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

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Review of Migrant

Migrant (2011)

Written by Maxine Trottier, Art by Isabelle Arsenault

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The Story: Anna feels like a bird because her family moves north in the spring and south in the fall. Her Mennonite family lives in Mexico during the winter, and travels all the way up to Canada in the summer to work on farms harvesting fruit and vegetables. Anna often wonders what it would be like to stay in one place.

Maxine Trottier explains that people like Anna’s family helped to build Canada and the United States (and continue to), and that they live difficult lives. Often, because their first language is Low German, they cannot understand English or Spanish. The houses that are available for rent are shabby and expensive. There is no union to protect these migrant workers, and they are often not well received by employers or communities. Trottier argues that “We all need to remember just how our country was built,” (npg) and it can only be assumed that Trottier hopes to remind us of this history through the picturebook Migrant.

What Wallace and I Think: Migrant is an ideal example of how important paratext often is with picturebooks. Without the write-up on the hardcover flaps, and the short history lesson on the endpapers, few children or adult readers would know what the book is actually historically addressing. The picturebook’s text and images are filled with Anna comparing her life to various animals: she feels like a jack rabbit who live in abandoned burrows; she feels like a bee during the day; at night she is like a kitten snuggled under a single blanket with her sisters (For any teachers out there, this book could be a perfect tool in teaching simile, metaphor, and/or illustrated metaphor to students). In the main text there is no mention of her family being Mennonite, though they do wear traditional Mennonite clothing. Though Anna briefly explains her family moves from the south to north and back again (through the metaphor of her family being like geese), we are not told the south is Mexico and the north is Canada. The book could have perhaps benefited from more context being worked into the main text, or, the explanation that ends the book may have been better utilized opening the book.

However, taking the paratext into context, Migrant tells a unique story opening readers and listeners to a different way of life, clearly not linked to just specifically Mennonite migrant workers, but migrant or seasonal workers in general. Trottier makes it clear in her explanation that she wanted to write this story to bring issues of social justice to the surface: “Migrants deserve safe working and living conditions. They deserve recognition for an honest day’s labour. They should be treated with the same respect that is extended to citizens and visitors alike” (npg). Hopefully reading this book to children can spark some interesting discussion surrounding social justice, and the life of migrant workers.

As with so many picturebooks Isabelle Arsenault has illustrated, in the case of Migrant, it is Arsenault’s art which both cements the message to the history, as well as allows the text to transcend the historical background. Arsensault’s illustrations are complex and whimsical, making the reading of this book largely appealing to younger children. Patterns and shapes are repeated throughout the book, linking Anna’s dream world to reality. For example, after imagining her family as geese (geese are drawn wearing hats and head scarfs), the silhouette of the geese is repeated on the following page in the shadows of Anna’s actual family. Collaged triangles that decorate the front and back matter are repeated in the quilts Anna’s brothers and sisters sleep under. Such repetitions visually connect the textual metaphors and similes to one another, blurring the boundaries between literary language and reality. And, personally, I find the red, orange and blue color scheme and the combination of paper collage and crayon drawings visually appealing. Whether or not a child can yet grasp the call for social justice, the art will be appealing.

While I feel the art could engage younger readers, I think the book’s message makes Migrant best suited to children 5 and older. I could see the picturebook being a great discussion and teaching tool in any elementary grade. I give the book a 4/5