what on first glance looks like the same house from the beginning. However, on closer inspection you see the cat is wearing a different coloured collar, the tree is now a pear tree, along with other changes. This is not mentioned in the text. Actually, Sam and Dave don’t seem to notice any difference. Once again, it is only the observant dog that notices they are not where they started (Wallace and I really like this dog).

These type of “yes, and” (term stolen from improv) picture books are awesome for readers as young as they can come. Even if they don’t know how to read the text, they can keep uncovering a more complex story through the illustrations when the text is read to them, or when looking at the book alone. This provides the opportunity for new interpretations to be discovered upon several readings.

This book is deceivingly simple (Sam and Dave dig a hole), but the interaction between Barnett’s text and Klassen’s illustrations makes for a changing reading experience, making this picture book one that can be read over, and over, and over again before discovering all the secrets.