Looking at samples of fall books this summer, this was one of the true standouts, one of the few that a whole group of us children’s librarians was excited about across the board. This? Is good stuff.
I Want My Hat Back
by John Klassen
ISBN: 978 0 7636 5598 3
Audience: grades 1-3
This book is one for a reader with a dry sense of humour – and yes, kids can totally enjoy that – who doesn’t mind a dash of the morbid. Doesn’t sound like a kids’ book to you? Kids books are not, and never have been, all fluffy bunnies, my friend, and kids are surprisingly good at knowing when it’s silly and when it’s serious, so fear not, take a breath, and let me tell you about why this is so great.
So we meet a bear in the woods, upset that his hat is gone. He wants it back. He goes around, asking the other animals if they’ve seen it. No, they have not. He’s a pleasant fellow, thanking them anyway – at least, until he realizes that he has seen his hat! And then, he goes to get it back, which doesn’t end too well for the one whose answer, in retrospect, was a little to vehement…
It’s all very simply told, in spare dialogue, and in fact, children young enough to not appreciate the ending are nearly certain to in fact miss the inference in the ending about what happened, as it is not stated outright. The underselling of the story is in fact what makes this really work, because kids love it when they get something that isn’t spelled out for them, and because it makes it so very deadpan.
Even the illustrations are in muted greys, dull browns, and muddied greens, keeping emotion and tone amusingly flat – except, of course, for the infamous hat, and the moment when he remembers seeing it. Being a Candlewick book, the design of the book and the heavy, creamy paper are perfect – it really is a strength of theirs, the attention to those details, and it not only makes for an appealing book, but enhances the subdued palette here.
I’m over-explaining, I know, because at first glance, a book about a bear who goes on a hunt for his hat and takes it back by force sounds, well, brutal. But trust me when I say, this one works, and works really, really well.